Over the long holiday weekend I was channel hopping on cable television and happened upon a Western called The Tall Men, starring Clark Gable, Robert Ryan and Jane Russell. The movie had already started when I caught it. There were a couple story lines which seemed far-fetched, but the camera work was good and the action was moving along. I ended up watching the movie to its conclusion.
Near the end of the movie these guys have been driving a herd of cattle, about 5,000 head or so, to Montana all the way from Texas, and just about the last obstacle on their long journey is an ambush by a large group of Sioux Indians. I could not believe that I found myself wishing for the stars to get past the faceless, villainous Native Americans. What I’m saying is this is how the movie portrayed the Sioux, who are fighting for their own territorial rights. This is the power of the filmmaker’s art. The filmmaker gets you to identify and sympathize with those whom he chooses to project heroically, and whomever he chooses to be the bad guy(s) will be the one(s) you and I, as the audience, will see in that light.
I thought to myself, despite all I know the filmmaker was still able to catch me in his web of propaganda. Can you imagine how successful this mind game was when it was being played on innocent, uninformed Belizeans back there in the 1950s? The Americans made thousands of these cowboy-and-Indian films and television series in the 1940s and 1950s. At the end of the day, these movies and television shows were glorifying genocide and extolling white supremacy. Straight up.
It was just a day or two after watching the aforementioned movie that I saw Jerry Enriquez’s article which appears in this same issue of the newspaper. He said that his dad had stopped him from going to watch these movies in Punta Gorda when he was a child on the grounds that they were about white people killing native people. I was totally impressed by the senior Mr. Enriquez’s insight. Back then, you never, ever heard anyone in Belize questioning the messages in the movies. Having just experienced being programmed by the Western to which I referred, I gave Mr. Enriquez big, big respect.
The Garifuna people were a native people in St. Vincent who were being slaughtered by the British and the French on different occasions. Finally, the British “exiled” the Garifuna to Balliceaux, an island on which many of them perished, and then the British shipped the survivors to Roatan, one of the Bay Islands now owned by Honduras. It was from Roatan that the Garifuna paddled and sailed to Belize, Honduras, and Nicaragua in the early part of the nineteenth century.
Today, now that the Garifuna people have survived and triumphed, I feel sometimes that they should relax some of their vigilance, especially in Belize. But, I understand and respect that vigilance, and I submit it was that vigilance which enabled the senior Mr. Enriquez to see through the game being played when the white cowboys met the red Indians in the movies made by the descendants of the white cowboys.
America doesn’t make cowboy-and-Indian movies any more, but America makes very, very violent movies. Belize does not make movies. It takes a lot of money to make a movie. So, in Belize we watch movies made by Americans. These movies are financed by wealthy individuals and corporations in the United States, and their primary target audience is the American people, who are some of the most violent people on planet earth. You should know, incidentally, that the American arms industry is one of the largest such in the world, so American movies which emphasize the use of guns are really advertising vehicles for the American arms industry.
Like most Belizeans, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this crazy, tragic incident last week in the Pomona Valley where one of our children shotgunned another child who was his neighbor. We know there are many rural families where fathers teach their sons to use guns for hunting purposes, but fathers will warn their sons over and over about the absolute need to respect firearms. Was the aggressive child seeing electronic images somewhere which had created dangerous patterns in his mind? We immediately think cable television. But, it is said that the electronic games the Americans manufacture and export to us for our children’s enjoyment are extremely violent.
Well, it is not as if the American society is the only violent one on earth. The world is a violent place. What I want to say is that by now we Belizeans should have been creating our own Belizean images for our children to contemplate. That was and remains one of the challenges of our nationhood – the creation of a Belizean theatre. The fact is that there has been foreign junk on Belize’s cable television for decades now, and that junk is not only useless: it is toxic.
There was really no need for Belize to go the way Cuba had gone before the Revolution of 1959. We’ve become a garbage can for a lot of imported filth. That poisonous package has been seriously seductive. I explained to you right at the beginning of this column that, with all that I’m supposed to know, I was psychologically recruited by a movie to support those who were the enemies of my own people.
In Belize, I would say, we are in a desperate fight for our Belizean lives. We Belizeans assumed that if we pushed the British out, The Jewel would be ours for the taking and the loving. It has not worked out that way. There is a price you have to pay for sovereignty, freedom, and national dignity. In Belize, we’re still celebrating September 21, 1981. It’s as if we have not yet begun to fight. In the words of B.B. King, and latterly Major Lloyd Jones, we have to pay the cost to be the boss.
Power to the people.