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Migrants, Animals and Other Nature
Gästebuch
   
 


MIGRANTS, ANIMALS AND OTHER NATURE


Racism is comparing black people to animals, particularly monkeys – something Roberto Calderoni, a politician from Italy’s Lega Nord party, did with Cécile Kyenge, Italy’s Congo-born Minister for Integration, whom he compared to an orang-utan. This is often associated with the notion that black people come from the jungle, from wild, untamed nature, and that they belong there. The 1933 film King Kong, for example, was shaped by the racist stereotype of a “primitive negro”. The giant gorilla from the jungle, who has designs on a blonde girl and who goes marauding through the streets New York City, i.e. a metropolis of the Western civilisation he doesn’t fit into, symbolises a black African who has been demonised by the whites and belittled into a primitive beast (1). He is put on display in chains at a theatre on Broadway as Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World, reflecting the custom at the time of presenting exotic people like exotic animals to large audiences of curious onlookers. The film theory thus compares King Kong to Ota Benga, a pygmy from the Congo, who was put in a monkey enclosure at the Bronx Zoo in 1906 because the whites were convinced he had remained very close to the monkeys, and thus belonged with them; the New York Times (11 Sept. 1906) even wrote an article about, entitled Send him back to the woods:

Ota Benga … is a normal specimen of his race or tribe, with a brain as much developed as are those of its other members. Whether they are held to be illustrations of arrested development, and really closer to the anthropoid apes than the other African savages …, they are of equal interest to the student of ethology, and can be studied with profit.

… it is absurd to make moan over the imagined humiliation and degradation Benga is suffering. The pygmies are a fairly efficient people in their native forests, with enough intelligence to be successful hunters ant to secrete themselves from hostile, but they are very low in the human scale, and the suggestion that Benga should be in a school instead of a cage ignores the high probability that school would be a place of torture to him and one from which he could draw no advantage whatever. The idea that men are much alike except as they have had or lacked opportunities for getting an education out of books is now far out of date. … The best place for him is probably his native forest.

The whites’ view of him at the time is also revealed in the way they photographed him, e.g. with a monkey on his arm; in other words, as a natural pairing with a creature only just below his own level of evolution (2).
Racism is also white people seeing a black man as a threat to his white wife, as a black rapist”. The white girl is forbidden fruit to the “negro”, who is not allowed to touch her, and thus needs to be bullied – the mere suspicion of a black man wanting to approach a white woman could result in him being lynched. This racist fear of interracial sex also shapes the film King Kong. Kong, who claims the blonde Ann Darrow for himself, embodies the black man who wants to defy the colour bar. He was made a monkey because interracial sex was considered to be as abnormal, primitive and bestial as sex between a human and an animal (3). And the idea of the giant gorilla denotes the fact that, even anatomically, anything that should not be, cannot be.

Black Africans come from the jungle, are closer to animals than Westerners are, and need to be cowed to prevent them from violating white women – while the widespread opinion is that this is the deprecating, racist view of the far-right, that is not totally true. Many elements of this notion also exist in the hearts and minds of the left – not the image of the black racist, but of the native, who lives in harmony with nature, and remains part of it, instead of estranging themselves from it. This was how the racist fantasy creature King Kong inspired American directors to produce remakes steeped in anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist spirit, even though they still retained the aspect that made the first film so racist: The fact that the native from the jungle, from the Third World, is a monkey. In the 1976 version of King Kong, he features as a revered savage with whom Dwan, Ann Darrow’s blonde successor, falls in love and has a tender romance. And in 2017, Kong: Skull Island, he embodies a Vietcong fighter whose island is being attacked by a US military troop which has just been fighting in the Vietnam War. The soldiers are frustrated at losing the war against the Vietcong and having to ingloriously return to civilian life, when, at just the right time, they are suddenly sent on a mission to explore Skull Island, and King Kong’s island becomes a second Vietnam for them. They initially make solid advances. Just as they had done in Vietnam, they drop bombs onto Skull Island from their helicopters. While these are “seismic” bombs that do not kill anyone, and instead only seek to shake the earth as a means of measuring the vibrations and finding out what treasures it holds, it is still considered imperialist aggression, since the “seismic” bombing serves to explore the wealth, e.g. crude oil or gold, the island has to offer, thus marking the start of the soldiers’ plundering. The explosions spur Kong, the king and guardian of the island and its nature, to action. He annihilates the military troop and destroys their helicopters. He even survives a Napalm attack launched by the invaders using leftovers of the agent from their time in Vietnam – and the imperialist aggressors lose the Vietnam War for a second time. Che Guevara’s call to “Create two, three, many Vietnams!” was fulfilled by the left-wing filmmakers, clearly tying in with the leftist world view in that the Third World guerrilla fighter is a monkey, which racists consider to be an inferior person, a primitive “negro”.  Even the Vietnamese, who allowed the filmmakers to shoot the movie in their country, did not seem to take issue with this.

Is there some overlap between the way racists and do-gooders view human beings? And if so, why? We will be examining some more examples to find an answer to this question.
The bear in Paul King’s 2014 film Paddington is an example of an animal symbolising an immigrant from the Third World. He is an unaccompanied, underage refugee from the primeval forests of “darkest Peru” who arrives in the metropolis of London, where he is taken in by the white Brown family. The Browns are thus the good guys representing a welcoming culture, while Millicent Clyde, taxidermist and director of a natural history museum, represents the evil white imperialists. She wants to stuff the Paddington Bear and display it in her museum, so that he can become an object of study along with the other stuffed exotic animals and skeletons of extinct dinosaurs. In other words, he is at risk of suffering the same fate as King Kong in the 1933 film and Ota Benga – ending up as an exhibition. While the black African man in King Kong is seen as a threat and therefore demonised and made into a monster, a savage beast, Paul King goes to a different extreme in his film: He de-demonises the young male immigrant from the brutally machista South America to such an extent that he becomes a cuddly toy. It was this same romanticism that filled the minds of the Germans who welcomed migrants at train stations with teddy bears in 2015; that New Year’s Eve in Cologne brought them harshly back to reality. Men from the Third World who come to our country should be neither demonised nor idealised – the truth is usually somewhere in between.
Right-wing racists and left-wing do-gooders thus both define people from the Third World by their greater proximity to nature and animals, and by the fact that they are uncivilised or less civilised. That is one thing they have in common. Their judgements of his, however, are at opposite ends of the spectrum: While the right-wingers see this as being a shortcoming, the left-wingers see it as an asset. People from the Third World are therefore viewed as morally inferior by the right, and morally superior by the left, because they have not yet been, or have only marginally been corrupted by Western civilisation. It is precisely because they have alienated themselves from nature through civilisation, and have come decadent and consumerist, that the Western left hate themselves and see Third-World immigrants as real-life savages, as Turkish, Arab or black African Winnetous who should stay the way they are rather than become westernised.
German-Turkish feminist Seyran Ates criticised these types of multiculturalism advocates in the taz newspaper on 5/12/2007:

… the multiculturalism advocates, the Multikultis, have declared that minorities need to be protected. This irresponsible “heal the world with multiculturalism” propaganda is also a form of racism. Because these people don’t want my people, who come from Turkey, to settle down and assimilate into the community here. They themselves feel uncomfortable as Germans, and so don’t want foreigners to integrate here either. …
They love anything that’s foreign, and don’t want to be German – and if you have a migrant background, you’re the best person in the world for these so-called multiculturalism advocates. But these Multikultis have always considered migrants to have a lower IQ than Germans. They look at our development as if they were at a zoo, as if to say ‘look how the Anatolian peasant has developed’. …
Oh yes – the Multikultis love me; for them, my very existence is lunacy. I’m there to make these people happy simply by existing. But I also need to stay tucked away, I’m not allowed to develop, I need to remain as the foreigner, I’m always the ‘exotic one’. Above all, I am not allowed to call myself German. Because being German is unbearable for Multikultis.

The greater proximity to nature, i.e. to animals, is precisely one of the aspects the left most value in people from the Third World. They admire the way these people seemingly cannot “shake nature off”. And this is also evident in H. G. Wells’ anti-colonialist novel The War of the Worlds, in which the left-wing author imagines his homeland of Great Britain being colonised by Martians who suck the Britons’ blood – symbolising the notion of exploitation. The Martians thus feed on the Britons, and live at their expense, just as the Britons live at the expense of the local people in their colonies. Wells presents the Martian invasion of imperialist Great Britain as deserved punishment for Britain’s subjugation and exploitation of the Third World. The tables have turned; the colonisers themselves have been colonised. The War of the Worlds is thus considered a work of invasion literature, and the phenomenon befalling the Brits is known as reverse colonisation (4). Wells’ novel ties in with the 1933 film King Kong, which is classified as an invasion film due to the fact that King Kong, who is put on show in New York, who breaks his shackles and who marauds around the imperialist metropolis, can also be seen as a form of reverse colonisation – a deserved punishment for animal photographer and filmmaker Denham invading Kong’s kingdom, a small Third World island of untouched nature. This advance made by a sensation-seeking explorer is of course the first phase of a country’s colonisation. He is soon followed by workers who clear the primeval forest to make way for banana plantations or luxury hotels for wealthy Americans.
But back to Wells’ The War of the Worlds, which preaches to readers that the Britons deserved to be invaded by the Martians:

And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its own inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?

H. G. Wells lists indigenous people and animals in the same breath as victims of colonialism, because, like many leftists, he is not only anti-imperialist, but also a conservationist and animal rights activist, which is a problematic combination, because what he holds dear – what he wants to protect from the evil Westerners – is nature, i.e. plants, animals, and the people of the Third World who live in harmony with nature. The pathos with which he illustrates the Britons’ justified punishment through reverse colonisation in The War of the Worlds is expressed in the feelings of guilt felt by the Westerner not only towards people of the Third World, but also towards nature in his own country and the colonies. This is similarly apparent in the following passage, in which he describes the Martians’ vampiric act of sucking blood:

Instead, they took the fresh, living blood of other creatures, and injected it into their own veins. I have myself seen this being done, as I shall mention in its place. But, squeamish as I may seem, I cannot bring myself to describe what I could not endure even to continue watching. Let it suffice to say, blood obtained from a still living animal, in most cases from a human being, was run directly by means of a little pipette into the recipient canal.…
The bare idea of this is no doubt horribly repulsive to us, but at the same time I think that we should remember how repulsive our carnivorous habits would seem to an intelligent rabbit.

Western do-gooders feel the same guilt about indigenous peoples like the Aboriginal Tasmanians as they do about many animal species like the bison or dodo – all of which are nature that the Westerner has manipulated, used as servants, or even caused to become extinct. And before attacking the nature – animals, forests and people living in harmony with nature – in the Third World, Westerners had already been doing the same to their own nature. In H. G. Wells’ homeland of Great Britain and other Western nations, almost all primeval forests have been cleared, and wild animals like wolves and bears have become extinct – Paul King returns to the latter in his film Paddington to make amends for the long-standing guilt generated by generations past (5). Westerners have also attacked the nature of their own mind and body by killing the primitive element within themselves. This murder has given rise to a feeling of guilt that plagues them, and which they try to quell by protecting nature in their own country and the Third World. It is for this reason that the German government is not only wildly adopting a “welcome culture” for wolves and bears, but also for patriarchal migrants from less civilised nations.

Westerners thus feel guilty about all of nature: About indigenous peoples, about the primitive element within themselves that they have stunted, and about flora and fauna. In the imaginary punishments they conjure up as a result, they are not only vengefully beset by people from the Third World and animals, but also by plants. One example of this is the 1951 film The Thing from Another World, in which an American North Pole station is threatened by an alien plant. Another example is John Wyndham’s 1951 invasion novel The Day of the Triffids. The triffids are killer plants which first appear in Indochina where, at the time the novel was published, the Indochina War was raging, with Vietnamese Communists fighting the French colonial power. From there, the triffids start encroaching on other tropical countries like the Belgian Congo and Colombia, i.e. countries which have been colonised by the West and often exploited through murderous brutality. They treat a traveller from the West the same way indigenous guerrilla fighters treat an enemy invader:

In temperate countries, where man had succeeded in putting most forms of nature save his own under a reasonable degree of restraint, the status of the triffid was thus made quite clear. But in the tropics, particularly in the dense forest areas, they quickly became a scourge. The traveler very easily failed to notice one among the normal bushes and undergrowth, and the moment he was in range the venomous sting would slash out.

As an analogy for the blacks who were taken from Africa to the USA to be exploited as slaves, these plants ultimately reach imperialist Great Britain, where they are farmed for their cooking oil. In other words, they are literally wrung out by the whites who live off them. Until they free themselves, fight and decimate the Brits, and destroy their civilisation. The fact that the triffids symbolise people from the Third World, e.g. black Africans, is also made clear by the fact that they communicate with each other via drumming. Through “rattlings of the triffids’ little sticks against their stems”, they exchange “secret messages” which annoy the people in Great Britain (with whom they are at war) because they cannot decode them (6). Nature, which also includes the people of the Third World, fights back.



1) Cf. Fatimah Tobing Rony: The Third Eye. Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle, p. 157-191

2) Rony, loc. cit. p. 157 interprets the photos as follows: “The few documents that remain of his time in the zoo include photographs of him looking seriously at the camera, posed in characteristic anthropometric style: he is photographed frontally, from the back, and in profile, holding props – a monkey in one arm and a club in another – which reinforced his publicized ‘missing link’ status.”

3) Cf. Rony loc. cit., p. 181: “The forbidden … is above all the interracial, interspecies intercourse of Ann and Kong”

4) I owe the term “reverse colonisation” to anglist Stephen Arata: The Occidental Tourist: “Dracula” and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization

5) Paddington Bear is a brown bear not found in South America.

6) Enslaved black Africans brought the art of drum telegraphy with them to the USA, visibly annoying their slaveholders – the Wikipedia article Drums in communication states that:
“Among the famous communication drums are the drums of West Africa … . From regions known today as Nigeria and Ghana they spread across West Africa and to America and the Caribbean during the slave trade. There they were banned because they were being used by the slaves to communicate over long distances in a code unknown to their enslavers.”
Perhaps it was these sorts of reports that inspired John Wyndham to create his drumming triffids.

   
 
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