Lord of the Racists

Tim's lastest post is a quote from a Jonah Goldberg essay on The Two Towers. (Hey, Tim! I want to give you a sidebar link, but I can't figure out what to call you in the link text. "Tim?" But that makes me think of Tim the Enchanter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. "The Fog of Warre?" I'd do that if I were certain that were the actual name of your blog and I knew what it meant. "Timschnabel?" You folks with eponymous URLs are tough.)

The critics who got worked up about the bugs in Starship Troopers and the Orcs and Uruk-hai in The Lord of the Rings fret over the explicit "dehumanizing of the enemy" involved in these respective stories quite a bit. What they leave out is that the enemies aren't humans being unfairly mischaracterized the way the Japanese were in World War II posters. The enemies in these movies are, in fact, non-human. As a moral proposition I'm as against genocide as the next guy, but I do hold out the caveat that if mankind is attacked by 99.5-percent pure-evil Orcs, or, say, skyscraper-sized dung beetles, I might change my views

The reply to this one is obvious. Of course Uruk-hai aren't human; they're elves! True, the point gets elided in the movies, but the back-story from the books is that orcs were bred from elves who had the misfortune to be captured by the bad guys. So this puts us in a bit of a bind, if we want to accept Goldberg's reasoning, because it's no longer possible to use humanity as the dividing line without it being a good idea to chop off Elrond's head, too.

Once we take humanity out of the picture as our head-chopping rationale, we're left with "99.5-percent pure evil" as the morally-significant criterion. Unfortunately, this leaves Goldberg only .5 percent away from advancing the morally near-vacuous statement that it's okay to hate pure evil. That said, this particular correction leaves his opponents advancing the morally near-preposterous proposition that it's not okay to hate nearly pure evil. I'll hold my nose and go with Goldberg, here.

Yes, you're being preached at when you go see The Two Towers. But the preaching is so abstract that it's hard to get much traction on real-world issues one way or the other. I've heard people come out of it claiming that it's pro-Western propadanda, and also that it's anti-Western propaganda. Perhaps it's neither. To the extent that it's true, I happen to think this is a good thing. But it does lead to some very odd moments, points at which you can almost see the filmmakers doing their utmost to avoid inadvertently saying something.

For example, Tolkien described the Haradim, a race of humans who picked the losing side (i.e. evil) in the big war, as "swarthy," probably with something somewhere between North, East, and West African in mind. In the movie, they're clearly Caucasian underneath their face masks. It wouldn't do to have the good guys be white and the bad guys be black, after all. Which leaves the movie in the odd position of making even the black people white.