Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Six Gun Gorilla and the End of the World

Been thinking about comic-book gorillas* and the end of the world, and trying to make sense of things, and I wonder if anyone here can tell me if this is reasonable. Horrible stuff ahead, and may contain traces of politics.

Years ago, sandwiched in between some old Green Lantern stories and something about the Metal Men, I read a comic-book gorilla story that changed the way I think about the world. It was written in the forties or fifties, and it was, I think, about someone called Congo Bill, who lived in the jungle with, I think, a faithful negro retainer. Congo Bill was a man who, for reasons too complex to get into, could and did change minds with a gorilla. The plots of these stories were remarkably consistent:

Congo Bill hears about crime,
Congo Bill swaps minds with very large (and conveniently nearby) gorilla,
the now-remarkably-intelligent-and-remarkably-large-gorilla swings through trees* to fight crime while the gorilla-minded man raves and gibbers in padded room,
the crime is solved, evil is punished, the mind-swappy thing is reversed and normality ensues.

I immediately loathed and despised Congo Bill. The reason for my deep hatred was that the stories were deeply, almost didactically racist.

The story I read started out with a black man's face, nasal cartilage pierced by a bone the size of a giraffe's femur, peering through the aspidistras. The text box reads "After centuries of darkness, civilisation has finally come to the Dark Continent".

Next panel shows Congo Bill, European explorer/hunter/civiliser three-in-one type, standing around, looking to solve crime.

Then we get the crime, mind-swap, the swinging through trees, etc. etc. I know that gorillas don't swing on vines, but the writers didn't, and didn't care.

And at the end the hilariously garbed African chieftain says words to the effect of "Thank you, Congo Bill, for showing us that our primitive beliefs were only childish superstitions". Or it may have been "our childish superstitions were only primitive beliefs ", can't quite remember. Truly horrifying stuff, nowadays.

Anyway. How does this get to Saving The World?

Well, unless you've been living under a rock, you'll have heard of the most recent IPPC report. There is a download summary for policy makers here. A more succinct summary is that things are bad - admittedly only in the world - and that things will get worse. It would seem that the rate and extent of further deterioration, how much worse things get how quickly, depends partly on what we do now here today.

Important stuff, one might think, if it's true. And with the weight of 2 500 fairly senior climate scientists behind it, each drawing on years of scholarship, stuff that might just possibly be true.

But if you ask some people (ten years old, but still a damn good article) , things aren't actually that bad. Global warming isn't happening. Or if it is, it's a completely natural phenomenon. Or if it isn't, it's probably going to be good for the planet. Or if it isn't, there's nothing we should do about it anyway. And anyway, it probably isn't happening.

You can read these people's comments on the net. Their industry-mandated squealings are published in national newspapers, they get television interviews and column inches and appear in interviews to provide the impression of "balance". These are the people who took the money that the 2 500 climate scientists who wrote the IPCC report rejected, although I think you only get to be called a sell-out if you have something to sell, if you don't shill just for the thrill of it.

Anyway. I could bang on about this stuff, and at home I do. I usually bang on to Sarah for about half an hour as we drive, gesticulating ever more frantically as Sarah smiles and nods, and finishing with blaming untrammeled capitalism. But that's not the point of this.

The point is, you look at the writer of Congo Bill. He was writing in the forties and fifties. No civil rights, no Rosa Parks, no nothin'. He was the product of a deeply racist society. Science and medicine and history and religion all said pretty much the same thing, that there was a hierarchy and that white hetero Anglocelts like me were at the top. You could open encyclopedias and read about the natural superiority of the white man.

I don't know, I don't know the guy, but I think maybe he was doing the best he could with what he had. Like most of us, like pretty much everyone.

But I can believe that about the writer and illustrator of Congo Bill in the forties and fifties, but lately I haven't been able to believe that about the guys who write in the Australian today.

I find it difficult to believe that they can't do any better, that they they never, ever have doubts, that they can't see what is more and more obviously apparent. I don't know that they never hear that still small voice, that flicker of self-doubt, the thing that says "But what if we're wrong?"

I don't know. I once decided that, as a Christian, I was going to try to seek out and understand the people whom I found hardest to forgive. Not understand in some kind of analytical way, but in a "judge not", inside the skin kind of way. Understand what it might be like, say, to only be sexually attracted to twelve year old girls, or to have a that flat, metallic rage against a woman that made it feel perfectly natural to burn her with cigarette butts just because you were bored. Working in the prisons, doing psych, I think in some way all that was part of this.

And for the people in prisons, and the people in the psych wards, I reckon it's worked a bit. I can see people now, where before I could only see pathologies, see someone trying instead of just something broken.

But for the allegedly well adjusted people who week after week grind out this stuff about the sea-levels, the drought, the fires... that's more difficult.

And I can understand that when you've invested a lot of time and energy in something, it's hard to change your mind. And I can understand, maybe, growing up seeing the worst excesses of command economies, how you'd be deeply, almost reflexively averse to anything that challenged the gains made by what you think of as individual liberties and the free market.

But for God's sake, boys. Two and a half thousand scientists. Tens of thousands of species. A planet.

If you can't admit it now, when can you?

Anyway, like Foilwoman says, people don't learn from people arguing about stuff with them - in fact, most people don't learn anyway. I am firing up the bicycle and looking at deep-litter stuff for the chooks (you know what I'm trying to say). But I feel catharted, anyway.

Thanks for listening,

*Writing this my mind went from Six-Gun Gorilla to the other gorillas of Silver Age comics: Gorilla Grodd, Karnak the Living Beast Bomb, Terrifo the Science Ape, Big Julie, a fearsome gangster gorilla with a gun that turns others into apes, and, from what I recall, one called... Tracy.

I don't know why, but some part of me thrills to this kind of thing, to the innocence and enthusiasm of the writers and readers, to the idea of a time when that's what the fiction and the world could be like. The writers cramming as many ideas as possible on a page, the readers devouring everything, both feeling more alive when writing or reading than when they had to close the books, turn out the lights and face the world again.


Blogger Camilla said...

Hear, hear! Wouldn't it be nice if Six Gun Gorilla could go swooping through the tr- no, wait, knuckling along the ground, to have a few words with the global warming idiots?


ps can I link to this article pleeeease?

11:59 PM  
Blogger Benedict 16th said...

Malthius sorted this population conundrum out ages ago.
Here is the Wikipedia on Mathusian Catastrophe,
and this web page has this graph that sums it up nicely, caption: If the population is kept in a culture in which the medium is not changed, after a time the population rapidly becomes extinct (C)

I think that report said we (the human population) is running at 120% of sustainable resources (sustainable limit of 5 billion), and if everyone was brought up to minimum first world standards, the maximum is something like 1.8 billion people.

So BJ how does all that tally with your religious ethic of fecundity and fertility and the inherent evil of contraception?

See you in hell buddy!


10:15 PM  
Blogger Juanita J. Sanchez said...

So BJ is a Catholic?

12:43 AM  
Blogger Benedict 16th said...

Not yet, not until the rapture anyway...


8:21 PM  
Blogger Bronze John said...

Hail Cam',
Link away. Don't know if I'd be able to tell anyway.


10:13 PM  
Blogger Bronze John said...

Not a Catholic, more a Lutheran ex-fundamentalist. But I once stayed in a monastery over a weekend, and some of my best friends...


10:14 PM  
Blogger Bronze John said...

I remember Malthus. Works well on hippopotami, less well on humans. Mainly because you don't have a small but growing fraction of the hippopotamus population running millions of electric appliances while towing caravans behind their single-occupant 4WDs into the rapidly diminishing wilderness.

Anyway, I'm not on big on the entire anti-contraception thing, to put it mildly... and neither are your footsoldiers, it seems:


10:21 PM  
Blogger Bronze John said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:31 PM  
Blogger Bronze John said...

Plus, the rapture is predominantly a fundamentalist/literalist Protestant thing, less the Lutheran, as per the Augsburg Confessions. Big eschatological differences.

This reminds me of the nights sitting over Bene's when he tried to teach me the difference between cheap and good whiskey, or whiskey and bourbon, or indeed, whiskey and parathion liquid.

To someone steeped in the traditions, the differences appear vast and profound. To anyone looking from a distance, it's all the same incomprehensible stuff (or as Sarah says "It's all geek to me").

10:34 PM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

Once again, your wide-ranging knowledge stuns and impresses (doctrinal differences between Lutherans and Augsbergians -- no idea who they are, btw -- who knew?). Sarah's analysis ("It's all geek to me") wins my vote.

Have I said recently how much I love your blog (and how thrilled I am when you quote somewhat less brilliant me) lately? And how, even though I don't know you, I think you and Sarah are the absolute creme de la creme? (Perhaps Jean Brodie/Muriel Spark isn't the right person to be quoting here, but just work with me.) Anyway, hogs and bacon and all that stuff.

4:01 PM  

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