Middle-earth had a good run in New Zealand. But we must move on, argues Oscar Francis.
For over 20 years now, the evolutions of JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth screen have penetrated deep into New Zealand culture, economy and even our House of Representatives. And it shows no signs of slowing down, with Stuart Nash pleased to reveal recently that Amazon is getting 5% more and more of the usual 20% screen production subsidy to film the Lord of the Rings prequel series in New Zealand. , bringing its rebate on a $ 650 million spent to well over $ 100 million.
The minister’s praise did not extend to praising Amazon for playing courts against each other and breaking ground in coercive micromanagement, but he said the project looked “fantastic.”
The real fantasy, however, is to think that continuing to tie the image of New Zealand to a colonial dream sketched out a century ago is a good idea. If Aotearoa is serious about creating a future in which young people can see themselves, it’s time to part with a very special and often overlooked fossil fuel: hobbits.
The problem with The Lord of the Rings is that it encourages us to identify with an idealized image of parish bliss under the threat of irreconcilable and overwhelming evil.
It was the ugly mechanized horrors of the Somme and the rapidly changing post-war social milieu that prompted Tolkien to retreat into nostalgia for Middle-earth. But this fantastic world in many ways reproduced the fundamental problems of the world that Tolkien might have tried to criticize. Ultimately, The Lord of the Rings reduces the intricacies of war and social change into a straightforward narrative, where good and evil are always clearly defined and heroic, and guys who sacrifice themselves always save the day.
The universe of Tolkein delivers hero-saviors in droves. Sadly, they’re all of a specific type – think of the war profiteers who believe they are kings reincarnated here to fulfill a mythical fate to save civilization. Famous anti-union activist Jeff Bezos wants to have a space colony to save humanity from ourselves, conveniently sidestepping suspicions that it is helping its end: the deal between the government and Amazon apparently does not take into account either. the environmental costs of the increased number of long-haul flights which are one of the main economic reasons for the agreement, or the environmental costs of the production itself. Instead, Amazon will explore what looks like a token environmental project with Tourism New Zealand, and potentially even send a delegation of “subject matter experts” to give a talk on sustainability. Hold on to your seats.
The pastoral return that LoTR offers is a diverse world, but rigorously separate. Every society is shown to have an eternally stable politics stemming from its ethnic isolation – it is only when malicious outsiders come forward (or their borders are imbued with a disembodied essence of evil) that the turmoil begins. The solution in this case is always to put things back as they were. Beginnings should never be questioned.
Tolkien’s text would allow us to identify with the various symbols of Volkish whiteness through the orientalization of the Orcs of Saruman, depicted as an amorphous mass of torturing, snarling cannibals who threaten to destroy the “civilized”.
This process of equating European whiteness with “good” is far-fetched in movies and books. What about a scene from an orca’s point of view! Why are we denied language in books when Tolkien has a whole Wikipedia page devoted to the languages he invented? We are forced to view the hobbits as the bright side even when they ruthlessly destroy the sentient trees surrounding Buckland for daring to play with the hedge of hobbits because they are allowed to communicate jointly with the reader. Although trees have a language, they can only talk to each other.
This theme of environmental destruction eerily mirrors the LoTR films’ subsequent association with the landscape of Central Otago, where the fate of the forests was sealed by the commodification of land and the introduction of cattle by European settlers. The history of this process is obscured by the association of the landscape with Middle-earth. And the layering of “100% Pure New Zealand” invites a wider set of resonances.
The combination of a controversial US mega-society with an outdated thread from early 20th century England makes for a terrible cultural launching pad in Aotearoa 2021. We need our own indigenous stories. We need a clean break with Middle-earth. And never forget this: Bureaucrats chasing nebulous movie money promises have always been squeaked in the dirt.
Aotearoa is not Middle-earth
Subscribe to Rec Room, a weekly newsletter bringing the latest videos, podcasts, and other recommendations from The Spinoff straight to your inbox.