You Tarzan, Me Offended

“I’m sorry.”

These were the first words I uttered to my friend Molly, after dragging her out to see Tarzan on one of the finest afternoons of the summer.

“Looking on the bright side,” she replied, “at least we know that Rotten Tomatoes reviews are accurate.”  I last dragged her out for a Prince tribute concert.  At least I’m batting .500.

I lured 100% Swedish Molly from her home with promises of a scantily-clad Alexander Skarsgård.  How bad can it be watching ASkar swing from trees in a loinskin for a couple hours?  We are staunch believers in Equal Opportunity Objectification.

We decided to see the flick at Southdale, for the potent combination of nostalgia and proximity to Molly’s domicile.  She and I basically lived at Southdale for a couple years, way back in the early ’80s, subsisting entirely on curly fries.  Let me tell you, a few things have changed.  I just about missed the theater entirely, couldn’t see it through the jungle of condominiums.  I pulled into the tiny parking spot, grateful to be driving a smallish Subaru, already wondering how I’d ever back the car out if the lot filled up.

Once inside, the nice high school boy with a mouthful of orthodontia informed me that I owed him $10.

“For a matinee?” I squawked.

“We have three price points,” he began, and I totally tuned him out.

I nearly told him a person could see live theater in this very town for less than $10, but there I was, receipt in hand, feeding the Hollywood machine.

The previews were wretched with the exception of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, a movie that, unfortunately and predictably, will feature mostly white people running around in period dress.

I didn’t know the meaning of “trope” until I started writing.  A trope is literary shorthand, laziness with words, a stereotype that makes the reader say, “Ah, I recognize this person/situation/concept.”  I pulled one on you up above with the high schooler at the register.  Can’t you picture the scrawny nerd with his braces, all earnest and helpful, making the most of his first job in cinema?

Tarzan is a cornutropia.

1) The brawny brooding white hero, trapped in the mundane day-to-day of Lord-ing.  Peel back the veneer of gentility to unleash his inner beast!

2) The wisecracking black sidekick, tagging along so we can laugh at his physical clumsiness and verbal quips.

3) The beautiful and feisty white love interest, in this case wife, who is in constant need of rescuing, while wearing a wet clingy white dress and perfect makeup.

4) The love interest’s black friend, a man who is like a brother, never like a lover.

5) The mustachioed Aryan European villain with a penchant for fine wine, table manners, and brutality.

6) Anthropomorphized animals.  Tons of them.

7) (backstory) The castaways living in a quaint treehouse.

8) (backstory) The orphan boy raised by wolves/gorillas/gila monsters.

9) Colonialism.  White men parading around exotic locations in uniform.

10) Happy African tribespeople singing and dancing.

11) Revenge and greed as anyone’s undoing.

12) Slavery.  Black people in chains on ships and trains.

13) Tribal legends of a white-man spirit.

14) The white savior who unites the tribes.

15) The menfolk waiting around during a birth, smoking cigars, or squatting on the savannah.

16) The birth of a baby as the dawn of a new era of fluffy unicorn sprinkles.

I don’t know if it’s possible to do Tarzan in a culturally-sensitive manner.  How about starting with a black director? A mixed-race Tarzan/Jane coupling would add an intriguing twist.  And a Jane who saves herself, or even her mate?  That’d be awesome.

The bottom line is it’s two hours and $10 that I’ll never get back.

And, for the record, like a good Oberlin grad, I’m offended.  (Trope alert: PC Oberlin alumna.)

Musical Moment – Hozier’s “Better Love” appears on the soundtrack.  Today’s musical moment features a more appropriate Hozier tune.

PS – To Alexander Skarsgård’s trainer: Well-played, old chap.  Well-played.  You almost offset the insufferability of literally everything else.  I had already started writing this post before I saw the movie: “On Sunday, I worshipped at the House Of Alexander Skarsgård.”  And I came up with all kinds of cute hashtags.  #TakeMeToChurch #BodyIsATemple #ASkar4Ever.  Alas, the movie was SO BAD that I couldn’t even do a decent itemization of Lord Greystoke’s precisely chiseled anatomy.  So all that work you did defining the two heads of the biceps, the three attachments of the deltoids, pectoralis major, platysmus, rectus abdominis, etc, all that work was overshadowed by epic badness.



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4 Responses to You Tarzan, Me Offended

  1. Libby Furlong says:

    Thank you for your always entertaining wit, words and good advice on how not to blow $10.00 !!

  2. I guess I didn’t expect to go to a Tarzan movie and have it be un-pc. I went to see it yesterday with my family and enjoyed it. George Washington Williams was a real guy who investigated the atrocities committed in King Leopold’s name. I like that they included him in the story, even if he is Tarzan’s “sidekick.” I suggest reading Adam Hochschild’s “King Leopold’s Ghost” about his colonization of the Congo. It’s chilling.

    I also didn’t see Tarzan as a “white savior.” He was an African before he was a “white man.” He may have been BORN a white man, but he was an African. Africa was his home, and he was going to save his home. That was his character’s motivation, not some grandiose dream of being the white man who goes and helps the “less fortunate colored people.”

    Here’s a link to King Leopold’s Ghost:

    • anne says:

      Good points, Melissa. Yes, I agree with Tarzan being African – of Africa. Glad, too, of the inclusion of George Washington Williams. I’m afraid I couldn’t get past the familiar Hollywood themes to a more nuanced appreciation.

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