Top Story: Pop-culture critics have been seemingly too distracted by the 3-D CGI spectacular that is “Avatar” to give much attention to the latest Disney 2-D hand-drawn “princess” movie. Luckily, Religion Dispatches delivers us temporarily from discussions about Hollywood’s pantheism to instead talk about presentations of New Orleans Voodoo in “The Princess and the Frog”. According to Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado, assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Miami, the film gives a “prejudiced and misinformed” reading of the often misunderstood religion.
“I do not know where to begin my comments on how this film perpetuates offensive stereotypes about Voodoo. The loas are represented as evil spirits full of greed and anger … The terms Voodoo, Hoodoo, and conjuring are used interchangeably throughout. In the end one is presented with an evil religion that will ultimately fail. I did not expect critical race analysis or a sophisticated presentation of Voodoo when I walked into the theater. It is, after all, Disney. I did not expect such a blatant, racist, and misinformed presentation of Voodoo, however. The reduction of religion to magic is also reaffirmed in the curious absence of Catholicism in the film. My son is correct, Disney Voodoo is bad magic; it just doesn’t have anything to do with the authentic African Diaspora religion.”
In addition to getting New Orleans/Louisiana Voodoo horribly wrong, it seems the film gets New Orleans itself all wrong. In another Religion Dispatches piece, Anthea Butler, associate professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania, says the film is a big desecrating “lump of coal” that “picks up where Katrina left off”.
“I’m going to go all out and say that the entire movie is a wholesale desecration of New Orleans, Creole culture, Cajun Culture, religion, zydeco music, the Evangeline story, and Louis Armstrong (I’ll get to that in a minute.) Rolled up, Disney hates the South, period … I know it’s only a movie, but movies shape how people, especially children, view the world. In the case of New Orleans and the myriad of cultures it holds, to stint on all of the facets that make New Orleans and Louisiana the wonderful, complex, and sometimes exasperating place that it is is a crime. Disney’s princesses, once again, may have big beautiful eyes, but while kids are enjoying the view, Disney’s hack job of deconstructing history by making it “cute” is just as destructive as a category 5 hurricane. Fun and truth do not have to be mutually exclusive to sell a movie, unless of course you’re just bankrupt of ideas.”
Of course, Disney has a long history of acquiring and terraforming pieces of culture, transforming them to a point where most people think the Disney version is the original. There’s a reason why “disneyfication” is a pejorative term. So you get a Disney New Orleans where the Voodoo is bad, Catholicism is absent, tradition is ignored, and history is mangled. In the end, it’s more about extending the Princess brand, than doing something creative or original.
In Other News: The Pierce County Herald spotlights Circle Sanctuary’s efforts to send holiday care packages to troops in Iraq.
“The Circle Sanctuary in Barneveld is also remembering soldiers at Fort Hood Texas – where a Wisconsin unit lost three of its members in last month’s shooting rampage. Selena Fox, a senior minister of the Wiccan Church, said the Circle group sent packages to about 50 active duty personnel at Fort Hood to show extra support. They’ve also provided counseling for the Pagan soldiers at the base – and they sent holiday cheer to 150 Pagan troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
I’m sure it’s still not too late to donate, and help them in their efforts.
NPR reports on the rise of sorcery and witchcraft-related arrests and sentencing in Saudi Arabia, and talks to an expert who posits that the recent increase is a reaction to the government trying to curb the influence of the religious police.
“Saudi political analyst Tawfiq al-Saif says religious authorities truly believe they are helping society by discouraging faith in the supernatural. But, he says, there is also a political reason for the recent rise in sorcery cases. In the past few years, the government has tried to curb the influence of the religious establishment by sacking key religious figures, pushing for reform in the courts and criticizing the religious police. “One time, I met the head of the Hey’a [the religious police] and he was really sorry because in the past he was saying that they were free to do whatever they like to enforce the Sharia laws — even, he said, in the public buses, in the train, in the airports,” Saif says. But now that they are under pressure, the religious police are trying to flex their muscles in the few ways they still can, including looking for people who practice magic or who don’t pray five times a day, and for women who don’t properly cover their hair, Saif says.”
Does this mean that the plight of people like Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali and Ali Sibat are due to the last grasps at control by a shrinking power in the country? Or has the “muscle flexing” by the religious police shifted matters to their liking, and we’ll only see more madness and death in the near future? I suppose it remains to be seen, but I worry that any long-term solution to this anti-sorcery madness will come too late for the unlucky caught in this cultural crossfire.
For a somewhat different take on the problem of sorcery in the Middle East, The Epoch Times looks at Dubai, who have far more liberal laws concerning sorcery, but who also deal with rampant fraud and scam-artists.
“In the United Arab Emirates, and Dubai in particular, authorities take a more liberal stance. However, because of the large number of scam artists posing as sorcerers and exorcists in Dubai, police have set up a special task to crack down on so-called “magic-related crimes.” “Some people are just simple and anything will fool them,” Khaleel Al-Mansouri, the head of Dubai’s Criminal Investigation Department, told local newspaper seven days earlier this year. “It’s due to a lack of education, but also because the victims are greedy and are looking for a quick profit. “Our officers are highly skilled and they carry out special undercover patrols in shopping malls throughout Dubai looking for any sorcery crime that might be occurring.” In 2008 alone, fraudsters fleeced Dh130 million (US$35.5 billion) out of unsuspecting members of the public in sorcery scams.”
They also manage to interview a taxi driver, Hassan Hamadi, who also works as an exorcist. He claims he charges no money for his services, and lives in fear of being arrested by the sorcery task-force. However, despite the threat of arrest, because laws are more liberal (no death-penalty) places like Oman in the Persian Gulf has become, according to one journalist, a hotbed of “sorcerers and mystics”. Such is, I believe, the consequence of creating a legal gray area. They eliminate death-penalties and long prison terms for sorcery, but enough of a penalty remains to keep the practice criminal, underground, and unregulated. One wonders if they repealed all laws and dealt with fraud on a purely secular basis if a home-grown “neo-sorcery” would emerge, much like Wicca did in England. Maybe, maybe not, but arresting, and in the case of Saudi Arabia, killing, “witches” doesn’t seem to ever “solve” the problem.
In a final note, here’s a unique opinion essay at the American Thinker by Selwyn Duke that debunks the pagan origins of Christmas, while acknowledging the great debt we owe to “pagan” pre-Christian cultures.
“If we were to discard all things pagan, I should think we’d plunge ourselves back into the Stone Age. We walk on concrete, record our knowledge with letters, and designate our months with names originated/invented by the pagan Romans. We steer our boats with rudders invented by the pagan Chinese; make calculations with numbers invented by pagan Indians; and create computer graphics, medical imaging, and designs for buildings and bridges using geometry formalized by pagan Greeks. And much of our philosophy (and much of that drawn upon by early Christians, mind you) was generated by pagans such as Aristotle and Plato. Should we “go Taliban” and burn all their works — and other books thus influenced? A pious Christian must believe that pagans could not have had the whole Truth, but only an ignorant Christian would believe they had no Truth.”
I would happily concede Christmas as wholly Christian if those same culture-warriors would acknowledge that their foundation is built on the advances made by “pagans”. Heck, I’d even call it a “Christmas miracle”.
That’s all I have for now, have a great day!