I love the Mayans. That ought to be obvious to anybody who’s even looked at my WordPress theme. And I guess that makes me biased. Look back through the film category of this blog and there’s a lot of needley criticism of a lot of movies with Mayan themes. For a movie that’s blatant about it the way 2012 is blatant about it, I go into the thing harboring at the same time a sense of dread and a set of unattainable expectations. Which is, of course, not anything like the state of mind that causes people to make movies with Mayan themes. They do it because human sacrifice and murky prophecies penned by ancient mystics from lost civilizations are freaky and cool, and there are a lot of other people out there like me who drool over them.
And I guess because of the mystery involved, people’s imaginations seem to be more inspired by the iteratively more far-fetched folkloric misinterpretations of these myths than the real thing. Crystal skulls, for example, sure do seem a hell of a lot cooler in the popular perception than, say, mossy ones. And I can get behind that. I can sit and enjoy the popcorny adventure elements while managing to mostly ignore my nagging annoyance with the associated historical inaccuracies, cultural insensitivities, even the occasional new-agey hyperbolic pseudo-prophetic ego trip. For the sake of the story, I can look past that stuff. I know what poetic license is. And to a certain extent, the organic, evolving, cyclical nature of Mesoamerican and precolombian mythology lends itself perfectly to that kind of speculation. These are stories that propagate and develop through oral tradition, improvisation. Changing old stories to tell new truths, and vice-versa. There’s room for sprawling, reverently researched historical epic like Gary Jennings’ Aztec, transportive surrealistic allegory like Asturias’ Hombres de Maiz, absurdist, hallucinatory postmodern ultraviolence like Sesshu Foster’s Atomik Aztex and intimate, intense contemporary fairytale like Aliette de Bodard’s “Blighted Heart”.
I love all that stuff. I love it to death. Which maybe means I’m less critical of Mayan influence in fiction than in film…or maybe it means that fiction’s better! Ha! But anyway.
All that said, every time I see the 2012 trailer, it gets harder to sit through, and my inclination to see it gets tinier. The best thing about that trailer is over before the titles have even finished rolling, and it’s this:
An actual, beautiful piece of Mayan relief art, CGI’d to look like it’s carved into the side of the three-million-foot high movie title logo. That one tenth of a second gives me tingles. The rest of it can go throw an aircraft carrier at itself for all I care. Because as far as I can tell, it doesn’t have a story. It may have a character or two, but mostly it appears to be about some CGI death and destruction. It doesn’t even seem to be bothering to use the mythology at all, even for entertainment purposes—it’s just a convenient date they can assign some doomsday to. And that kind of thing really does have the potential to make me mad. Because not only is it playing to the lowest common denominator at the expense of practically any resemblance to the noble, ancient art of mythmaking, and frankly bears more resemblance to a fireworks display or a line of cars slowing down to look at a wreck than it does to storytelling, but it’s perpetuating the worst, most irresponsible part of the stupid pop culture folklorification of Mayan culture. And it’s making me afraid that what I’m about to say actually still does need to be said.
There won’t be any %&*@ 2012 apocalypse.
Now, if we’re lucky, maybe there just might be a singularity. Or at least a global reawakening. I sure hope so, because for crying out loud, we could use one.
More about all that, and what the Mayan mythology and “prophecy” actually predicts, next week.
But the main point of this week’s angry anti-2012 rant is simply this: go ahead and entertain me with alien-powered crystal skulls and doomsday scenarios if you must—but couldn’t you at least try to engage with the underlying ideas a little bit? The history, the art and culture and mythology of the Mayans has so many fascinating, pertinent, complex and thought-provoking lessons to convey. Can’t we talk about that just a little?
More of that next week too.