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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Sunday, August 31, 2014


In POWER AND POTENCY PT. 2 I gave some examples of ways in which some of my "ten tropes" could indicate uncanny phenomenality based on whether their subjects-- astounding animals, outre heroes, etc-- "seemed like" they possessed greater potency than similar entities of a naturalistic phenomenality. Within my system this means that they have effectively exceeded the intelligibility aspect of causality. I did not explore each of the ten tropes in the light of this formulation. However, one of the tropes, "exotic lands and customs," merits special consideration because it deals not with entities but with environments.

Of the films thus far examined on my blog, the majority of "exotic lands and customs" narratives have fallen into the genre of the "jungle-adventure film." In my review of TARZAN THE TIGER, the first film I analyzed for this trope, I wrote:

"Exotic lands and customs" applies to the fantasized jungle-setting in which the Tarzan films take place, and this trope alone would be enough to label certain jungle-films as metaphenomenal, even if they lacked the presence of a mostly-naked hero raised by apes.

Now, the question might arise: what sets aside these "fantasized jungle-settings" from others that also might be deemed "exotic," at least on the naturalistic terms of a NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC mentality. It's one thing to say that an entirely made-up society, like that of Tarzan's Opar, should be deemed "exotic" in an uncanny manner. Yet I've also made that claim with respect to real-world cultures like that of the African Masai tribe, who make an appearance in BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY. In theoretical terms, what would separate the Masai in this BOMBA flick from the Masai in a naturalistic romance-drama like 2005's THE WHITE MASAI

Again, the answer is that though both tribes do not exceed "causal coherence," the latter seems entirely intelligible, while the former *seems like* it is unintelligible.  From a naturalistic NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC perspective, the exotic nature of the Masai, with their famous lion-hunting rituals, is merely a curiosity that exists on the same plane as any other culture's customs. But even as mediocre as BOMBA's treatment of the real-life tribe may be, the film's intent is to make the Masai seem like something exceptional, even "magical," at least on the terms of "the uncanny."

For a time I flirted with the notion that maybe the "jungle-adventure" film was unique in offering so many uncanny versions of its cultures, both real and imagined. Westerns, for example, are full of real and imagined "exotic" Native American cultures, but the majority are almost always naturalistic.

However, I've recently come to certain new conclusions thanks to my meditations on the many ways in which "exotic lands and customs" evolve from the intermingling of entities or historical occurrences that produce "uncanny" narratives, such as THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR, 300, THOR AND THE AMAZON WOMEN, YEAR ONE, RED DAWN, and SON OF SINBAD. What all of these films-- and the jungle-adventure stories as well-- have in common is the transposition of "things that do not belong" within a milieu that the viewer is expected to believe should be unitary; governed only by "things that belong together."  As I argued in my recent SON OF SINBAD review, these jumbles are not just textual errors by writers who did not know any better: they are intended to create a specific effect that I have labeled through terms like "anti-intelligibility" and "the uncanny."  This is not to say that there are not real historical or sociological errors that are made through pure carelessness, just that not all errors are made for the same reasons.

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