Column: Coming Into the Out

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“For the beloved should not allow me to turn my infantile fantasies into reality: On the contrary, he should help me to go beyond them.” – Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of The Earth

[Home / Movie Still]

[Home / Movie Still]

I resist watching movies. I have things to do, essays to write, shipping manifests to update, revolutions to plot, tea to drink. But his muscled arms are insistent; the scruff of his beard nuzzling relentlessly. We’re full fed on quiche and french toast with Irish butter and maple syrup reduction, and it’s raining. I give in.

He chooses the film, a kid’s movie. Home, it’s called.

I cringe inside – it’s animated, but not Miyazaki. How can I trust something that’s not Miyazaki? He’s the reason I’m a Druid, an anarchist, a fag. One day I’ll write that essay, “Oh, Hayao!” I’ll tell the tale of the 10 year old boy sitting in a leaking, cigarette smoke-filled Appalachian trailer watching a VHS copy of a VHS copy of Nausicaa: The Valley of the Winds and becoming right there an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist gay Pagan boy.

But this isn’t Miyazaki. It’s Dreamworks. “You’ll like this,” he says, and I’m sure he’s wrong. He doesn’t know that I’m pretty sure I hate this shit. But he also didn’t know that I was really certain I hated when a man feeds you bites of the breakfast that you just both made, guiding a fork-speared piece of thick bread dripping with butter and tree-sap toward your mouth, smiling. He didn’t know that I was certain I’d dislike syrup dripping into my beard, or that I’d been convinced I’d never smile and laugh and feel so deeply alive when he tongues it off your face and then kisses you.

Turns out I was wrong on all that, and the film starts on the tiny screen of my overheating $200 laptop. He kisses me, and I meet the Boov.

I didn’t like Rihanna either, though I’d let myself sing along a little (furtively) to Diamonds and What’s My Name. Because who doesn’t sort of want to say to a man, despite it being popular:

You’re so amazing, you took the time to figure me out

Or, even really–

Oh na na, what’s my name?

And especially if he reminds you a little of what Drake is supposed to remind you of, because pop is all symbolic containers into which we invest our dreams. Drake is an archetype; Rihanna another, and you play the song on repeat to awaken the encoded magic.

Post-Colonial Exclusion

The film’s plot is simple. A colonizing civilisation of aliens occupies earth. A young girl is looking for her mother. One of the non-conforming aliens caused a problem for his entire society and is on the run. He befriends the girl, and they help each other out while confronting each other’s differences. But the film is also a work of genius, particularly if you are a Pagan leftist wrestling with the disease of whiteness while locked in the arms of a Native man who makes you think of Brighid and Rihanna.

I do like Rihanna, especially in the film as Tip, or Gratuity Tucci, a girl from Barbados who’s cat saved her from being relocated to internment camps in Australia by the Bourgeoisie Boov. The Boov are an alien race with a highly-refined culture tasting as any other highly-refined product of industrialisation – bland, monotone, and certain of its own superiority. Displaced from their ancestral lands through traumatic displacement, divorced from any sense of community or the consequence of their universal exceptionalism, the Boov decide to make their new home on earth.

The Boov’s mission civilatrice is unmistakably Liberal, Western and Democratic (in case we miss the point, the capitol of their occupation is Paris.) The Boov have come from elsewhere, eternally fleeing their unacknowledged shadow and causing relentless, unexamined havoc in their search for a feeling of home.

Their last planet destroyed, the Boov select Earth, informed scientifically that the inhabitants will benefit greatly from the efficiency and cultural superiority of their new guests. But like Manifest Destiny or the last 80 years of US war, like British occupation of Africa & the Caribbean, or France’s great adventures in Vietnam and Algeria, the Boov re-organize the natives, relocating the primitive savages to places where they will be safer and happier with ice cream. And, as in all modern Democratic occupations, the colonized people are infantilised. The Boov set up pavilions in the center of the refugee camp orreservations where the benevolent paternalists can dispense knowledge to les enfants sauvages under proud banners proclaiming “Ask a Boov.”

Laying on the bed next to my First Nations boyfriend, his arms around me and his beard grinding occasionally into mine, I’d search his face, listen to his laughter, and try not to think about what happened to his people.

The Bourgeoisie and The Witch

It’s difficult not to think about Rihanna throughout the Dreamworks film. The choice for such a voice actor was brilliant. Perhaps more than most pop archetypes in currency. She embodies perfectly Franz Fanon’s post-colonial subject. Born in the former British colony of Barbados (like Gratuity Tucci), she is also the ‘exotic’ product of a Western culture machine which values her as financial capital yet pounces doubly in extreme jouissance at her experiences of domestic abuse.

Rihanna is both spectre and whore on the symbolic. Like Beyonce and other Black women singers, she is both a product of colonial oppression and also a commodified product within Capitalism, priced according to her appeal, rewarded when she entertains, and yet brutally punished when she bites the paternalistic hands that feed her – most of all when she reveals herself to be real. Like other peoples who stories we do not allow to be told, she is acceptable only when she remains a symbol. Otherwise, she’s a whore, which is another word for witch.

Speaking of which, the most poignant scene of Home is where Rihanna and ‘Tip’ become twinned in a parallel of the video for Rihanna’s song,”What’s My Name.” While the music video has Drake and Rihanna standing in front of a convenience store refrigerator, dropping a quart of milk on the ground (Brighid, I thought when I watched that), Tip and the rogue Boov are likewise before a display-fridge.

Tip is in the midst of pillaging the shop of the petty bourgeoisie to eat (New Orleans after Katrina, LA after Rodney King) while Oh – another Boov who is obsessed with the bohemian ideals of parties and friendships, rather than order and security – is doing likewise. Oh is running, because his search for authenticity has triggered a cosmic calamity. Oh has invited the whole universe to a celebration from which certain shadows must forever be barred.

Encountering the alien colonist, Tip locks Oh in a freezer, a trick most witches know. Tip even ‘cools off’ the aggressor by locking him in with…a broom. And in their ensuing conversation, we glimpse the entire core of Marxist post-colonial analysis of the colonizer:

Oh: What for are you did this? I am Boov, beloved by all humans.
Gratuity ‘Tip’ Tucci: I know what you are.
Oh: Excellent. Can I come into the out now?
Tip: No. This is what you get for stealing planets and abducting people.
Oh: Oh, you are thinking a mistake. Boov do not steal and abduct. No. Boov liberate and befriend.

The parallel between the Boov and the modern gentrifier or Liberal Capitalist was delightful, but there’s something even more fascinating here. Throughout the film, Oh quite clearly, and hilariously, seeks authenticity and a sense of community. He is completely unaware of the exceptionalist prison he inhabits.

He then gives voice from the freezer to the question unspoken by the spiritual tourist, the yuppie Yoga practitioner, or the Western Polytheist and Pagan:

Can I come in to the out now?

[Home / Movie Still]

[Home / Movie Still]

Oh speaks the traumatic wound of the colonist. In Provincializing Europe, Dipesh Chakrabarty addresses precisely that when he speaks of Europe’s self-classification as ‘modern and secular.’ The colonialist subject cannot see the exceptionalist prison it has made for itself. We are inside, desiring to enter into a world that is completely outside of us. Yet we occupiers by our refusal to see ourselves as non-exceptional, and we cannot comprehend that we have created the very categories of ‘in’ and ‘out.’

Suffering the same displacement from home as the Boov, the American, Canadian, or Australian ‘white,’ just like the modernized European, cannot help but see ourselves somehow ‘inside.’ Civilization, modernity, democracy, capitalism — these are all polite words spoken with our indoor voices, while all the rest of the world stands in the ‘out,’ the primitive, the backward,the fetishized as authentic, and ever so alluring to those of us who want something more than what the markets provide.

Is this not what Western Paganism is thus far, with our foreign gods on occupied, colonized, brutalised land? Our European fantasies of what it means to be native, grand flights of ravens and war hammers, wine and mead poured out upon soil still fed by the blood of the conquered, built upon the bones of slaves—we are still stuck ‘in,’ unable to come into the out.

Why was Rihanna born in Barbados in the first place?

Raven man, Raven gods

I sing Rihanna songs in my head all the time when I think of the man who coaxed me to watch Rihanna-as-Tip. Our first date, he brought me milk. The discount sticker was still on it; half-off, bought with his food stamp card, the only income he had.

“You said you’re always out of milk,” he answered, when I’d asked him why he got it for me.

I didn’t remember saying that. I take milk with my tea, perhaps I’d been out and grumbled how my cereal-eating roommates never bought milk and always depleted the gallon by the time I’d wake. Waking without milk for tea can ruin a day.

Brighid, I thought.

Brighid, I also thought as I watched the search for “home” in Home, the Boov displaced by the decisions of their rulers. They are like all us ‘whites’ in America, displaced from Europe, settled on lands cleared for us by soldiers and slaughter. But, of course, unlike the earthlings in Home the First Nations weren’t given ice cream when pushed onto reservations.

Brighid, I thought, when he first messaged me, a week before we watched that film. “The shelters are full tonight and I’m soaked. Can I crash on your floor?”

He’s Tlingit. Raven moiety. We’d met 16 years before. I’d crushed on him then. I crushed on him still when I saw him again. I’m still crushing on him now.

He’s Tlingit, Raven House. I worship a god named Raven. But I’m a white man on land cleared of natives, a bastard child of a slaughtering empire, housed while a descendant of the survivors slept in shelters and on streets.

Brighid, I thought, and Brân, but also, “what good the gods of whites here on this blood soaked land?”

It is I who want to come into the out. I am Oh, the rogue Boov, eager for the authentic but trapped in the chill of the world that made me.

“Yeah, come over” I’d said. “It’s cold out there. You can share my bed.” And a week later, we fell in love. And during that week, all I listened to was Rihanna.

The Body, The Home

He smashed a “tater tot” into my mouth that day we fell in love. I’d cooked an odd number, I tried to give him the last, he insisted it was for me. “Eat it,” I’d try to say, but there was suddenly shredded potato in my mouth and all over my beard, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the audacity.

It was, admittedly, a little less Rihanna and Drake than I’d been hoping. But utterly Tip and Oh.

Later in the film, Tip calls the Boov a liar. Oh protests, insists he is telling the truth. Tip stands her ground, and he demands to know why she’s certain.

Oh: I never lie!
Tip: Yes, you do! And you know how I know? Because every time you lie, you turn green!

And Oh is shocked, having never noticed such a thing about his people or himself. What caused such an alienation from the body for the Boov is never addressed, but Marxists and most Witches have known for quite some time what caused ours. From Silvia Federici’s Caliban & The Witch:

It was in the attempt to form a new type of individual that the bourgeoisie engaged in that battle against the body that has become its historic mark. According to Max Weber, the reform of the body is at the core of the bourgeois ethic because capitalism makes acquisition “the ultimate purpose of life,” instead of treating it as a means of the satisfaction of our needs; thus, it requires that we forfeit all spontaneous enjoyment of life (Weber 1958: 53). Capitalism also attempts to overcome our “natural state,” by breaking the barriers of our natural state by lengthening the working day beyond the limits set b y the sun, the seasonal cycles, and the body itself. (Federici, p. 135)

This is, of course, the self-same alienation of the modern European subject (Pagan or otherwise) from the knowledge of the body, the ‘out’ for which Oh longs to come into. It’s the tater tot smashed into the mouth; the muscular arms wrestling the body onto the bed to watch a children’s movie. It’s the knowledge lost for which a quart of milk spilled on the floor of a convenience store is the return.

It is also the moment the symbolic stares back from all our talk of gods and ancestry, magic and ritual and leers, lewdly.

What we have now –  our obsession and exploitation of those who are ‘out’ has not changed. Early colonists wrote of the indigenous peoples in the Americas with a mix of fascination and disdain, which is no different from the white world’s love-fear relationship with indigenous culture today. From British explorer and conqueror James Cook:

From what I have said of the Natives of New-Holland they may appear to some to be the most wretched people upon Earth, but in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans; being wholly unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary Conveniences so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in not knowing the use of them. They live in a Tranquillity which is not disturb’d by the Inequality of Condition: The Earth and sea of their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for life, they covet not Magnificent Houses, Household-stuff &c., they live in a warm and fine Climate and enjoy a very wholesome Air…

Of course, such observations never changed colonial policy; if anything, the certainty of conquerors that they fully understand the cultural forms of those they’ve conquered is precisely what enables the continuation of the violence. The colonial mind pieces together the worlds of the others not through the body and its experiences, but through the same analytical and empirical tools which have disenchanted us.

The Boov in Home do this too: human objects we consider deeply important to the functioning of society (like wheels) are deemed useless by the superior intelligence of the conquerors and thus destroyed. Being a children’s movie, we see no mass buffalo slaughters and deforestation. We don’t see the churches built upon sacred lands. We don’t see the mission schools.

Nor do we get a look at what life is quite like for the displaced Earthlings in Australia, only that they are quite compressed together. The internment villages look nothing like the shelters in which my lover slept for months, nor the Indian Community Centers in which he’d wait for hours to get medicine or help looking for housing.

But then again, we adults don’t look at those things, either.

“Love wants to reach out and manhandle us
Break all our teacup talk of God”

The Boov search for home only because they flee an enemy that they have created. Their leader, possessing all the inherent right-to-rule that every authority claims (and no authority ever has) is heroic; at least until the actual founding horror of their displacement is revealed. They overthrow their ruler, replace him with the enlightened Oh. Presumably, they live happily ever after, co-existing upon Earth without reprisals from the humans who they oppressed. There is no blood in the streets – no Ferguson or Baltimore or Fallujah uprising. One can only hope whites would be so fortunate.

And yet perhaps within this children’s film is revealed precisely the path out of being a settler, addicted to our exceptionalist modernity. At the end, the humans teach the Boov to dance, almost violating their physical autonomy. Their bodies revolt against them, following the thread of wisdom that only the physical can accept. This is, of course, what the post-colonialists have always been on about. Only when we become again bodies can we see the oppressed as something beyond symbols. The homeless Native man, the Black woman singer — they can only be bodies to us when we are bodies to ourselves.

And the only way to do that, of course, is to love.

Is that now why, perhaps, we are so obsessed with pop songs about love? And perhaps also why post-colonialists like Frantz Fanon wrote so much about it. We do not know love, so we must have it sung to us, yet turn around and scorn the bodies which create those songs.

Perhaps to ‘come into the out’ is merely to join the rest of the world, which of course means giving up all the things which keep us in and everything else out.

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This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.