April 29, 2016

ONLY A PC KILLJOY COULD HATE THE NEW JUNGLE BOOK, R. J. Moeller writes at Acculturated; but sadly PC killjoys are all too plentiful these days:

In a post titled, “How Disney’s New Jungle Book Subverts the Gross Colonialism of Rudyard Kipling,” Katy Waldman of Slate had the following to contribute to the conversation:

Well, Kipling was certainly a racist f**k—look no further than his novel Kim for a portrait of brave British spies and slavish, dark-skinned Buddhists—but The Jungle Book, which Kipling wrote out of a Vermont cabin in 1894, doesn’t showcase his bigotry so much as his uncritical reverence for power. Might makes right mesmerized Kipling; the more ruthless the subjugation, the better. He loved the panther Bagheera with his liquid menace (“his jaws shut with a snap, for he did not believe in being humble”), the terrifying python Kaa, and most of all Mowgli, who commands fire and possesses a gaze the beasts cannot meet without flinching. You might wince at the subtext of these characters’ dominance—for Kipling, whites were born rulers as surely as tigers were born predators—or point out the author’s lack of pity for the weak. You might furrow your brow at the way the Indian villagers succumb to supernatural babble and suspicion. But as far as pure and explicit racism goes, Kipling’s novel scores lower than Disney’s 1967 movie, which introduced a great ape called King Louie (after Louie Armstrong) who sang minstrel songs about his desire to get civilized.

One would have to guess that the Disney Corporation and director Jon Favreau did not set out to promote imperialism, colonialism, or disrespect for those who have suffered under the yoke of foreign rule—but words and ideas and stories do matter.

So what’s a conscientious, free society to do with such controversial, beloved stories? Am I contributing to 19th century crimes against humanity by singing the ballads of Baloo and King Louie while taking my morning shower? Should we start banning books and movies that Slate bloggers find offensive to their delicate sensibilities (on behalf of the ancestors of strangers half a world away)? Ought we to put F-bomb-laced warnings of “Pro-Colonialism Propaganda Contained Within!” on movie posters?

Nahh — that’s what we have Gawker and its spin-off Website io9 for — that’s where Katharine Trendacosta’s review can be found titled “Reminder: Rudyard Kipling Was a Racist Fuck and The Jungle Book Is Imperialist Garbage.” Hard to predict where’s she going with that subtle, nuanced headline:

The Jungle Book is just as drenched with racism and colonialism as anything else Kipling wrote on the subject. The thread running throughout the stories is that Mowgli is superior to the animals that raised him by virtue of being man, not beast. That’s a neat parallel to Britain and India.

“Except Mowgli is…Indian,” Kyle Smith of the New York Post tweeted in response. And as one of his followers added, “But man is superior to animals. What’s wrong with that?”

Why, that’s so, so problematic, to coin an adjective.

If only someone had predicted at the end of the 19th century that intellectual life was about to face a systematic “recessional,” with dire and lasting consequences to the West. (Lest we forget.)

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