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"Apocalypto"
January 6, 2007 10:08 AM   Subscribe

Is "Apocalypto" pornography? "I am not a compulsively politically correct type who sees the Maya as the epitome of goodness and light... But in "Apocalypto," no mention is made of the achievements in science and art, the profound spirituality and connection to agricultural cycles, or the engineering feats of Maya cities." Traci Arden
posted by hard rain (129 comments total)

 
It is for him.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:11 AM on January 6, 2007


pretty sure this is a double
posted by muckster at 10:12 AM on January 6, 2007


Rather, it was prominently linked in this Apocalypto discussion.
posted by muckster at 10:18 AM on January 6, 2007


Am I the only one who thinks that Arden uses "pornography" in a weird way:
To think that a movie about the 1,000 ways a Maya can kill a Maya--when only 10 years ago Maya people were systematically being exterminated in Guatemala just for being Maya--is in any way okay, entertaining, or helpful is the epitome of a Western fantasy of supremacy that I find sad and ultimately pornographic.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:18 AM on January 6, 2007


Mad Max vs. the Mayans

Mad Max vs. the Mayans redux
posted by homunculus at 10:25 AM on January 6, 2007


Might as well link my Apocalypto review again. Lots of juicy hate mail for that one. There've been a number of articles by Mayan scholars since Arden's; I think Salon had a good one, too. Haven't heard of one Mayan scholar who liked the film yet.
posted by muckster at 10:28 AM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Pornography = speech I don't like
posted by kid ichorous at 10:31 AM on January 6, 2007 [4 favorites]


That is, a number of people seem to define the word that way.
posted by kid ichorous at 10:33 AM on January 6, 2007


The whore... the whore....
posted by hal9k at 10:35 AM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Surely people didn't see the movie expecting reality, right? People went to see the crazy-ass styling of crazy-ass mel Gibson.
posted by delmoi at 10:36 AM on January 6, 2007


Am I the only one who thinks that Arden uses "pornography" in a weird way:
pornography
  1. the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement
  2. material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement
  3. the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction <the pornography of violence>
posted by Flunkie at 10:36 AM on January 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


Eh. People talk about "gun porn" or "shoe porn" or whatever-the-fuck porn all the time. Painting entire cultures as lurid savages sounds like it fits the bill.
posted by yeloson at 10:43 AM on January 6, 2007


At the same time, the movie was to me deeply disturbing. In a word, it is pornography.
posted by empath at 10:43 AM on January 6, 2007


Flunkie, you forgot "I know it when I see it," (Wiki) which seems to be good enough for the Supreme Court. :)
posted by kid ichorous at 10:44 AM on January 6, 2007


the crazy-ass styling of crazy-ass mel Gibson.

This is exactly why I won't see the movie. Any incentive for him to carry on should be avoided. I'm not going to rail against the content of the movie without seeing it -- that'd be presumptuous, but Mel himself is to be avoided at all costs. He needs to be allowed to slip quietly into irrelevance, starting now.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:44 AM on January 6, 2007


I noticed the same damn thing in Gibson's Patriot. The British contributions to the arts, Shakespeare, Milton, the contributions to modern mathematics were all left out. It was like he was just making a movie that ignored that whole side of their culture! Almost as though he was making a simple action movie, rather than the documentary he always claims his movies really are.
posted by Tancread at 10:50 AM on January 6, 2007 [5 favorites]


yeloson: "Eh. People talk about "gun porn" or "shoe porn" or whatever-the-fuck porn all the time. Painting entire cultures as lurid savages sounds like it fits the bill."

No it doesn't, the two things are totally different.

You can talk about gun porn and shoe porn because representations of hot guns and shoes get gun/shoe geeks all excited and lustful.

I don't think the Mayan history geeks are getting all lustful and excited over the contents in Apocalypto. Everything here seems to be suggesting exactly the opposite.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:54 AM on January 6, 2007


yeloson: Eh. People talk about "gun porn" or "shoe porn" or whatever-the-fuck porn all the time. Painting entire cultures as lurid savages sounds like it fits the bill.

What about painting entire cultures as Rousseau's noble savage? Is that also pornography? It's certainly a case of sensational fantasy.

Or, try this on for size: when you use the word "pornography" to characterize speech you dislike, you're deliberately associating that speech with depictions of hardcore sex acts. As a rhetorical ploy, this appeals to the crudest sense of disgust and moral outrage. The claim of "pornography," then, by such a expansive definition, is itself an act of brute sensationalism, an act of pornography.

We could just be reasonable, and conclude that pornography happens when you stick your diddle into someone else's daddle, and I film it.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:04 AM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think what a lot of people are failing to understand is that Mel Gibson clearly doesn't give a shit about portraying the Mayans accurately. Anyone who focuses on how Gibson portrays religions and cultures in his movies is missing their point. I personally can't stand Mel Gibson as a person, but always go to watch his films. That's because he never fails when it comes to pure entertainment value.
I am personally happy to see that someone, despite their character flaws, is willing to take risks in Hollywood. When was the last time you honestly went to Famous Players and saw something that was blockbuster entertainment, with an original concept? From my experience, it's not very often. So if he has to offend some tight-asses to make such a film, I say, good to him.
posted by Count at 11:06 AM on January 6, 2007


She liked Braveheart, presumably because she knows a lot about Mayan history and nothing about Scottish. Most viewers know nothing about either.
posted by A189Nut at 11:07 AM on January 6, 2007


I'm just astounded that, for the first time in his filmmaking career, Mel Gibson, despite his enormous care in recreating the speech and the environment of a historical time, has gotten that history completely wrong and it has wound up furthering an oppressive ideology.

How could he have slipped like this?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:08 AM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


It would be 'porn' for conservative catholics who would be grossly stimulated in viewing of the fallen, evil post-classic Mayan civ soon to be wiped out by Catholic shock troops.

I haven't seen the movie, but hearing about it and knowing about Mel's arch-conservative catholic viewpoints that's what I assumed the risk was.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:08 AM on January 6, 2007


"Pornography" comes from the Greek pornographos meaning a writing about prostitutes. Dictionaries are neat. Now, then that opens the door on what "prostitution" means.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:09 AM on January 6, 2007


no.

pornography is interesting and in most cases has better production values.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:11 AM on January 6, 2007


I thought this was an interesting quote (from homunculus's second link):
Loder: At the end of "Apocalypto," the first Spanish explorers arrive in the Mayan empire, and they're carrying a large cross. I know you're Catholic: What do you think was the effect of Christianity on these pagan cultures?

Gibson: Well, there were only a few hundred conquistadors, and their weaponry wasn't that far superior. The Mayans could pierce their armor -- these cleavers that they had could cut a side of beef in half. So how did the conquistadors take power? I think that the majority of the populace was really discontented with what was going on. They didn't dig it. Twenty-thousand people being bumped off? It was like, who's next? And they began to rebel. I think the conquistadors led more of a revolution with the help of the people.
posted by Staggering Jack at 11:12 AM on January 6, 2007


kid ichorous:
when you use the word "pornography" to characterize speech you dislike, you're deliberately associating that speech with depictions of hardcore sex acts.
The only person claiming that the author of this article is using "pornography" to mean "I don't like it" is you.

Again, the word "pornography" has more than one definition, and one of them is "sensationalism intended to cause a quick, intense emotional reaction".

I haven't seen the movie, and don't intend to (for much the same reason as Devils Rancher outlined), so I can't comment on whether or not I believe that the movie fits this definition of "pornography". But from reading the article, it's clear to me that that definition fits what the author intended.

Did the author also dislike the movie? Of course. Did she dislike it because of its perceived pornographic quality? Clearly.

But that doesn't mean she's using "pornographic" to mean "I don't like it".
posted by Flunkie at 11:14 AM on January 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


This is why we don't let anthropology professors judge cinema, I suppose. Apocalypto is an excellent film and Mel Gibson deserves praise for his efforts and his effects. It's understandable that a certain PC, pseudo-liberal shallow thinker would look upon the movie and see pornography. For this type any violent display of human feeling, any sincere romanticism that doesn't hide behind an ideology, and any show of the visceral, unmediated reality is dangerous and ill-intentioned. One is reminded of the charges against jazz in the 30s and rock and roll in the 50s. It's clear that for the modern American chattering classes a man like Mel Gibson is just painfully embarassing; as an unabashed anti-Semite, an extraordinary artist, and a deeply principled and serious thinker he can't help but make them look small, fake and deeply irrelevant. Either way, with the rise of the overly political documentary, the increasing popularity of oh-those-poor-Africans message dramas, and the never ceasing parade of blockbusters, I look forward to Hollywood re-embracing of its role as the greatest propaganda machine ever devised. Once all the artists with vision and voice have been drummed out the form will become unexciting and then truly irrelevant.
posted by nixerman at 11:22 AM on January 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


Flunkie, as I see it, the logical defect with Merriam-Webster definition 3 is that such usage is, by its own standards, pornography. If I find speech manifestly sensational and propagandizing, I should plainly say so. To analogize it to depictions of hardcore sex acts is to participate in that very sort of sensationalism.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:27 AM on January 6, 2007


Yes, it does. Quoting the dictionary is lazy. This is just abuse of the word "pornography" to stir up a strong emotional reaction when. The movie isn't lurid or lustful. It's the wrong word.

How about "sensationalististic" or "harmfully inaccurate"? I guess those lack the punch of "pornography", huh?
posted by Khalad at 11:28 AM on January 6, 2007


nixerman: "Kyle, it's clear that for the modern American chattering classes a man like Mel Gibson is just painfully embarassing; as an unabashed anti-Semite, an extraordinary artist, and a deeply principled and serious thinker he can't help but make them look small, fake and deeply irrelevant."

Fixed that for you.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:38 AM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


But is "SECRETARIA EJECUTIVA #1 - BROAD OF DIRECTORS" pornography, I wants to know.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:41 AM on January 6, 2007


The movie isn't lurid or lustful.

Neither is this canonical example of war porn.

The point of calling it 'porn' is to pass judgement on those who find it worthwhile.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:51 AM on January 6, 2007


The point of calling it 'porn' is to pass judgement on those who find it worthwhile.

Well, then: It's porn.

Bah, that just doesn't provide the same pleasure as calling it crap and telling people who like it that they're tasteless idiots. Besides, I like porn.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:01 PM on January 6, 2007


Calling it "pornography" is like calling conservative blogging "wanking", it's using sexuality as a metaphor for anything enjoyable or 'lurid'. It's a useful metaphor, but it's not literally true.
posted by delmoi at 12:01 PM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Heywood Mogroot: The point of calling it 'porn' is to pass judgement on those who find it worthwhile.

Hmm. So you've already passed judgment on those who find depictions of sexual fantasy worthwhile? Otherwise, how would this analogy be a condemnation?
posted by kid ichorous at 12:14 PM on January 6, 2007


I'm sorry that you disagree with a standard, commonly accepted definition of a word.
posted by Flunkie at 12:18 PM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is interesting. Thanks, hard rain.

Somehow I had a feeling that Mel's latest wouldn't be the exploration of Mayan culture a lot of people seemed to expect it to be.
posted by koeselitz at 12:20 PM on January 6, 2007


Also, given that the word "pornography" is hardly mentioned in this article, you'd think people would have different things to talk about than the definition of a word that's generally unrelated to the post.
posted by koeselitz at 12:21 PM on January 6, 2007


pornography? not really.

another crappy historically inaccurate movie? yep.

and really, where the hell are the mayans? shouldn't they be protesting this garbage? they need to stand up for themselves.
posted by jcterminal at 12:31 PM on January 6, 2007


I'm sorry that you disagree with a standard, commonly accepted definition of a word.

Oh, that's absurd. "Pornography" used to describe non sexual pornography is always a metaphor for sexual pornography.
posted by delmoi at 12:32 PM on January 6, 2007


Look, if Mel Gibson wants to make a movie about evil violent savages being civilized by missionaries, fine. He can write a story about that and film it...it's called fiction.

Projecting this simplistic fantasy as being representative of actual Mayan civilization is disingenuous. The Maya weren't peacenik pussycats, but his depiction of them is slanderous...but bolstered in authenticity by use of Yucatec as the language. He chose a period of history that is unknown enough that he has a now staked a claim for redefining the Maya for popular culture. Great.
posted by desuetude at 12:39 PM on January 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


Oh, that's absurd. "Pornography" used to describe non sexual pornography is always a metaphor for sexual pornography.
Okay. If you're terribly concerned with the opposite opinion, I suggest you take it up with the people who compile dictionaries. I'm not sure what else to tell you.
posted by Flunkie at 12:43 PM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Protesting? Huh? Did I miss something? Gibson is using historical fiction as a setting for a action flick.

Shall sailors protest for Gibson's portrayal of an officer in "The Mutiny"? And who will stand up for mummies? The Mummy and The Mummy Returns certainly mislead people onto the historical fact of northern Africa.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 12:45 PM on January 6, 2007


kid ichorous

I can't speak for anyone else, but the trailer to Apocalypto offended me far more than hardcore sex ever could.
posted by Target Practice at 12:49 PM on January 6, 2007


This is an extraordinary cinematic journey upriver: a worryingly potent Mr Kurtz is sitting in the director's chair.
posted by Rumple at 12:59 PM on January 6, 2007


There's SO much in the movie that is factually wrong it's crazy. If anyone made a movie that flubbed American history that way while depicting us as pigs, people would get offended.

Btw, there's nothing wrong with PrOn, but it's designed to illicit a physical, not artistic, response, in the same way a lot of this film seems to have been made to satisfy bloodlust. The comparison is apt.
posted by xammerboy at 1:11 PM on January 6, 2007


I think what a lot of people are failing to understand is that Mel Gibson clearly doesn't give a shit about portraying the Mayans accurately.

Of course, he could produce another movie in a long string of works that argue European colonists saved Native Americans from themselves. And people who see through the bullshit of historic accuracy can call him on it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:13 PM on January 6, 2007


the profound spirituality and connection to agricultural cycles, or the engineering feats of Maya cities.

Traci Arden is a dope. The Mayans never invented the wheel I suppose, given that fact, anything they accomplished would be a great engineering feat. But let's not overdo it.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:22 PM on January 6, 2007


as an unabashed anti-Semite, an extraordinary artist, and a deeply principled and serious thinker he can't help but make them look small, fake and deeply irrelevant."

Ha! I misread that twice as "a deeply principled and serious drinker". Works either way, I think.
posted by maryh at 1:51 PM on January 6, 2007


Flunkie, you're coming across as a complete ass. "Hey, don't blame me, you should write a letter to Webster," is about the stupidest defense for a position I've ever seen.

I saw Apocalypto. It did not contain a bunch of people having sex. It didn't have girl-on-girl action, it did not have anal beads. It did not have three hot college guys in a shower, it did not have midgets and it sure as hell didn't have Cheyenne Silver.
It wasn't porn, and if it had been billed as such I would have been sorely disappointed and demanded my money back. Sir, I have seen porn and that was not it.

Anybody who thinks that movie was a porno has never waited for their parents to go to bed so they could squint at scrambled cable.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 2:06 PM on January 6, 2007


Moral of this thread: people care a lot more about porn than mayans.
posted by koeselitz at 2:12 PM on January 6, 2007 [4 favorites]


Lenny Riefenstahl!
posted by Haruspex at 2:12 PM on January 6, 2007


Oh, that's absurd. "Pornography" used to describe non sexual pornography is always a metaphor for sexual pornography

I think the idea is that it analogizes the way in which sex is depicted in porn, rather than referring to the sex itself, as such. That is, in referring to a depiction as pornographic, one intends to say "this depiction" is to "real history" the way "pornography" is to "real sex". It is not a true, realistic, complex, interesting, etc depiction, but a simplistic, inaccurate, one-sided fantasy version, that frankly reveals a fantasy some portion of people are disappointed exists.
posted by mdn at 2:42 PM on January 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


Baby_Balrog, did you miss the part where 'pornography' has multiple definitions?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:44 PM on January 6, 2007


On postview, what mdn said.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:44 PM on January 6, 2007


Flunkie, you're coming across as a complete ass.
Okay.
"Hey, don't blame me, you should write a letter to Webster," is about the stupidest defense for a position I've ever seen.
Even when that position is merely that someone is using a particular word in a standard way?
I saw Apocalypto. It did not contain a bunch of people having sex. It didn't have girl-on-girl action, it did not have anal beads. It did not have three hot college guys in a shower, it did not have midgets and it sure as hell didn't have Cheyenne Silver.
Please show me exactly where I said, or even implied, that Apocalypto was pornographic, in this sense of the word. Or where the author of the linked article said or implied that.

And for that matter, show me where I said, or even implied, that Apocalypto was pornographic in any sense of the word.
It wasn't porn, and if it had been billed as such I would have been sorely disappointed and demanded my money back. Sir, I have seen porn and that was not it.

Anybody who thinks that movie was a porno has never waited for their parents to go to bed so they could squint at scrambled cable.
When you see someone refer to a "ham and cheese sub", do you complain because the Navy does not make submarines out of ham and cheese?

And if someone points out to you another definition of "sub" in the dictionary, which is applicable for ham and cheese, and which is very clearly the definition which the original speaker intended, do you tell them that they're a complete ass, and that that's about the stupidest defense for a position you've ever seen?
posted by Flunkie at 2:54 PM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's clear that for the modern American chattering classes a man like Mel Gibson is just painfully embarassing; as an unabashed anti-Semite, an extraordinary artist, and a deeply principled and serious thinker he can't help but make them look small, fake and deeply irrelevant.

Nixerman, as you you gaze into Gibson's always too wide eyes with their usually pin-point pupils, I'm surprised you don't share my sense of something gone seriously, increasingly, and now desperately wrong there; it comes across to me as a fevered glitter as of smashing glass and a just subaudible sobbing welling from a deep source.

Gibson's The Passion... should have been The Interminable Agony..., of course, but that was only the latest and only for that moment greatest expression of his fascination with torture and his obsessive masochism. I don't know enough about Apocalypto to be certain it carries this disturbed and disturbing fixation forward, but all the material linked in this thread makes it seem very likely that it does.

Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore makes clear, by long, detailed, and utterly excruciating recitation of punishments and their consequences endured by the transported at the hands of the British and Colonial authorities, in which Hughes displays a morbid fascination with torture and grotesque mayhem that so closely parallels Gibson's as to make me think it could be an aspect of national character, that the Austrailian state itself was founded in a welter of blood wrung drop by agonized drop from the backs of the colonists (and in rivers from the Aboriginies, who were treated as vermin).

What was done to the Aboriginies can only be described as a holocaust, the Tasmanians were completely exterminated, for example, and I think many historians would say what the Spaniards did to the 16th century Maya as a holocaust, as well:

Within decades of the first contact with the Spaniards, the Maya would die in the hundreds of thousands as European diseases, colonial exploitation and cruelty took root.

I think one of the most pernicious (and supremely ridiculous) aspects of the film is its ignorance of this historical fact and that it attempts to portray the Conquistadors as a species of liberator of the people from the decadent Mayan elite.

And speaking of holocausts, I was very interested to see, as I looked over one of the downstream links, that Gibson's father (Hutton) is a Holocaust denier! And that Gibson is currently involved in a film about the Holocaust:

Gibson's involvement in the project has already raised some eyebrows because critics claimed "Passion" contained anti-Semitic elements, a charge Gibson has denied. Gibson's father also is on the record denying that the Holocaust took place.

If Gibson does indeed believe we are in the End Times, perhaps he will conclude there is not enough time left for a project of this magnitude.

We can only hope.
posted by jamjam at 2:58 PM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


A friend told me that he fairly enjoyed Apocalypto. If you think of it as a movie about Mayans, or as a historical movie, then it's a truly terrible movie. But, he says, if you think of it as a remake of The Most Dangerous Game then it's a pretty good action/adventure flick.

(Nixerman, a hint, if you used fewer buzzwords in your posts, there's a possibility I might take your opinion seriously... as it is, your post reads like a partly-digested regurgitated talk show rant.)
posted by hattifattener at 3:09 PM on January 6, 2007


Scrap that Mayonese stuff, forger the fact I can't hardly stand Gibson

Wanna have cheap fun ? here's cheapER
Dig these imbreds attempting to poke fun at the excellent Guns Germ and Steel ! How dare they !

Behold this imperial Harry Potter spinoff dork attempting inside sperm jokes , starts well and the the dorkyness overflow attempting to cross into truthiness

Or maybe a lecture by the author Jared Diamond is a well spent hour.

Wanna see dismember bodies, blood, gore, all the hyperviolence ?

Dig Plastination techniques (yes warning, graphic, may educate!) The infinitely creepy Gunther Von Hagens will guide you.


posted by elpapacito at 3:29 PM on January 6, 2007


But in "Apocalypto," no mention is made of the achievements in science and art, the profound spirituality and connection to agricultural cycles, or the engineering feats of Maya cities.

Is profound spirituality always a positive thing?

To think that a movie about the 1,000 ways a Maya can kill a Maya--when only 10 years ago Maya people were systematically being exterminated in Guatemala just for being Maya--is in any way okay, entertaining, or helpful is the epitome of a Western fantasy of supremacy that I find sad and ultimately pornographic.

In the movie, Jaguar Paw isn't Mayan. He is captured from his tribe by Mayans and taken into the Mayan city-state. The violence in the movie isn't Maya-on-Maya violence. It is the same sort of violence the Spanish perpetrated on the Mayans: the violence of "expansion".

(I say Mayans on the same grounds the author of the review does. It is not made clear in the movie.)

I, for one, thought it was beautifully ironic. The first scene of the movie shows Jaguar Paw taking apart a dead tapir and awarding each of his band one of its organs. Later on in the movie, members of his band are taken apart in much the same way, albeit much more gruesome.

The author of this review is a cultural relativist who doesn't understand that culture can sometimes go wrong.
posted by Laugh_track at 3:37 PM on January 6, 2007


mdn: I think the idea is that it analogizes the way in which sex is depicted in porn, rather than referring to the sex itself, as such. That is, in referring to a depiction as pornographic, one intends to say "this depiction" is to "real history" the way "pornography" is to "real sex".

It's also a sensational and provocative comparison to draw, and this gives it its rhetorical punch. Consider the strong politicization and taboo of the word. Remember that it's not only a controlled substance, but an occasional bogeyman for both the Right and Left, and the origin of any number of First Amendment contests.

This is not the same as calling a sandwich a "sub." This is akin, though more obnoxious, to the widespread use of the word "addiction" by sensational media to describe habitual patterns of behavior. It implies a comparison to illicit substances, conjures images of vein-thin heroin cadavers, all without ever addressing the more rigorous clinical questions of dependency. Now, we can still justify such rhetoric via the AHD:

"The condition of being habitually or compulsively occupied with or or involved in something."

But, if our argument rests entirely on the dictionary, this term is equally suitable for a seven-year-old's relationship with his Playstation, a heroin user's relationship with her needle, and America's love affair with automobiles. I'm sure Geraldo would agree.
posted by kid ichorous at 4:13 PM on January 6, 2007


I don't think the Mayan history geeks are getting all lustful and excited over the contents in Apocalypto.

That's not the crowd it's aiming for. It's aiming for the mindless action movie crowd who want their brown people simple and savage.

Pretty much the same way most porn featuring lesbians does not have lesbians as their target market.
posted by yeloson at 4:23 PM on January 6, 2007


This is not the same as calling a sandwich a "sub."
Can you give me any example of any usage of Merriam-Webster's third definition of "pornography" that is, in your opinion, valid?
posted by Flunkie at 4:31 PM on January 6, 2007


Oh, that's absurd. "Pornography" used to describe non sexual pornography is always a metaphor for sexual pornography.

I think the inextricable linking of the word 'pornography' ignores much of its contemporary usage. With sex, pornography isn't just a visual (or other) depiction of sex; it's a glorification of the physical acts of sex, a technicolor, larger-than-life, more-beautiful-than-life presentation of sex. It ignores the real-life complexity of sexuality so that it can glorify the base emotional sating of lust. This is not a bad thing, but one has to admit that sex porn doesn't exactly dwell on the emotional consequences of fucking the pizza boy while hubby is at work, or whatever.

Thus, the 'pornography' part is the difference between the complex reality of physical sex acts (and their consequences, positive and/or negative) and their idealized portrayal. I read cultural commentary fairly regularly that refers to the 'pornography of violence', and I think the word is aptly used there. American culture has an obvious fascination with violence, and when it's presented in glorified ways, that's a pornographic presentation. (Consider the portrayal of violence in, say, a Lethal Weapon movie, where it's very glamorized, with Fargo, where the banality of violent acts are juxtaposed with their emotional horror. I'm surprised those arguing otherwise in this thread haven't come across this usage of the word.

Mel Gibson's movies absolutely revel in the pornography of violence. They present gruesome, horrific acts of violence in very graphic, exaggerated, and visually poetic (almost, to me, loving) ways. He revels in violence and suffering, and glorifies them. That's pornography, man, it's just about violence instead of sex.
posted by LooseFilter at 4:53 PM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


(The first sentence of previous should of course read "...the inextricable linking of the word 'pornography' with sex ignores...")
posted by LooseFilter at 4:54 PM on January 6, 2007


From the OED: bold is mine.

pornography n.

b. In extended use: the pornography of violence the explicit description or depiction of violence in a manner intended to stimulate or excite.
1956 A. KAPLAN in S. Hook Amer. Philosophers at Work 415 The pornography of violence is more widespread in our culture than all the other categories of obscenity put together. 1967 Esquire July 59, I speak of the new pornography, the pornography of violence... In the new pornography, the theme is not sex. The new pornography depicts practitioners acting out another, murkier drive: people staving teeth in, ripping guts open, blowing brains out, and getting even with all those bastards. 1995 P. BOURGEOIS In search of Respect (1997) Introd. 18, I do not know if it is possible for me to present the story of my three and a half years of residence in El Barrio without falling prey to a pornography of violence.

posted by vacapinta at 4:55 PM on January 6, 2007


In the new pornography, the theme is not sex.

I miss the old pornography.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:10 PM on January 6, 2007


Oh and if Gibson just wanted to make an action movie he should have picked a sci-fi theme and made it happen on some distant planet instead of capitalizing on people's interest in the Maya and then feeding them false facts.

I just talked to a cousin of mine who was off to see the movie. His comments: "Yeah it sounds cool and It'll be neat to find out a bit more about the Maya as well!"

What a disservice. Mel Gibson: the anti-teacher.
posted by vacapinta at 5:26 PM on January 6, 2007


This is completely ridiculous.

The only reason people are calling this movie "pornography" is to get a rise out of other people.

Pornography is movies and pictures of people fucking.

Attack Gibson's movie all you want - fwiw I thought it was total rubbish, top to bottom. But don't try to get people riled up by calling it a porno.

Or wait - I've got it.

Apocalypto wasn't just porno, it was genocidal porno. Genocidal, child-molesting, flag-burning porno.

Let's just rape the English language until it's dead. I mean, words don't really mean anything any more, anyway.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 5:28 PM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


No kidding, what a load of crap. Since when are you supposed to learn history through the movie theater, anyway?
posted by IronLizard at 5:31 PM on January 6, 2007


Let's just rape the English language until it's dead. I mean, words don't really mean anything any more, anyway.

I've never heard people accuse the OED of that! And here they are just trying to echo common usage. Or did you miss my excerpt above?
posted by vacapinta at 5:35 PM on January 6, 2007


Let's just rape the English language until it's dead. I mean, words don't really mean anything any more, anyway.
Is it, or is it not, clear to you that every decent English dictionary gives a definition of the word that doesn't imply sexuality?
posted by Flunkie at 5:36 PM on January 6, 2007


What a disservice. Mel Gibson: the anti-teacher.

I agree with your sentiment, vacapinta,but disagree with the above statement. I think Gibson is actually quite the effective teacher. He's just teaching an extraordinarily dystopian world-view, one in line with his rather warped opinions about reality.

Pornography is movies and pictures of people fucking.[....]I mean, words don't really mean anything any more, anyway.

Again, I agree with the sentiment, Baby_Balrog, but disagree with this specific instance. The English language is under attack, and people who care that words mean things should defend precision in language. But the OED, Webster, and many scholarly uses of the word 'pornography' demonstrate that its meaning has been enlarged in the past half-century. I think it's a good deepening of meaning. What sexual pornography does to real sex is analogous to what filmmakers like Mel Gibson do to real violence, and the use of the word 'pornography' in newer contexts is enlightening, and a valid transfer of concept. IMHO.
posted by LooseFilter at 5:38 PM on January 6, 2007


Can we fix the whole arguing-over-porn thing by clarifying that Apocolypto is most certainly not pornography, but that the violence that is at the heart of the movie is pornographically explicit?
posted by desuetude at 5:45 PM on January 6, 2007


I'm not trying to be dense, but am I the only person who thinks this positively reeks of lefty elitism?

If someone called "The Vagina Monologues" pornography and had it banned from being performed in their town, we'd be lighting the torches. But suddenly, when useful, the word can have negative conotations that work to our advantage. We all suspect right-wingers of harboring pro-Gibson sentiments... how can we get at them? I know! We'll take something they despise - pornography - and conflate it with something they love - creepy Mel Gibson movies. That'll get 'em.

I think it's a weak criticism of a film that is deserving of much stronger criticism. It's a cop-out.

I understand that pornography has more than one definition these days. That's why we have the word, "erotica." But it angers me that people are trying to apply to word to a movie that is so obviously not a porno. And I suspect they're only doing it because they harbor a particular political agenda, and it pisses me off to see a word get all messed up and redefined to support someone's political agenda.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 5:46 PM on January 6, 2007


After posting - I really like what desuetude just said.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 5:46 PM on January 6, 2007


I do too, but I like your longer version as well. (That's a reply to Baby_Balrog, in case someone sneaks in ahead of me.)
posted by languagehat at 5:52 PM on January 6, 2007


I give up.
posted by Flunkie at 5:54 PM on January 6, 2007


Threads like this is why I dont call myself 'liberal' in public anymore. Now its just all about being overly PC and politicizing everything. Sad way to be, really.
posted by damn dirty ape at 5:55 PM on January 6, 2007


Wow. This thread marks the first time in my life I have ever seen someone called an "ass" for using the dictionary to define a word. But I guess real knowledge comes from the gut.
posted by crackingdes at 5:59 PM on January 6, 2007


I don't have an agenda (other than thinking that Mel Gibson is sick, and his films are generally large-scale presentations of his sick mind), but I would definitely say that the depiction of violence in his movies is pornographic. I would further say that his body of work is in many ways the pornography of violence.

If you told me that the Vagina Monologues was pornography, I'd ask 'in what way?', because I don't think that's a defensible assertion. People who conflate depictions of nudity or frank discussions of sexuality (etc.) with 'pornography' understand neither frank discussions nor pornography very well. I would take them to task for imprecise usage of that term. And then I'd talk to them about the pornography of violence in Mel Gibson's films (even the Jesus one). :)

What was asinine about the essay in the post was not her use of the term 'pornography', but rather her objections to the film itself--of all of the awful things in that movie, her first worry is that it doesn't present Mayan culture in an historically accurate, fully-realized way? Really?? I couldn't even get there, for all the gore dripping off my face. I don't care who or what Mel Gibson's movies are about--what's front-line offensive about them is their extraordinary glorification of violence in any context. (and I don't mind violence in movies--the question of degree here is everything.)
posted by LooseFilter at 6:01 PM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


If someone called "The Vagina Monologues" pornography and had it banned from being performed in their town, we'd be lighting the torches.

This analogy would be much more useful if Apocalypto had been successfully banned from any towns and/or movie theaters.
posted by crackingdes at 6:02 PM on January 6, 2007


Flunkie said: I saw Apocalypto. It did not contain a bunch of people having sex. It didn't have girl-on-girl action, it did not have anal beads. It did not have three hot college guys in a shower, it did not have midgets and it sure as hell didn't have Cheyenne Silver.

Wow, after that scathing review, there's no way in hell I'm watching it. What does it have? Two thumbs down.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:11 PM on January 6, 2007


Flunkie said: I saw Apocalypto. It did not contain a bunch of people having sex. It didn't have girl-on-girl action, it did not have anal beads. It did not have three hot college guys in a shower, it did not have midgets and it sure as hell didn't have Cheyenne Silver.
I did not say that.
posted by Flunkie at 6:15 PM on January 6, 2007


Flunkie writes 'I give up.'

I don't blame you, Flunkie. Even on a site that thrives on wilful misunderstanding, I'm finding it hard to believe that people are refusing to accept that a word can have a number of meanings.
posted by jack_mo at 6:19 PM on January 6, 2007


Oh, whoops, Flunkie was not the originator of that comment. I was confued by his use of indents instead of italics to connote a quote. Sorry, Baby Balrog.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:20 PM on January 6, 2007


I think the argument can be made that Apocalypto, like any Bel Ami movie, appeals solely to one's prurient interest and lacks any serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
posted by me & my monkey at 6:22 PM on January 6, 2007


Words can have a number of meanings.

The only reason you are calling this pornography is to piss off conservatives.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 6:26 PM on January 6, 2007


The only reason you are calling this pornography is to piss off conservatives.

That's quite the leap. Project much?
posted by LooseFilter at 6:51 PM on January 6, 2007


Can't we all just agree that Gibson is a crank, his ability to tell history sucks, and the movies is glorified violent trash masquerading as epic storytelling? Are we really arguing over the words we choose to express that sentiment?
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:14 PM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Excellent re-focusing, Astro Zombie. I agree.
posted by LooseFilter at 7:27 PM on January 6, 2007


I also agree.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:37 PM on January 6, 2007


What the fuck are you talking about? Gibson didn't make Crank.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:49 PM on January 6, 2007


Baby_Balrog: The only reason people are calling this movie "pornography" is to get a rise out of other people.

And is there a problem with that? Such as when you say:

Let's just rape the English language until it's dead. I mean, words don't really mean anything any more, anyway.

Talk about rhetorical excess! After all, the only reason you compare this review to homicidal rape is to get a rise out of people. I don't think that's a big deal, but...

We are talking about a word that is used once by the author of the review, she doesn't even use it to describe the movie as pornographic:
To think that a movie about the 1,000 ways a Maya can kill a Maya--when only 10 years ago Maya people were systematically being exterminated in Guatemala just for being Maya--is in any way okay, entertaining, or helpful is the epitome of a Western fantasy of supremacy that I find sad and ultimately pornographic.
For pete's sake is it too much to ask that you RTFA before choosing to hit the submit button?

Of course, given that I wasn't born last week, and have actually read some radical feminists, (as opposed to blindly posting about them like most people) I get exactly what she's saying here. Radical feminism views pornography as the true expression of how an ideology views women, and Dr. Arden is making the case that Apocolypto is Gibson's expression of how his ideology views Native Americans. But again, we are talking about a single word pulled out of context that isn't directly used to describe the movie.

To drive the point home through mind-numbing repetition: At no point in the essay is Apocolypto described as pornographic.

Of course, we could get into talking about what Dr. Arden really is saying, as opposed to what she didn't say at all. We could talk about whether Apocolypto really is an apology for European colonization on top of being an action movie.

The only reason you are calling this pornography is to piss off conservatives.

Of course, I don't know who is calling this movie "pornographic"? Dr. Arden isn't, and I don't see anyone in this thread using the term in that way either.

And, if indeed the "pornographic" is used to piss off conservatives, is that necessarily a bad thing in this current age of combative discourse? It's not as if conservatives are all that shy about using the term "pornographic" to describe art and letters they find objectionable on an ideological level.

And in addition, some people on every port of the political spectrum is going to be pissed off about anything short of the most obsequious flattery. So I've learned not to care that much.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:18 PM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Of course, I don't know who is calling this movie "pornographic"? Dr. Arden isn't, and I don't see anyone in this thread using the term in that way either."

The heading on this post asks the question, "Is 'Apocalypto' pornography?" I was addressing the OP. And of course I read the article.

Note my careful avoidance of ad hominems.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:37 PM on January 6, 2007


The only reason you are calling this pornography is to piss off conservatives.

Most of the conservatives I know disapprove of the casual use of violence in popular media.
posted by me & my monkey at 8:42 PM on January 6, 2007


I too am willing to settle with what Astro Zombie above, although it looks like KirkJobSluder wants to get things going again...
posted by vacapinta at 8:57 PM on January 6, 2007


The only reason you are calling this pornography is to piss off conservatives.

Look, the reason people are resorting to quotes from the dictionary is that some people in this thread seem genuinely unaware that, in some circles, it is very common to call violent movies "pornographic". And it has nothing to do with pissing off conservatives. It's an apt an useful word to describe the visceral appeal (or disgust) that these movies arouse.

Some people are genuinely disgusted by gory movies in much the same way other people are genuinely disgusted by sex movies. It makes perfect sense for such people to point to Gibson's movie and say, "Ick! It's pornographic!"

The fact that you've only seen the word "pornographic" to describe sex movies is just your own ignorance. As that OED citations shows, people have been using the word this way for at least fifty years.
posted by straight at 9:27 PM on January 6, 2007


How dare anyone use a lesser-known definition for a common english word! It's positively niggardly!
posted by blue_beetle at 9:54 PM on January 6, 2007


Baby_Balrog: The heading on this post asks the question, "Is 'Apocalypto' pornography?" I was addressing the OP. And of course I read the article.

But the OP doesn't call it pornography either. So I'm wondering, exactly who are you talking about when you say, "But it angers me that people are trying to apply to word to a movie that is so obviously not a porno"?

And I find it hard to read the article and come out at the end with such a silly and obnoxious summary as, "We all suspect right-wingers of harboring pro-Gibson sentiments... how can we get at them? I know! We'll take something they despise - pornography - and conflate it with something they love - creepy Mel Gibson movies. That'll get 'em."

It's rather like reading Hamlet and summarizing it as a jolly farce about a family picnic. It pisses me off to see basic English literacy get all messed up and redefined to support someone's political agenda.

The problem is that Astro Zombie's attempt to refocus also misses the point. Dr. Arden is not just saying that Apocolypto is "glorified violent trash masquerading as epic storytelling." She is saying that it's glorified violent propaganda masquerading as epic and historically researched storytelling. She is also saying that the problems with the political ideology expressed by Gibson didn't end at some point in the past.

There are lots of reviews that call it "glorified violent trash." This is one of the few reviews that connect Apocolypto to historic and contemporary racism against Indigenous North Americans.

You can agree with that connection, or disagree with that connection. But that's the thesis of the linked article. Perhaps we could actually talk about that rather than some invented agenda slapped onto the linked article?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:39 PM on January 6, 2007


And working on the point of the article, this review was one of three or four that convinced me to spend my minimal entertainment dollars elsewhere. I don't know enough about racial politics in Central America to really evaluate her claims, but it has me interested in looking in a different direction.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:57 PM on January 6, 2007


I've seen a continuum of opinion on the nature of pornography, from the SCOTUS to Dworkin, and I think there's probably room for a few more. I don't think it's reasonable to say (of me, or Balrog, or anyone else in this thread) that criticism of one particular view need be the mark of ignorance. For myself, I'm sorry if I've offended anyone, but I think my criticism of the MW definition 3 was fair. (Not to mention that all 3 MW definitions seem to hinge on authorial intent. I don't think we need to open this can so much as acknowledge its Annelid contents.)

Mel's original Mad Max was anomy: society struck down, reborn bloody, delivered up into masculine hands and spanked vigorously. The violence was flatly disturbing and intense. This included: scribbles of optic blood vessels flashed over high-speed wreckage, a rape scene possibly in excess of Clockwork Orange, charred corpses, sawed limbs, and a molested mannequin. I haven't really seen his other films, but I can't imagine any racial caricatures painted worse than the white male hooligans of this film, who sum up to little more than zombies in the give and take. And that brings me to the point - the devices of Mad Max seem more at home in the genre of horror than anything else. I'm not sure if this has any bearing on Apocalypto, but as others have said, it doesn't look like the Mayan civilization is being singled out with the violent treatment.

Flunkie, I've considered answers for the last question you posed to me, but I don't really want to fan the flames, nor trudge through a long argument. If you're interested I could post an answer to Talk - is that the protocol? I have no idea if further discussion is really fruitful, or if all sides are not by now completely exasperated.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:40 PM on January 6, 2007


stop talking about fucking pornography! it makes me want to flag every single comment in this thread as irrelevant!
posted by tehloki at 12:14 AM on January 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


kid ichorous: I don't think it's reasonable to say (of me, or Balrog, or anyone else in this thread) that criticism of one particular view need be the mark of ignorance.

Well, I don't know. It is pretty damn obvious what Arden means when she talks about a pornographic fantasy of Western superiority that she's not just dropping that phrase just to be crude or sensationalistic. After spending four and a half paragraphs engaging in a post-colonial critique of Apocolypto the interpretation that she's just using it to shock, or to refer to sexually explicit acts is as mind-boggling as the happy family outing interpretation of Hamlet.

"Ignorance" is certainly a nicer reason for this trainwreck of a discussion than "willful misinterpretation." And no worse a bit of hyperbole than saying those who would see analogies to porn have never seen porn.

And perhaps one thing revealed by this trainwreck is how a bad title can spoil an entire article.

Earlier you said:

It's also a sensational and provocative comparison to draw, and this gives it its rhetorical punch. Consider the strong politicization and taboo of the word.

Well, yes. So is "raping a language until it is dead," a much more obvious and gratuitous use of shock language.

In the context of Arden's thesis that Apocolypto is political, it's not unreasonable to compare (theoretically) fantasies of Western superiority to fantasies of male superiority. Granted, it's a trivial part of the entire essay, but I don't find it unreasonable, or so scary given how much she buffers and hedges that phrase.

But if we are going to pick apart that one tiny word thrown into the conclusion of the essay, then we should probably consider that she might be working from a theory that doesn't define pornography according to it's sexual explicitness, but from it's impact on women as an oppressed class.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:47 AM on January 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


jamjam,

I think you're doing both yourself and Gibson a grave disservice by approaching his films with such an attitude. It may be very comforting to dismiss his art as the product of an homicidal, warped mind but it's ultimately the coward's way out.

I won't provide a complete defense of Gibson's violence (I've already done that and strangely it was under similar circumstances: it was 4am and I was also a good bit drunk then) but I will propose that Gibson's violence is novel and sincere and thus worthy consideration. Compared to other current directors who too often employ violence as either a cartoonish prop or a Sign That Something Bad is happening, Gibson is a true and important innovator. Gibson's violence is never the shallow, melodramtic violence that is perpetrated by The Bad Guys (tm) who must then be hunted out and taken Dead or Alive. It's not a bomb set to go off on a speeding bus or planes crashing into skyscrapers. It's never the Single Unspeakable Act or midnight plot device that moves persons and story around like clockwork. This violence has no permanence or subtlety -- it belongs to the realm of broadcastf television not film -- and so it quickly degrades into nothing more than CGI special effects and evening news material. Gibson's violence is very special because it has a permanence and a depth that approaches the real thing. In this light it's completely idiotic to say Gibson glorifyies and worships violence. Duh. Any idiot with at least one eye can see this is the case. But purpose of film is to glorify and worship the world and, since violence is part of the world, there's no meaningful reason why the genius of cinema cannot be turned upon violence no matter how uncomfortable the results might be.

If you watch his films with an open mind it is clear that Gibson doesn't glorify violence for its own sake. There is always a clear (often too clear) and distinct higher purpose. The film never stays on violence it always moves on. Whether it's the redemption of humanity or the end of the world the excess violence is always taken to be kind of void, a vacuum that will be quickly filled by something else. (This is also why Gibson escapes the charge of nihilism). His violence is not a feature in the story, it's not a mere prop or plot device, rather it constitutes the story in itself. Gibson uses violence the way other directors use dialogue and settings and camera. And in fact this is remarkable. Those of us who have lived in real violent environments -- either war zones or broken homes -- or experienced violent events understand that this is how real violence works. It's not a Special Effect, it's not a camera sequence, it's an overwhelming, all consuming, oppressive, force of nature that is ever present and undeniable like gravity or electromagnetism. Real violence gets in your bones, it gets in the walls and the carpet and your soul and it stays there. You never forget it. You relive it over and over and over. It doesn't come and go. It's without beginning or end. In many cases it's the glue that holds the world together. Gibson's excessive brutality then should be taken as a metaphysical declaration. He is shouting at his audience with all the fervour and passion he can summon, deperately trying to break past their uniquely artificial, heavily mediated bubble realities to tell them that this is the way the world really is. You might say that such an approach lacks finesse but its total lack of finesse is the very point. True violence -- not the kind seen in Hong Kong martial arts flicks or sappy war films -- has no finesse, it is sheer unadulterated brutality that has been stripped of any redeeming illusions. This is what is meant when people say violence is 'senseless'. The violence in Apocalypto is true violence and Gibson deserves praise for capturing it on film.

As for the objections of Gibson's treatment of the Mayans mostly they're just PC nonsense and need not be addressed. One criticism that is somewhat interesting is the given simplicity of Gibson's savages. This is a whole nother ball of wax but here I'll suggest that the suppose simplicity of the savages in Apocalypto is totally intentional. This will offend Western notions of individualism and the precious illusion of Self but so what. One of the major goals of the film is to show the Old Testament understanding of the Wicked City. God doesn't destroy the Wicked City because the people in the city are wicked but because the city itself is wicked. Just because Sodom contained a bunch of innocent children doesn't mean the city was any less wicked. This understanding can't be properly appreciated without the deeply held belief in a structural model of evil unique to fundamentalists but that doesn't make it any less important. (Though of course I've always found it ironic that the liberals are willing to entertain fantastic notions like the inherent nobility of man and violence and crime caused by environmental factors ... but always stop short of allowing the existence of evil.)

And, finally, to bring my drunken rambling to an end, let me say the boogeyman treatment of Gibson and his films is more revealing of his critics than him. It's cliche to ay a director has arrived before his time, that his audience is shallow and ignorant and incapable of appreciating his genius -- and I don't think this is the case with Gibson. Rather it seems the ridicule of Gibson is coordinated, the product of a highly organized and conformist popular culture, a kind of media campaign. Why this campaign is waged is interesting but most importantly it reveals just how conservative and small the current liberal order really is, regardless of its pretensions to world-weary cynicism and anxiety.
posted by nixerman at 2:23 AM on January 7, 2007 [2 favorites]


nixerman: A film billed as historical fiction/documentary has to remain at least partially true to history. Complaining that Gibson basically ignored half of what we know about Mayan culture is not "PC nonsense".
posted by tehloki at 2:43 AM on January 7, 2007 [2 favorites]


True violence -- not the kind seen in Hong Kong martial arts flicks or sappy war films -- has no finesse, it is sheer unadulterated brutality that has been stripped of any redeeming illusions. This is what is meant when people say violence is 'senseless'. The violence in Apocalypto is true violence and Gibson deserves praise for capturing it on film.

And the Academy Award for best movie this year goes to....

Bumfights!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:58 AM on January 7, 2007


Rather it seems the ridicule of Gibson is coordinated, the product of a highly organized and conformist popular culture, a kind of media campaign.

Yes it is ! It is done to promote a movie *wink wink* but it is not the product of comformistic behavior you dislike so much, but that still pervades you by the means of anticonformistic choice.

But hey go watch Gibson till you like, nobody is forcing anybody not to see it.
posted by elpapacito at 3:46 AM on January 7, 2007


If someone called "The Vagina Monologues" pornography and had it banned from being performed in their town, we'd be lighting the torches.

as others have said, that would be a very strange use of the word pornography as I understand it...
. ...
I understand that pornography has more than one definition these days. That's why we have the word, "erotica." But it angers me that people are trying to apply to word to a movie that is so obviously not a porno.

One thing about language is that you can't always count on everyone to have the same understanding of a word as you do. It seems that everyone agrees that the definition of pornography includes "gratuitous, unrealistic depictions of sex & nudity" but then some of us essentially weight the former (the form) and some weight the latter (the content) as being more central to the definition. So we have possible extensions of the word: "x depictions of sex & nudity" vs. "gratuitous, unrealistic depictions of x". To me, an airbrushed color photo of a buxom babe spread eagle is porn and titian is not, even though both are depictions of female nudes. Why? Titian's painting is pretty explicit, really, and she looks somewhat seductive... but the care, detail, and generally art that is taken to produce the image is in no way a cheap excuse to jack off. I suppose it's something of a "you know it when you see it" thing, but anyway: my point is it's the honest way I think of the term, not an opportunistic use taken up to piss off republicans.
posted by mdn at 8:15 AM on January 7, 2007


blue_beetle: "How dare anyone use a lesser-known definition for a common english word! It's positively niggardly!"

That's not actually particularly niggardly, as such, is it? Also, I wouldn't say that niggard is a common English word, unlike its more offensive near-homophone.
posted by Drexen at 9:15 AM on January 7, 2007


There've been a number of articles by Mayan scholars since Arden's; I think Salon had a good one, too.

Here's the Salon review.
posted by homunculus at 9:45 AM on January 7, 2007


I too think Mel is crazy.
I hated all of his other movies.
However I thought this one was great.
It is entertaining, has a slew of good
native american actors, and the landscape is beautiful.
I guess I didn't really think about whether I was going to learn a lot about the Mayans from seeing it. It is Mel Gibson, remember?
And the arrival of the Spanish at the end is a plot device and nothing more. They allow the hero to escape, there is nothing I saw to suggest otherwise.
There could have been more porn though.
posted by archaic at 10:08 AM on January 7, 2007


I can't speak for anyone else, but the trailer to Apocalypto offended me far more than hardcore sex ever could.

Perhaps this Apocalytpo trailer is less offensive.
posted by fuse theorem at 11:02 AM on January 7, 2007


I guess I didn't really think about whether I was going to learn a lot about the Mayans from seeing it. It is Mel Gibson, remember?

One of the most interesting things to happen in hollywood lately was to see which movie reviews were horribly biased about this movie because of Gibson's drunken rant. It really is an excellent and good-looking action movie. I like some of the fun assumptions that critics have come up with to push their agenda:

Movies are very historically accurate.

Actions movies dont usually show much blood, death, or gore.

Actors and directors are usually very emotionally stable people.

Creative people tend to keep their opinions to themselves.

Movies in other languages are wonderful pieces of art unless they're made by Hollywood.

etc etc.

If this was some obscure foreign movie from so no-name with little baggage it would be on the 'must see' list of even the most jaded uber-left college paper.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:05 PM on January 7, 2007


All questions of historical accuracy aside (and it's hard to take seriously a movie in which the Mayans are surprised by an eclipse), the truth is that Apocalypto is not a very good action movie at all. It's a cliche-ridden pastiche of every jungle adventure you've ever seen, including people jumping off waterfalls, guys sinking into quicksand, people running toward the camera in slo mo etc etc etc, all wrapped in a lame low-rent Odyssey storyline. Add to that the disgusting amount of gore and the pretentious posturing at some sort of muddled statement about the decline of cultures, and you got yourself a worthy candidate for worst movie of the year.
posted by muckster at 1:07 PM on January 7, 2007


nixerman: If you watch his films with an open mind it is clear that Gibson doesn't glorify violence for its own sake. There is always a clear (often too clear) and distinct higher purpose. The film never stays on violence it always moves on. Whether it's the redemption of humanity or the end of the world the excess violence is always taken to be kind of void, a vacuum that will be quickly filled by something else.

Personally, I think this hits the nail on the head. I don't think Gibson's violence is pornographic. That would imply that it exists only to shock or titillate. Gibson's violence has a definite purpose:

One of the major goals of the film is to show the Old Testament understanding of the Wicked City. God doesn't destroy the Wicked City because the people in the city are wicked but because the city itself is wicked.

As orcinus points out, this is "the worldview of the 16th-century Catholics who constantly touted the natives' barbarism as a reason for destroying them." The Mayans were wicked, and the Spaniards who exterminated them were doing Good in the name of God.

It is the horror of this ideology, not any sort of namby-pamby political correctness, that underlies much of the criticism of Gibson. Gibson is making a serious political/metaphysical argument, bolstering it by throwing in all the trappings of accuracy. The only problem is, pretty much everything beyond the superficial props is a giant lie.

If course, that surprises me not one whit, given the range of odious behavior that can apparently be justified as acting on God's behalf. Still, I should probably be heartened by this. Four hundred years ago, doing "God's will" still meant being an instrument of Old Testament wrath and wiping out entire civilizations. Today, it just means making up lies about it. Gosh, I'm suddenly optimistic about the future...
posted by bjrubble at 2:06 PM on January 7, 2007


bjrubble: Personally, I think this hits the nail on the head. I don't think Gibson's violence is pornographic. That would imply that it exists only to shock or titillate. Gibson's violence has a definite purpose:

Many views of pornography argue that it doesn't exist just to shock or titillate.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:29 PM on January 7, 2007


For another academic's opinion of the movie, see here.

I think this author makes a particularly good point about the casting, although my favorite point of his is "Apocalypto was a good action movie". Did any of you really go see it in the hopes of better understanding Maya culture?
posted by nat at 4:02 PM on January 7, 2007


Does "Apocalypto" actually mean anything? Or is it just a word that sounds like a Marvel supervillan?
posted by Durhey at 4:03 PM on January 7, 2007


The Mayans were wicked, and the Spaniards who exterminated them were doing Good in the name of God.

Gibson isn't suggesting that the Mayans were wicked and deserved to be exterminated. He shouldn't be compared to Jerry Fallwell or any of the other cartoon fundamentalists. Rather, the movie suggests that while individual Mayans might have been good and honorable the entire culture/city had become dysfunctional. There's a direct parallel to the destruction of the Mayan ecosystem. This is also why the Spanish arrival is a peaceful, unexpected almost non-event. The Spaniards aren't arriving with guns blazing to save the day. Instead it's this sense that a new type of plant has arrived and taken growth, a plant which has the potential to change and revive the entire ecosystem. Think of the first new growth after a great wildfire. This actually is a very Catholic argument but not in the way you suggest. This isn't about destroying the wicked Mayans -- it's not really about the Mayans at all. This is the notion of Christ as a renewer and bringer of change ("Behold, I make all things new" Rev 2:15) a notion that actually lies at the core of the modern evangelical synthesis with its emphasis on "born again." I don't think you can watch final scene of the movie and seriously come away with the idea that the Spaniards are the Good Guys who've come to save the day -- at least if you're not bringing your own narrow politics into play. The final scene is very much about the ending of one world and the beginning of another. This isn't seen as the triumph of good over evil but rather as the growth and evolution that takes place in nature itself.

Now as for the political consequences of the film I'd agree that they're many and probably mostly bad. It's quite suspicious, to say the least, to say that one culture failed and another arrived to pick up the slack and this is the real logic behind European colonialism. But I don't think Gibson should be charged with creating propaganda. The film is far too rich and true itself to be regarded as a bit piece railing against modern society. To dismiss the film as propaganda is to commit an act of censorship which is what's really going on in Arden's essay.
posted by nixerman at 4:44 PM on January 7, 2007


KirkJobSluder: Many views of pornography argue that it doesn't exist just to shock or titillate.

Quick, someone, whip out the Merriam-Webster dictionary!

Durhey: Does "Apocalypto" actually mean anything? Or is it just a word that sounds like a Marvel supervillan?

Both. It's Greek, and means to disclose or reveal. The Christian Apocalypse of John has since made the word synonymous with the Eschaton, or end times.

Funny, how Greek words can have their meanings distorted over time... :)
posted by kid ichorous at 4:57 PM on January 7, 2007


Did any of you really go see it in the hopes of better understanding Maya culture?

nat, I didn't want a lesson in Mayan culture, no. But you'd expect that Gibson would at least bother to get the most basic facts straight. Why bother set a movie in a historical period & culture if you're going to ignore everything we know about it? It's common knowledge that the Maya were expert astronomers, so why would you choose to flat-out contradict that? That eclipse was such nonsense, it took me out of the movie entirely and made me doubt everything about it. That's not just bad history, it's bad storytelling.
posted by muckster at 4:59 PM on January 7, 2007


>so why would you choose to flat-out contradict that? That eclipse was such nonsense, it took me out of the movie entirely and made me doubt everything about it.

Basic Storytelling. Artistic License. Most people don't know or don't care about the astronomy. Hell, when I saw it, I thought it was preplanned because the sacrificer kinda nodded to the leader.

Of course the following are all beliveable and seems didnt take you 'out of the movie'

1. A man can roll up a beehive and roll it at his enemies.

2. A man can outrun a jaguar.

3. A pregnant women can survive in a well for days and give birth.

and all the stuff that really is just movie magic and much more an offense to common sense than the eclipse. Expecting a documentary is just being silly. Hollywood's history is one of getting the facts wrong on purpose.

I think whats really interesting here is that this outcry for facts doesnt seem to exist for movies that romaticize tribal/indiginous peoples. Its hard to hear the "give us better facts" and not see a political agenda there. Oh, the irony.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:17 PM on January 7, 2007


The Maya kings, queens, and noblemen were dressed in attire from the Classic Period (~300-900AD), yet the architecture, the weapons, and the movie itself were from a period of over five centuries later.

What?! Burn the theater down!!!!!!
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:19 PM on January 7, 2007


Maybe people would be a little less lenient about the accuracy of a pseudo-documentary if it dealt with something a little closer to home. Like, say, portraying Stalin as a wonderful man who gave his people prosperity and health.
posted by tehloki at 10:42 AM on January 8, 2007


I think whats really interesting here is that this outcry for facts doesnt seem to exist for movies that romaticize tribal/indiginous peoples.

Such as? Personally, I had similar objections to Braveheart. And don't even get me started on Disney's Pocohontas.
posted by desuetude at 11:37 AM on January 8, 2007


Thanks kid ichorous. As you say, Apocalypse and Armageddon are pretty often conflated. Of course, why Mel chose to use a Greek word to describe a film about Mayans to a contemporary American audience is beyond me.

Though Apocalypto would still make a great name for a supervillian.
posted by Durhey at 11:54 AM on January 8, 2007


"I have the power to end the world!"
"Then why don't you do it?"
"I wouldn't have anywhere to put my stuff..."
posted by tehloki at 5:23 AM on January 9, 2007


'Racist' Apocalypto accused of denigrating Mayan culture
posted by muckster at 7:22 AM on January 10, 2007


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