This week I took a trip down memory lane, watching childhood favorites, The Gods Must Be Crazy I & II. And while I remembered the comical stories of adventure, the choppy sped-up action scenes, the really cute kids, and the touching moments of love and commitment among the Bushmen tribe, I had forgotten (or never noticed) the cultural critique these films present. Often through the narration the films challenge many of the assumptions held by us in the “modern” world. These assumptions, then, are placed alongside the life of a Bushmen tribe in Botswana, and in particular their leader, Xi. Seeing his reaction to encountering “civilized” folks and their technology was both entertaining and thought provoking.
A highlight in both films is seeing the Bushmen's different perspective on life. For example, while observing two white people (or “gods” as he thought) talking, the narrator states Xi’s thoughts:
The funny thing about these gods was that they couldn't speak. They made sounds like monkeys.
Or this when Xi sees a white woman for the first time:
Xi saw the ugliest person he'd ever come across. She was as pale as something that had crawled out of a rotting log. Her hair was quite gruesome long and stringy and white, as if she was very old. She was very big. You'd have to dig the whole day to find enough food to feed her. Although it was a hot day, she was wearing skins that looked as if they were made from cobwebs.
Makes you realize different or strange is often a matter of perspective. Perhaps value categories we often create for outsiders aren’t really that helpful or accurate. I’m all for recognizing our differences and understanding them, but too often we equate different with worse. We mustn’t forget that we are all “them” to someone.
The role of technology is also a theme that runs throughout the films. Whether it’s Xi’s observation of an “amazing animal” (truck) or one of the narrator’s quips about modern technology, one can’t help but realize just how strong us “civilized” folks are caught in the grip of technology. The following quote from the opening of the first movie illustrates this commentary:
Only 600 miles to the south, there's a vast city. And here you find civilized man. Civilized man refused to adapt himself to his environment; instead, he adapted his environment to suit him. So he built cities, roads, vehicles, machinery, and he put up power lines to run his labour-saving devices. But somehow he didn't know where to stop. The more he improved his surroundings to make life easier, the more complicated he made it. So now his children are sentenced to 10-15 years of school, just to learn how to survive in this complex and hazardous habitat they were born into. And civilized man, who refused to adapt to his surroundings, now finds he has to adapt and re-adapt every hour of the day to his self-created environment. For instance, if it's Monday and 7:30 comes up, you have to dis-adapt from your domestic surroundings and re-adapt yourself to an entirely different environment. 8:00 means everybody has to look busy. 10:30 means you can stop looking busy for 15 minutes. And then you have to look busy again. And so your day is chopped into pieces, and in each segment of time you adapt to a new set circumstances. No wonder some people go off the rails a bit...
As a Christian, I hear this commentary and am forced to ask some questions: Which story defines who I am and how I live? Is it the routine of modern life in suburbia that defines me? Or is my modern life in suburbia defined by God’s story? I wish I could say the latter, but hopefully it’s at least a mix of the two...
All this to say, I highly the recommend the films, be it simply for nostalgic value (as it was for me at first) or to be challenged in considering how we in the “modern” world really are quite enamored with ourselves.