The Coastal Post - September, 1995

Media and Media-ocracy

BY MARK VAN PROYEN

The house of Media and Media-ocracy has many mansions, and August has been a particularly rich month for potential subjects for our examination. The obvious candidates would be the Unabomber's explosive philosophical debuts in the New York Times and the Washington Post early this month or the passing of Jerry Garcia, with an attendant interest into the fate of the Grateful Dead's 50 million dollar a year corporate cult. And then there's Bob Dole showing off his cheap suits and spastic blinking problem on shows such as the August 20 Face the Nation, provoking the question that grabs us all by the scruff of the neck: Can America elect a spaz for president?

Hard to tell the answer to that one with the primaries still several months away, giving Clinton plenty of time to lose the blow-dried haircut and all of those Huge Boss numbers that he wears while feeling everybody's pain. As we said, those are the obvious candidates for scrutiny. Too obvious, which is why the pundit mill is grinding away at those stories, making them exceedingly small, turning them into...human interest stories, which is a game that journalism plays to give people the illusion that they participated in something, which is about the only thing that keeps them interested in anything else.

No, this month, it is better to go to the movies, even as the movies have recently become the retarded step- children of the mediascape's mythmaking apparatus (people don't put up seven bucks for anything but the most tired-and-true packages, meaning that the real innovations in medialand are to be found in TV). And, as Disney Corporation has just gobbled up ABC, it is doubly important that we go to a Disney movie, because, if the Gingrichites have their way, all movies will be Disney movies.

Actually, the whole Disney empire is truly remarkable when one thinks of it stemming from the precocious undulations of an animated mouse piloting a steamboat in 1928. Since then, the Disney empire has let Messrs. Mighty, Fievel and Maus all vie for the status of being America's national rodent while they have gone on to bigger and better things, most recently a sly retelling of the Pocahontas legend in an animated film of the same name.

Check it out: on the weekend of June 20, Disney rented New York City's Central Park for the premiere of Pocahontas, a gala spectacle that closed off the park to other taxpayers who might have wanted to take a stroll on a warm spring day. Now that's private-public partnership in action! Digressions aside, Pocahontas proved to be a particularly curious offering from the Disney studios.

In affirmative action terms, it offers what hiring committees call "a two fer," that being a female protagonist who is also multi-cultural, hailing from a tribe of Native Americans whose women are all noseless ectomorphs who sneak around in the woods while the more nasally-endowed men folk paddle boats and make sober sounding speeches. As she was portrayed in the film, Pocahontas was particularly good at all of these activities, frequently breaking into song about horniness and the grandeur of nature while an audience of animal and vegetable friends danced in merry accompaniment.

And then there was that nasty business with that John Smith chap, a name that will no doubt live forever on the registration documents of cheap hotels everywhere. Looking like Fabio and sounding like Mel Gibson, Mr. Smith found it easy enough to steal Pocahontas' heart, and that's when the Romeo and Juliet action kicks in, because John Smith is a renown "fighter of savages" working for one Governor Ratcliffe of the London based Virginia Company, and the greedy Ratcliffe has come to "Jamestown" (as he names the new land) to discover gold and fulfill his avarice.

To this end, he sets his men to the task of chopping trees and digging holes, and before you know it, there goes the neighborhood. enter the men working for Pocahontas' father (big widower chief Powhatten), and a bloody clash seems inevitable, only to be averted by Pocahontas, who says that if her father kills John Smith, then he must kill her too. Like a dope , her father listens to her, which somehow turns the acrimony of the moment toward Governor Ratcliffe, who is deposed in a popular uprising, and shipped back to England, as was the wounded John Smith, now a hero to his peers, leaving behind poor Pocahontas.

The amount of historical reality check necessary to untangle all of this nonsense would take up all of Kirby's column space, so we will just note the highlights: Yes, the story accords with John Smith's account of the events of 1608 (although there was never any Governor Ratcliffe — in fact, Smith was the Governor of Jamestown), but it fails to include the facts that: Pocahontas actually married John Rolfe and was baptized "Lady Rebecca," that she went with Rolfe back to England where she was received at court, spending the rest of her life there, and, while she was in England, the good folks of Jamestown drove the Powhattens away from their land by force, setting in motion the ethic of Manifest Destiny that all but exterminated the native peoples of the North American continent. Some girl, this Pocahontas.

More to the point is the reality portrayed by the film, ,which will be "reality" for hordes of pre-teen, out-of-school moviegoers, who will be further reminded of that "reality" when they go to Burger King and drink milkshakes out of the special edition of Pocahontas plastic cups (collect all seven!): if we all are nice to each other, then we can live together, an agreeable message that will have special meaning for the Lakota Sioux of the Black Hills and the victims of the Sand Creek massacre.

When relations deteriorate, we can scapegoat that Governor Ratcliffe guy as the source of all problems, after all, the guy is weird! Obviously, he is well-named (when he enters his ship, a rat can be seen scurrying up the spring line), and his love of inordinate luxury indicates that he is both greedy and cruel. Oddly, the best musical numbers in the film center around him, as do the peripatetic orbits of a willowy manservant who would make Oscar Wilde look like a lumberjack (interestingly enough, Pocahontas also has a character that is in constant orbit around her: a hummingbird named "Flit"). Look closely at how the Disney animators have portrayed Ratcliffe and you will recognize the true archetype, for his purple costume, cruel sneer, long black hair and hooked nose are clearly taken from the consistent and repeated portrayal of Jews by the official artists of Hitler's Nazi party, as was the heavy dose of derisive, over-the-top anti-homosexual innuendo. The mechanism is the same for the youthful viewers of Pocahontas as it is for anyone else: First, the image represents reality, then it masks and perverts reality before it finally becomes reality. Call it...family values.