King Kong and the Monster in Ethnographic Cinema

May 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Fatimah Tobing Rony’s “King Kong and the Monster in Ethnographic Cinema” discusses the thematic parallels of ethnographic reasoning in the popular media of today’s society.  Focusing on Merian Cooper’s 1933 film, “King Kong,” as well as using other similar examples of media, Rony argues that “King Kong” and the other sources of varied film are “the ultimate carnivalesque version of early ethnographic cinema.”  Examining the element of “hybridization” between cultures, Rony introduces and ultimately argues that these films analyze the consequences of a blending, or in this case, clash of cultures.  Rony points out that the combining of two very different cultures in each of the mentioned movies, whether it be the introduction of a giant ape into the heart of New York City or the mixture of an animal and human, leads to an inevitable destruction.

I found this point particularly interesting, especially when we read the National Geographic piece later in the week.  In this article, one of the same points was made regarding the clash of cultures.  This, however, involved a picture of several Indian girls wearing two different kinds of clothing.  One was the traditional, colorful Indian dress while the other was jeans and a T-shirt.   Symbolizing the blending of cultures, National Geographic did not paint the setting as barbaric, but rather as a cheerful, harmonious progression among cultures.  While we can see that the differences in the traditions within cultures can occasionally cause misunderstanding, we must realize that culture is never a concrete idea.  It is rather a consistent evolution and mixing of various elements. Cooper’s portrayal of the horrible destruction of King Kong in his film disregarded this fact, as the “savage” of a separate culture is not a savage in his own culture and therefore must be understood before it is judged.


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