Saturday, 22 June 2013

'I'll Be A Monkey's Uncle' or 'Am I My Brother's Keeper?'

Genesis 2: 18-20 says,
'And the Lord God  (Hebrew YHWH-Elohim) said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him." Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him (NKJV).
I love this story taken from the second account of creation given in the Book of Genesis in Chapter 2. God, YHWH-Elohim, has created a garden and has placed the newly created man with in it's boundaries. He then proceeds to instruct man, or Adam (Hebrew word for both man and earth), on which trees to eat from and which trees to avoid, in particular the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After giving him his first lesson in 'bush tucker', YHWH-Elohim starts looking for a suitable partner for man. After parading each animal past Adam, which the man has the privilege of naming, no partner is found. And so the wise decision was made to create woman, a decision praised by heterosexual men ever since and one which has brought emotional balance to the human race.

But I wonder, as the parade of animals went by, whether man and ape ever locked eyes and sensed that deep connection one gets today when we look deep into the eyes of our cousins within the hominid family. I think they did if the naming process outcome is anything to go by. For instance, orang-utan means 'person of the forest' and gorilla disturbingly means 'tribe of hairy women'. 
Besides the equally disturbing fact that we and gorillas share closely related pubic lice, there must have been many times through the eons when our ancestors looked at each other and shared a feeling of kinship. I've no doubt that they would have lived beside each other, lived with each other, adopted each other, and fought against each other, as we still see happening today. I felt such a kinship connection this afternoon when, while visiting the zoo, a gorilla and I locked eyes. While lazing around her enclosure with the others of her troupe, she looked over towards the fence where I was sitting and looked straight into my eyes before going back to what she was doing. And although I was just 'some random' amongst the daily crowd of staring hairless apes wearing funny sacks, I knew that I'd been seen.
I've gazed into the eyes of other great apes before, orang-utans and chimps, and been over whelmed by the eerie sense of the familiar as I was this afternoon. I've watched full grown chimps, with the intelligence of a 5 year old human, interacting and playing together, and been struck by the resemblance to the games I'd seen played out in my own backyard by my 5 year old children, each with the intelligence of a full grown chimp. With over  95% of their DNA in common with ours, the great apes share much of the same clay we were moulded out of and sadly we are leading them to extinction. Through loss of habitat and poaching, our nearest relatives are beginning to go the way of the dodo as our lust for mobile phones and fried foods, fuels the fire of their extinction. One of the metals used in mobile phones is coltan, which is mined within gorilla habitat, and increasingly the rainforest's of the orang-utans are being cleared for the production of palm oil. Simple things we can do to help is to boycott and encourage those companies who use palm oil in there products to source it through ethical channels, or to replace it with an environmentally sound and possibly healthier alternatives. Another is to send your old mobile phones off  to be recycled thus minimising the need to mine more coltan. Simple but effective things that when put into practise by many can really make a difference.
Sadly the lands where these great apes live are often places where human life is cheap, and hominid life is even cheaper. My fear is that if we don't do something soon we may lose our closest relatives, relatives that I believe, we have a God given duty to care for and protect. And once the 'people of the forest', 'the tribe of hairy women' and their chimp brethren are gone, we will be left all alone on this ageing planet, the last of hominid kind, left with the blood of family on our hands and left to reflect sadly on what went wrong.

This Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Your kind made a wasteland out of it. Dr Zaius, Orang-utan Scientist: 3978 AD

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Golden Rule for Budding Young Superheroes

Recently I wrote this article for one of our Australian Salvation Army magazine, OnFire. If you missed it it is.
Were you a Smokey Dawson Deputy Sherriff? Did you have a Phantom Skull Ring? Did you join Hop Harrigan’s Flying Club? If you did, you experienced the thrill of following the exploits of an action adventure hero.
Superhero movies have recently been enjoying a ‘golden age’ of commercial and critical success, kicked off by 2000’s X-Men, an adaptation of the comic book series launched in the 1960s. I’ve enjoyed watching many of these super flicks with my children including Spider-man, Iron Man, Green Lantern and the Avengers.

The modern pop culture hero has been around for decades—some have faded into obscurity, others are as popular as ever, and many new crusaders have appeared, reflecting the issues of their time. My kids are amazed that I know tidbits of trivia about these characters’ histories and superpowers, and were stunned to discover that many had been around since the ‘olden days’, long before their parents—and even grandparents—were born.

It’s fascinating to think that in a few weeks, I could take my own kids to see Man of Steel, the newest Superman film, just as my own parents took me to see Christopher Reeve play the iconic hero on the big screen.

You may hail from a generation or two prior, and remember catching Batman, Flash Gordon or Nyoka the Jungle Girl in the Saturday matinee movie show, in a radio serial or a comic book. Whichever way you may have experienced them, these heroes have been good role models for generations of children, fighting for truth and justice.

But it seems that, as our society has moved from the age of simple sincerity that birthed Superman and Doc Savage into a more cynical age, so too have our superheroes dropped the ball in the role-model stakes.

I’m personally not adverse to the occasional dose of realism in my superhero fare. However I have noticed that, along with this realism, there often comes a moral ambiguity—the kind that leaves me hankering for the days when goodies were goodies, and their fight for justice was tempered with mercy. Whether it be the Punisher’s lethal approach to crime fighting, the Ghost Rider using the power of evil to fight evil or just Superman using his abilities to eaves drop on his ex-girlfriend Lois Lane and family in their home, it’s sometimes hard to tell which side the heroes are on.
Of course, heroes have had flawed characters well before they had superpowers. Hercules, King Arthur and Robin Hood—while ultimately noble—were far from perfect.

Even the biblical figures Samson and David, although hailed as mighty heroes and great leaders by Jews and Christians alike, certainly had their moral pratfalls. 

However, when it comes to admiration from young hearts and minds, there is much about their lives and stories that can be drawn upon to encourage children in the ways of ‘truth and justice’, regardless of their faults.

As well as the impending Superman release, what prompted these thoughts of daring do-gooders was the discovery of a list of rules, Tarzan’s Creed for Clean Living, on an internet fansite. The list, released in 1959 to promote Tarzan the Apeman (a film starring Denny Miller) was the sort of thing issued to a child upon joining a hero or heroines’ fan club so they, too, could learn to live heroically. It’s teaching that would make any Junior Soldier Sergeant proud:

Tarzans Creed for Clean Living:

1.      Keep yourself in good physical condition

2.      Follow the principles of fair play

3.      Respect your elders

4.      Aid people in distress

5.      Be kind to animals

6.      Be self-reliant

7.      Be courteous

8.      Be truthful

9.      Observe the laws of nature

10.  Observe the Golden Rule

Tarzan left the most important rule for last, ‘Observe the Golden Rule’, or in other words, ‘Do to other what you would have them to do you,’ (Matthew 6:12). It gave me pause: Can you picture any media entity today that would be so moralistic in promoting their heroes? How many people would associate fair play and courtesy with heroism? How many children today would even know what the Golden Rule means, let alone have learned it from Wolverine or Iron Man?

I’ll be interested to see whether Superman, the moral centre of super heroism, maintains his stalwart goodness in Man of Steel. Regardless, even when the heroes of this world seem to have abandoned ‘justice and mercy’, we know our greatest hero, Christ, will never stop encouraging us to do to others what you would have them do to you’.


Monday, 10 June 2013

Osiris, Tao and the God of the Emerald Fingers.

Zita Johann as Princess Ankh-es-en-amon in The Mummy.
In 1932, one of Universal Studio's great horror movies was released. The Mummy, starring, Boris Karloff, made its eerie appearance hot on the heals of the successful Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931), and told the tale of two ancient star crossed Egyptian lovers, the high priest Imhotep (Karloff) and the Princess Ankh-es-en-amon, who fight against the barriers of death and time to be together, albeit unsuccessfully. Upon the Princess' untimely death, Imhotep, refusing to let their illicit love die, set about stealing the Scroll of Thoth, a book of  resurrection magic kept beneath a statue of the god Osiris. Osiris was the god of the dead, the underworld and the after life. He is often depicted wearing an Atef crown, a crown resembling that worn in Upper Egypt and which is flanked either side by curled ostrich feathers, symbols of the Osirian cult. In his hands he holds a shepherds crook and  a whip like object called a flail. Some times he is portrayed standing but at other times he is depicted as seated on his throne as he rules of the world of the dead. It is here, in The Mummy, that he is seated on his throne. As Imhotep accesses the scroll to resurrect his beloved, Osiris shows his disapproval of the priests' act by waving the statues arm holding the flail. It is the whip, not the shepherds crook of rescue, that signifies that the high priest has angered the gods. As Imhotep begins to carry out the unholy rites, he is stopped by the Pharaoh and his guards and sentenced to the living death that is the curse of the Mummy. But as the legend of the Mummy began, the statue of Osiris disappeared from the silver screen........... or did it?

Osiris in his traditional pose.
The truth is that in the world of B movies you can't keep a good prop down and in 1933 Osiris burst once again on to our screens, not as the God of the Dead, but as Zar, God of the Emerald Fingers. The movie was Wardour Films, Tarzan the Fearless (1933), and Osiris now sported a row of emeralds along his fingers which would serve as a temptation for any discoverer of the lost city, also named Zar. Tarzan the Fearless was released in both a 12 part serial form and as a feature and both versions included a plot line where some of the gems were stolen from the fingers, much to the anger of the high priest (Mischa Auer) and the citizens of Zar. Not surprisingly, it was left up to Tarzan (Larry 'Buster' Crabbe) to save the day. Sadly not all the serial version has survived (although Tarzan fans live in hope that some day all will be recovered) but it appears that the idol was featured in several chapters, including Chapter 6: Voodoo Vengeance and Chapter 8: Creeping Terror. But as Tarzan swung away from the lost city of Zar and into the deep jungle with his new mate, it would seem that Osiris, or Zar, or whatever it's name was now, would be gone from the silver screen forever.............or would it?

In 1936 Universal Studios brought the comic strip Flash Gordon onto the big screen in a 13 part serial. Also starring Larry 'Buster' Crabbe, this time as Flash Gordon, it tells the tale of three space travellers who journey to the planet Mongo to stop the evil Ming the Merciless (Charles Middleton) from destroying the Earth. It is in Chapter 2: The Tunnel of Terror, that Ming decides to marry Flash's love interest Dale Arden (Jean Rogers)

against her will. As the ceremony begins, the statue of Mongo's god Tao is seen standing in the centre of the chapel, an idol that is none other than the statue of Osiris now masquerading as an alien god. Thankfully for Flash and Dale the wedding doesn't go ahead and Flash eventually saves the Earth. It is also here that Osiris had his last screen appearance......or was it?

In 1940 Universal Studios decided to make a follow up to it's 1932 hit The Mummy, entitled the Mummy's Hand. Although this sequel actually followed the reign of terror of a different living mummy, Kharis (Tom Tyler), footage of the Mummy's origin story was reused from the original, with the front on shots of Boris Karloff removed and appropriate shots of Tom Tyler dressed identically added in. In this origin story, Prince Kharis seeks to resurrect his lost love, Princess Ananka, with the use of the sacred tana leaves. The leaves are kept in a box identical to the one which housed the Scroll of Thoth in the original movie and the box is kept beneath the very same statue of Osiris. As in the original, Osiris shows his displeasure at Kharis' resurrection plans for the Princess Ananka and waves his flail at him. Very soon Kharis is apprehended and sentenced to undeath as a living Mummy. Many may have believed this was the statues last film appearance......but it wasn't.

In 1944 the 5th film in the Mummy series, The Mummy's Curse, starring Lon Chaney Jr, was released, and once again the Mummy's origin was retold using stock footage from The Mummy's Hand, which inturn used stock footage from The Mummy. And there in the middle of the flashback was Osiris, storing the tana leaves beneath his feet and waving his flail disapprovingly at Prince Kharis as he had at Imhotep before him. Due to this reuse of stock footage, not only does the Osiris statue make its 5th screen appearance (and is referred to as Isis), but Kharis is portrayed by four different actors, Karloff and Tyler in the flashback and Lon Chaney Jr and his stunt double, Eddie Parker, in the main body of the film. This would be the last outing for the Mummy until 1955's Abbott and Costello meet the Mummy and even then it would be yet another bandage dragger named Klaris (Eddie Parker) that would feature in this comical take on the series. But no where to be seen amongst the hijinks  was Osiris, or Tao, or Isis or Zar of the Emerald Fingers, the statue itself possibly having gone to the great props warehouse in the sky many years before it had lived on in stock footage.