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April 2002

The Lord of the Rings: White Male Racist Imperialism

By Jim Scanlon

Using the latest cinematic developments in computer technology to produce extraordinary scenes of extreme violence and brutality is all that distinguishes "The Fellowship of the Rings" from the usual exaltation of all male bands of brothers on dangerous quests involving the slaughter of frightful half human savages.

The film, the first part of a three part series, with the second and third to be released over the next two years, closely follows the immensely popular books published in England in 1954 and 1955. The author, J.R.R.. Tolkien, a British academic, has been called "the author of the century", and, although his books have been criticized as "fit only for children," millions of copies have been sold. With the popularity of the three part "Ring" film series, which cost only $270 million to make, the books will surely remain on best seller lists worldwide for years to come. It is ironic that for years Tolkien was unable to find a publisher, and only succeeded through one of his former history students. Why publishers reject books that turn out to be extremely profitable-as with the Harry Potter books-is another deep dark mystery.

Tolkien's works have produced immensely popular and unusual cultural "spin offs"-"Dungeons and Dragons," a role playing game attacked as occult by Christian moralists, and "Diablo," a computer game of unbelievable complexity and difficulty, which is played on the Internet by millions of men and boys every day. Indeed the movie, except for a few brief interludes of calm and repose, is much like "Diablo," the computer game, in which the protagonists are continuously beset by hoards of incredibly ugly monsters, beasts, spirits, insects and goblins, all of which are cut down and hacked to pieces with pixel blood, goo and vapors splattered all over the computer screen.

In "The Fellowship of the Ring" the little band of brothers (think "Saving Private Ryan," "Gunga Din," "Star Wars," or any grade B World War II film) is composed of four hobbits, a human, an elf and a dwarf and is led by a magician or wizard. Despite their supposed diversity they all look very white and very English and one might easily think of them as Anglo Saxon, Welch, Scottish with maybe an Irishman thrown in for humor. There are no women of any importance, although two supermodel like women make appearances as magical, supernatural figures. The Hobbits are supposed to be small and to have hairy feet, and some attempt is made to create this illusion, but Frodo, the young Hobbit hero has a face of classic androgynous beauty with skin so perfectly clear and smooth, he could easily model for a Lancome or Helena Rubenstein skin cream advertisement in Vogue.

Ever since the Bronze Age, sedentary cultures emerging from a nomadic existence, have been trying, unsuccessfully, to get rid of troublesome, uncontrollable, dangerous, non-breeding males, if only for brief periods, by sending them off on "quests" of assault, robbery and destruction. From the " Iliad" through the Persian, Roman, Arab conquests, the Crusades, the slaughters at Tenochtitlan and Cusco, up to the present we have had the history and the myths of the daring, misfit band of brothers, buddies, who eat and sleep together, and most importantly kill together. The 19 Arabs who destroyed the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon fit right into this tradition, like it or not. (But don't expect a Hollywood "blockbuster" on this subject,)

Of course few men would ever go out on an expedition to simply kill and rob (that would be unethical, and as Richard Nixon said on tape, "wrong") but if you can think of it as "spreading the word of god" or "killing the enemies of god," or "to protect the homeland" or "exploration" or maybe just looking for an especially holy wine cup, then you allow yourself to kill and enslave the unbelievers and you also have a good reason to examine all wine cups that just might be made of precious metal!

What permeates the Lord of the Rings is something called "Evil," which is the essence of racist imperialist conquest. Evil is somewhere else. It is someplace else. It is not inherent in anything you do yourself. In the "Rings" the homeland, the "Shire," is the lovely green countryside where we find the "Hobbits." It's a beautiful place where no one seems to work, although crops are grown and there are houses with furniture. The people all seem happy and carefree although we know, or soon find out, that "The Evil One" is out there planning to get the unsuspecting dupes. There is no oppressive history of conflicts with neighboring Shires, no religious, trade, border or immigration conflicts. Everything would be OK if only the "Evil One" were not out there and if some rogue magician were not out there stirring up trouble, breeding zombie, robot monsters and cutting down old oak trees as a prelude to taking over the world.

In the Shire, we see no mothers and no fathers, no one working. Sex, if there is any, is hidden. There is no overpopulation, no police force, no imported goods, no division of labor, no class conflict, no military. Unconscious fantasy reflected in myth is exactly the point of this little essay. It is a dream world, a fantasy land not unlike the one in which so many seem to live in, and not unlike the foreign policy of the present day United States of America. The popularity of "The Ring" is that it is based on this simple minded, patriarchal, male adolescent fantasy of life. The band of brothers can only do good. Anyone who says, or implies otherwise is, ipso facto, justifying evil and had better watch out-as Ari Fleisher says.

But there is more going on here than a mindless reverie of racist colonialism. Mythical stories go much deeper and touch on feelings-nameless, indistinct, dangerous feelings-feelings that surround a simple plane gold band through which fingers symbolically pass.

"One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them..."

The dreadful, dangerous ring that brings power, corruption and misfortune to whomever puts it on looks just like a plain wedding ring. It has a long complicated history which is, for the purpose of unconscious myth, a distraction, and is irrelevant in that it takes one away from the obvious. What is important is that it looks like a wedding ring and on three separate occasions we see flashbacks of the ring on a severed male finger in an armored hand.

As the film begins, the 111 year old bachelor Hobbit who possesses the ring never wears it. He keeps it hidden in his pocket where he fondles it from time to time. He wants to put it on but is afraid to do so and just the thought of slipping it on, transforms him suddenly into an angry, power mad maniac. His bachelor "nephew", the angelic Frodo with Lancome skin, who is middle aged but looks like a boy, takes it upon himself to save the Shire by taking the ring to the volcano where it was forged or smelted and destroy it. He is joined by his close friend Sam and two other Hobbits with no particular talent for anything-incompetent fools as saviors of the earth! Here the film closely follows the idiotic logic of Fairy Tales which seems to insure an Oscar or two.

The meaning of a band of young men going off on a dangerous mission to get rid of a wedding ring should be obvious, but of course, that is the power of myth and religion, to be so absurd, that nothing obvious is obvious. Are they frightened men fleeing the sexual attachment and children that real women present? Of course not! The implicit message in the film/myth is that the ring is dangerous! Don't put it. on! Hide it. Don't let anyone see it! Destroy it! The passage of a finger through a golden hole means... it means... something! It means responsibility, and, as we all know, responsibility really is scary

The male band of brothers, unencumbered by women, hack, penetrate and dismember other hideous male monsters. What would they do if they were not on a quest? Become unemployed? Get a job? Think of the gunfighter in a western, pathetic, emasculated when he puts away his guns for a wife and family. Think "Shane" or "High Noon" or "The Gladiator." Marriage and settling down kill adventure, a fundamental cinematic law.

Why such a homophobic, gynophobic, patriarchal culture such as ours should so unconsciously revel in hyper violent fantasies of chaste male togetherness is hard to understand, but amusing. It is OK only if you don't ask yourself what is going on and don't tell yourself what is going on, don't think about it, keep quiet and above all just keep your mouth shut!

The image of the ring on the severed finger in the armored hand is repeated so often it has to be exceptional meaningful. Of course the finger is not the male organ symbolically mutilated and severed in myth. Another appendage is the one men unconsciously fear to lose. And so the brothers fight their way through in the vast intestinal caverns of the earth pursued by insect like swarms of goblins and demons in search of the volcano where the ring was born in Mount Womb -oops, I mean Mount Doom-where they will meet the "Evil One."

We always know the outcome of a myth or a Fairy Tale. Evil is always defeated and it is always disguised. This makes sense since whoever is victorious in a violent struggle defines the defeated ones as Evil. That the victor and the vanquished might be part of a single process doesn't fit easily into the unconscious processes.

"One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them?

So who is the "Evil One" in "The Lord of the Rings"? Is it a he? (dad) or is it a she? (mom). Who is it? In the unconscious, as in the detective story one would be wrong to chose the obvious, that it is the male oppressor that is feared. The "Evil One" that ancient Persian invention Satan, in the "Rings" Sauron, "[Whose] ...goal it is to enslave and torture the entirety of middle earth..." is Mom, the deposed Goddess, stifled, made poisonously bitter by her imprisonment, humiliation and subjection, taking out her wrath on her sons demanding that they get a job, get a wife and get a life. Scary indeed!

 

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