I have taken an interest in a - seemingly irrelevant to anthropologists - controversy over the shooting of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit in New Zealand. The protests were incited by Warner Bros' threats to move the film production to Europe, just because the actor's Union went on strike over employment conditions. This is the story I narrate on my website:

https://sites.google.com/site/rodanthisartsite/the-return-of-populi... (Rodanthi's Artsite)

 

There is, nevertheless, a different angle to the overall debate: this concerns Peter Jackson's reproduction in the Lord of the Rings trilogy of some very familiar European cosmological themes - notably, the battle of good vs. evil, the unjust dislocation and persecution of the Hobbits (hence the allegory of forced migration) and the (all too familiar) Weberian narrative of 'disenchantment' (the end of the mythical era exemplified by the course early folklore/anthropological discourse took towards the end of the nineteenth century).

 

Such movies are, really, about the politics of community cohesion. Notably, of course, Jackson is a product of New Zealand's urban imaginary (as is Adamson who directed the Narnia series). It is significant that his visual narrative of disenchantment (communicated through Saruman's deforestation of the world and the rise of a military machine) reflects some early Pakeha narratives of Maori heritage Alan Hanson beautifully communicated in the 1980s in his essay in American Anthropologist.

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Comment by Rodanthi Tzanelli on December 30, 2010 at 3:16pm

Thank you for this wonderful insight into the whole questionI am trying to formulate here, Keith. There is a lot to be said about what 'this is about'. It is about global post-colonial formations, of course, and Jackson's films are just the tip of the iceberg here. I just love films, and what is hidden from the eye, what is not immediately available when we watch them. It is also great that you stress Jackson's contribution to the production of NZ's global narrative - I have a lot to say on this, but this is the theme of a book! Jackson became implicated in the politics of national and transnational media (policy) in the end. And I still can't decide how he positions himself in the controversy I outlined. He certainly poured his heart into this project and that is commendable - no matter what followed (when I think he did get involved in corporate brawls and had to take sides).

Your sociopolitical insights are of great value - so were, of course, John's comments, which I sort of discuss in a hurry in an essay. I think Ii would be really grateful if you could suggest some reading around these issues - and perhaps share some more of your experiences in the future, if you are not so bored with my questions.

Comment by Keith Hart on December 30, 2010 at 1:07pm
This is not directly about the movies, Rodanthi, but your post recalled to mind New Zealand's extraordinary symbolic significance in the history of empire and its aftermath. The islands are the most prominent in Oceanic civilization; the ratio of the indigenous population to whites is the highest in lands of temperate zone new settlement with the exception of Southern Africa; this is related to the political settlement that has emerged between Pakeha and Maori; the local movie industry is original and strong (from what I have seen); Britain's entry into Europe was a huge blow for the NZ economy; the climatic similarity with Europe made it a big draw for people of my parents' generation and for South African whites and Indians today; it is at the Southern limit of the Pacific Rim where the world economy is being remade; it is of course very beautiful as well as remote and underpopulated, something the rest of the world now knows more about thanks to Peter Jackson. When anthropologists talk and write about the fight back of Fourth World peoples, I always think of NZ as a crucible of political and cultural progress in that regard. But it is easy for me to do that since I have never been there.
Comment by Rodanthi Tzanelli on December 25, 2010 at 2:46pm

Hi,

you are right about that too - though I I do not mention it in my blog, it is something that crossed my mind. In fact, I am interested in the ways landscape become in Jackson's films a sort of protagonist in the visual narrative - this is New Zealand's ancient forests and valleys, digitally modified. Add this to the religious mysticism of Tolkien's battle of good vs. evil (but really, in Jackson's cinematic version this is better conveyed through monstrous creatures that destroy Middle Earth, and through Saruman's 'all-seeing' Godly/Satanic eye - and what you really have is the European Zealandish (Pakeha) verion of Maori heritage. Hanson talked in that article about a twin mythologisation of indigenous culture by Pakeha historians: one stream stressing Maori attachment to land, another the unique, sophisticated (but really, Christanocentric in its inception) religion of the same populations (the cult of Io).

 

Both these narratives creep into the cinematic plot, through visual technologies. I wonder what will happen with the double prequel of the Hobbit.

 

have a good Christmas.

Comment by John McCreery on December 25, 2010 at 1:09pm
Excuse me. Isn't it the case that all of the themes you mention are present in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, the one written by J.R.R. Tolkien. Given that it was written in stages between 1937 and 1949, much of it during World War II, something might be said about the overlaps between the world the books depict and the New Zealand urban imaginary and bits of Maori heritage you mention. To omit mention of the books altogether,  what should we say about that?

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