Must-read: Sci-Fi Author Steven Barnes Offers Analysis of Legend of Tarzan


Note:  “Must-read” is basically a note to myself, as it will not please everyone — but I feel it is fair and insightful, and is  is among the very best cultural commentary on Legend of Tarzan I have seen.  I will circle back to it later and provide a reaction — but for now, I just want to make it available and urge the reading of it in full. Barnes is author or co-author of 26 books.  “My bedroom was literally LINED with ERB paperbacks.   That was the womb I slept in. . . ” he writes.  His perspective is a unique and insightful one that won’t necessarily please everyone, but is important to read.

The Legend of Tarzan 2016

by  Steven Barnes

In short, I am fully aware of the problematic nature of the Tarzan films and books. Let’s be clear:   Tarzan is not a racist trope.  It is THE racist trope, arguably the most specific and powerful one in American literature or film.    But it is not more racist than the Encyclopedia Brittanica, which used to state specifically and clearly that blacks were less intelligent than whites  Or more than all America was at the time, which makes those who want to believe the playing field leveled before about 1970 AT THE EARLIEST to be…well, let’s be polite and just say deluded.  Or more than about10-20% of human beings in general today, as the tendency to believe your tribe is superior runs deep and explains human history and current events quite nicely, thank you.

It also, affects movie reviews.  I’ve noticed for years that when there is material in a film that is objectionable to a critic or viewer, it punctures the suspension of disbelief and in essence they sit back and look for a reason to dislike it. As art is subjective, there is ALWAYS something to object to, if you look for it.  It its politics are wrong (and both Left and Right wingers do this0, if it depicts a group in a way that knocks you out of your comfort zone, if it depicts a philosophy in some way contrary to your world view or any number of other transgressions, you are likely to seek a reason to say “it’s bad”.  Frankly, I noticed this in audience reactions to black male sexuality onscreen, for decades.  I could actually WATCH white guys push themselves back away from the screen.  Yep, it was just that obvious, a photographable aversion reaction.

Read the full article. Highly recommended.