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What Indiana Jones has Taught Us About Culture through Racist Stereotypes, Hijinks, and Badassery

Living a life dedicated to travel, culture and storytelling, there can only be one man that holds all rights to my heart: Indiana Jones.

Academic adventurer + Harrison Ford = AWESOME

What more could a girl want, I ask you?! He has it all: brains, good looks, bravery, the ability to produce quips that are actually clever, abs, a whip (ooo, naughty) and a hat that is as wetness-inducing in a female as any piece of headwear could ever hope to be.
Yes, please

He is a doctor of archeology, doing the best job of making scraping at rocks sexy since Howard Carter found the tomb of King Tut (and come on, that guy didn’t even have a fedora).

So why bring up Indiana Jones? First of all, my computer has finally died (RIP Frankenputer) and I don’t currently have access to anything that will allow me to put my own pictures up :/. So until I get a new one, it shall just be prose and pictures I found on the internet. Second, I just (finally, after years of putting my hands over my ears and shouting “LA LA LA!”) watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

I will pause for a moment and give the people for whom those words are sacrilige time to scream and throw something if they wish. (I assume these are the people who have the same reaction to the Star Wars – uh…things-that-shall-not-be-mentioned. Do I sound like a nerd yet?) In the meantime, here is a picture of a kitty:

Feel Better? I know I do

I’m a little late to the party (i.e. hatefest) but I’ll say what I have to say anyway.

Most people who know me or have ever interacted with me for more than five seconds know that I am a tough critic. So in the spirit of fairness, I entered into the fourth Indiana Jones film with as open a mind as possible.

And in all honesty, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. From what I had heard (and watched on South Park) I almost expected a scene where George Lucas literally steals into Indy’s room at night and rapes him to death – with Steven Spielberg looking on and weeping. This was not the case. However, I must admit that it DOES have aliens in it. And disappointingly, it is very obvious it’s heading to a flying saucer of some sort from the very beginning. From what I hear it was George Lucas (of course) that insisted on going the 1950’s ooo-look-aliens! route. Steven Spielberg expressed his initial reluctance, but was eventually won over. I imagine the conversation between them to have gone something like this:

Lucas: Hey, Steeeeeve……

Spielberg: What?

Lucas: Can we do another Indiana Joooooones?

Spielberg: I’ve told you a million times, George – no. Our time making those films has passed, and now we’ve* grown up and moved onto more mature material. Let the youth of Indiana stay in the past.

*being polite

Lucas: But, but….

Spielberg: No.

A few years later:

Lucas: Hey, Steve….

Spielberg: What?

Lucas: I have this really great idea for a new Indiana Jones movie…

Spielberg: No George.

Lucas: But Harrison is already on…

Spielberg: No.

Lucas: It will make a TON of money….

Spielberg: Hmm…

Lucas: And there will be aliens!

Spielberg: No!

A few years later:

Lucas: Steve?

Spielberg: What, George?

Lucas: I know you don’t want to make a new Indiana Jones, but…

Spielberg: George, I’m not doing an Indiana Jones film with aliens in it – I’ve already done two alien movies!

Lucas: Well how about this then: they aren’t really aliens from another planet.

Spielberg: Huh?

Lucas: Yeah – they aren’t aliens, they’re interdimensional beings.

Spielberg: Hmm…

Lucas: MONEY.

And so the latest Indiana Jones was born. And that part about the interdimensional beings? Fact. Spielberg said in an interview that the “interdimensional beings are totally NOT aliens” argument eventually won him over.

So now we have this new movie with an older Indy, facing a rough new world full of Sputnik, the bomb, Russian spies – and of course, Area 51.

At the surface level, I kind of like this idea. While the previous Indiana Jones films were set during the 30s and 40s, meant to reflect action serials of the time, the new film had to be updated to match Harrison Ford’s age. Cool, fine by me. There is a lot that can be done with such an interesting time period. But there is also a lot that has to be lost for aging Indiana out of 30’s surrealism and into 50’s paranoia.

Which brings me to my next point: while Indiana Jones perpetually belongs to said era (the 30s and 80s respectively) of surrealism and multicultural innocence (sounds better than ignorance), the audience has aged and matured without him for the last 20 years. A lot has happened since we last saw Indiana ride off into the sunset – and our expectations at the movie theater reflect that.

Gone are the days when blatant racism can be played out in a movie theater and only professors and well-traveled individuals will make a fuss. Nowadays we have words like globalism, interracial, multicultural and politically correct on the tips of our tongues. These days, racist stereotypes are pretty much offensive to everyone (I would like to think).

We accept the old Indiana Jones films as they are because they are considered classics. Many of us have grown up with them, and watch them for what they are meant to be: a good time. The stereotypes involved are only just part of making the fun funner, and aren’t really there to make a statement about anything.

Things like this:

And this:

And this:

(Okay, it was mostly Temple of Doom that turned out to be a racist asshole, but you get my meaning.)

But now, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has a different audience to please – and no one is telling anyone else that it is a must-watch classic. So when, in the new film, Indy and Mutt (a play off of the joke about Indy naming himself after a dog, I guess) are stalked and attacked by creepy, nameless natives that makes screeching sounds like monkeys, it makes me squirm a little bit. They showed respect for the power of the skull which means they know something about it, and you would think as an anthropologist Indiana Jones would think to ask them. And what about when they are mowed down by the Russians? What an academic waste.

Ah well. This is a movie damn it! And awesome movie scenes it has (though I didn’t think much of the A-bomb and the refridgerator). Lucas, Spielberg and Ford did their best to bring back some of that old Indy badass magic, and it is helped by the return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood (queen of female lead badassery) and the not-so-bad addition of Shia LaBeouf as Indy’s son Mutt. But what it really needed was Sean Connery.

I really can't think of anything better than this in the entire universe

But we must remember that the Indiana Jones movies gave us this:

Melty face!

And this:

Nazi punching!

And this:

No shirt!

Anyway anway: what has Indiana taught us about culture over the years? In my opinion, he has taught us that our perspective on culture changes all the time. And sometimes that means we want our movies to change with it.

Was the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a bad movie? On it’s own, no. Was it the best (or even a good Indiana Jones movie)? Certainly not. And the parts of Spielberg’s good direction that were hijacked by silly ol’ George are obvious (and riddled in CGI). But it did it’s best to harken back to a more innocent time and give us one more good round with a good friend.

I love you Indy!

I really, really do.

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