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ERIC Number: EJ793371
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 14
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 0
ISSN: ISSN-0161-6463
Tropic Trappings in Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto" and Joseph Nicolar's "The Life and Traditions of the Red Man"
Kolodny, Annette
American Indian Culture and Research Journal, v32 n1 p21-34 2008
With its roots in ancient rhetoric and medieval liturgy, the term "trope" now refers to a figure of speech that organizes a set of complex ideas into a kind of linguistic shorthand. A trope is thus a phrase or image that conveys more than its literal meaning. In this article, two tropes are pertinent: the "pastoral" and the "fortunate fall." The word "pastoral" comes out of the classical tradition and functions as a trope by conjuring up images of happy peasants peacefully herding their flocks in some bucolic countryside. But pastoral thereby also suggests itself as the antithesis of (or even refuge from) the ills of the crowded and hectic city. It is thus a kind of imaginative shorthand for an inherent tension between the urban and the rural. The second familiar trope comes from Christian sources. Originally, the "fortunate fall" referred to the idea that the sin of Adam and Eve--their disobedience to God, which resulted in the expulsion from Eden and the entry of death into the world--nonetheless set in motion a chain of events that ultimately led to the resurrection's promise of salvation and eternal life. Over the centuries, the meaning of the trope expanded to connote any circumstance in which good eventually emanates from evil or error. This article's central argument is relatively simple: Whatever their culture or cultural background, people inhabit realities organized by tropes. The problem is that they do not always recognize the presence of tropes, even when--perhaps most especially when--they trap them in misunderstandings or outright delusions. What is even more problematic is that tropes are too often the sites of cross-cultural misunderstandings or even cross-cultural incompatibilities. In order to flesh out that argument, the author examines two texts that, at first glance, seem to have nothing in common: Mel Gibson's 2006 film "Apocalypto" and Joseph Nicolar's self-published 1893 book, "The Life and Traditions of the Red Man." In the former, a non-Native purports to have depicted an authentic moment of Mayan history. In the latter, a Penobscot elder attempts to preserve the traditions of his people for future generations. What they share is a historically grounded response to the specter of societies that they perceive as threatened. (Contains 17 notes.)
American Indian Studies Center at UCLA. 3220 Campbell Hall, Box 951548, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1548. Tel: 310-825-7315; Fax: 310-206-7060; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A