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Society and Culture- Content Analysis of “The Gods Must Be Crazy” Essay

The study of Society and Culture involves the exploration of the interactions between persons, society and culture in the environment through time. These interactions are quite evident and clearly displayed in the film “The Gods Must be Crazy”. The intertwining connection/s between these fundamental concepts is shown through the portrayal of the two different societies; the tribes of the Kalahari and ‘Western’ society.

The environment plays a big part throughout the movie. The film originally begins with an establishing shot of the African desert and its wildlife. We are introduced by the narrator, “it is a beautiful landscape devoid of people, because people need water to live, except the little people. They know what to do about food and water. You can dig for food and for water you can put a leaf on the ground, leave it overnight, and drink the dew in the morning.” Such narration highlights the harshness of the desert environment, but also depicts how the Kalahari tribe which the movie focuses on has adapted to their environment and successfully learnt how to survive in the harsh terrain.

There are constant references to persons and their societies and they way in which both the individuals themselves and society as a whole interact with their environment. Adaptation is vital for the survival of any environment. The Kalahari have adapted their technology, culture, society etcetera to suit their environment. For example, they are a nomadic tribe, so they live in quickly constructible and easily destructible abodes, making it easier for them to continually move around. They live in small tight knit communities/tribes, which primarily consist of the informal institution of the family unit. Because of their environment it is essential for the Kalahari to live as a joint unit. For example because of the large size and relatively ‘superior’ physical strength of their prey makes it is necessary for the Kalahari to hunt in groups, instead of as an individual, such as what is frequent in Western society e.g. Kate moving from the city to the countryside by herself, and without her family, or friends. In this way the environment has helped form their society.

Western society on the other hand has refused to adapt to their environment and have instead changed the environment to suite themselves. It is essentially a self-created environment. The attitude the people seem to carry regarding this self-created environment is one of disrespect, constantly littering and polluting their environment. But we also see how some parts of Western society are helping to conserve and learn about the environment, namely the natural one. This is shown in the movie through the character of Andrew, who is studying wildlife. During his time in the ‘bush’ he has learnt to adapt to and understand his environment, aiding him in his everyday life. For example, his knowledge of the itchy sap of a particular tree eventually saves the day.

The terrorists or rebels on the other hand are portrayed as having complete disregard for the environment, which in due time turns out to be their undoing. We see them fighting in the jungle, driving their tanks/jeeps straight through a banana plantation and in effect trampling on and destroying everything in their path. A knowledge of and respect for one’s environment is constantly portrayed through the movie as being valuable, which in itself reveals the attitudes of the section of the ‘Western society’ which created this film.

In the movie we also see how changes in the environment can affect societies and their culture. There is no real sense of ownership among the Kalahari tribe as there isn’t much to own in their environment, thus creating an environment of communal ownership. The Kalahari have thus developed a value for sharing, which led to the coke bottle posing as a problem to them. The coke bottle was perceived by them as a new technology, used as a labour saving device. In accordance with their belief that everything was put on earth by God, and that all such items were therefore beneficial and ‘good’, the Kalahari believed that the bottle was also sent by God.

Everything in their environment could be shared i.e. food, water, shelter etcetera. However there was only one Coke bottle and everyone found many applications for it, but couldn’t share it. This created new attitudes of private ownership, and not wanting to share. This incident in the movie therefore demonstrates how over time, culture and its components e.g. customs such as sharing can change because differences in the environment (e.g. the introduction of the coke bottle) alter the way people respond to different events/objects (i.e. sharing the coke bottle).

The different perceptions which dissimilar cultures hold regarding the same issues or concepts is portrayed in a comical manner by the filmmakers. The coke bottle is perceived by the Bushmen to be an object of beauty. Kate, is seen as beautiful by members of Western society e.g. Jack and Andrew; blonde hair, blue eyes, good figure etc. But when Xi comes across Kate, his attitude towards her is in line with his culture’s perceptions of beauty. Kate therefore is seen to be ugly because of her old age (she is old relative to the typical women in Xi’s society, because the Bushmen most probably didn’t share the same life expectancy as westerners), grey/white hair, pale skin, too fat and so on.

Andrew is taken in awe by Kate and her beauty, but his lack of as well as bad communication leads to his presentation of himself as some sort of perverted, lying, mumbling, clumsy elephant dung collector. When he tries to explain that he put out the campfire, and huddled on top of Kate because the fire was attracting the rhino, she doesn’t believe him, because of her limited understanding of the natural environment, as well as a pre-conception, based on earlier events which leads to her seeing Andrew as someone doing whatever he can, including lying, conjuring false stories etc. in order to take advantage of her. In an effort to prove himself, he uses his knowledge of an African tribal language to communicate with passing Bushmen. However, Kate misinterprets their answer because they communicate differently i.e. say yes by shaking their heads. We see here how communication or miscommunication caused by differences in language, gestures etc. among different persons can result in differences in interpretations.

To the Kalahari tribe, most of their social and cultural literacy is accounted for by their micro world. They have a very limited macro world as they live in small nomadic groups and, because of their environment and lifestyle, have been isolated from ‘the rest of society’, namely western society. Their society doesn’t have any media, formal law, official workplace or government and this deficit has meant that they aren’t exposed to the factors which contribute to our knowledge of the macro world.

We see through Kate however that Western society has a broader macro world as they have those forces which provide an individual’s knowledge of the world they don’t know through personal experience. We see for example that Kate is aware of the massive teaching shortage in the rural areas of the country, although she herself hasn’t been to the rural areas to gain first hand knowledge of this. The knowledge of this shortage, which forms part of her macro world, comes to her attention through the government and media.

Throughout the film there seems to be a recurring motif of technology and the inefficiency of the advanced technology used by Western society. The terrorists/rebels are depicted as abusing their relatively advance (military) technology in their plight, using it to assist them in gaining power.

The persons in Western society seem to live in a technologically dependant environment. There are many occasions in the movie where we see the incompetence of ‘modern’ technology such as cars breaking down, or not working the way their users/drivers want them to. For Xi, the car is a new technology, which is why he originally believes it is just a large, noisy animal with odd footprints. We see time and time again how the environment gets in the way of this advanced technology and the destructive nature of some of Western society’s technologies e.g. guns and army tanks.

Towards the end of the film, the ‘Westerners’ are able to use technology to aid them as well as better adapt to their environment. For example, when Andrew, Mipudi and Xi are studying the wildlife, they are unable to travel by car to the top of a cliff so they are forced to return to more primitive means i.e. walking. Technology, in the form of a telescope and sedatives is then used constructively to help find and locate the hostages. It is in fact a combination of both the Western technology of the telescope and the sedative together with the Kalahari/traditional society’s technology of the bow and arrow which is used win the conflict between the ‘good’ members of society and the ‘bad’ ones.

Their limited or less highly developed technology has prevented the Bushmen of the Kalahari from gathering more large scale knowledge about their environment, leading to their conception of the world being flat, and there being an ‘end of the world’. Western society on the other hand has developed its technology over time, and has thus come to an increased understanding of the wider world.

The Gods Must be Crazy also explores the concept of power and authority. The terrorists posses power through terror, displayed through their taking hostage of Kate and the school kids, with the children being easy targets as they are generally seen as one of the most ‘vulnerable’ members of society. However this hostage-taking scheme to wield power over the army and government by means of threatening only works because the terrorists don’t necessarily value human life whereas Western society and the Bushmen of the Kalahari do. Through the process of hostage taking, Sam Boga essentially attempts to wield power through his exploitation of ‘society’s’ values i.e. value for human life. The power held by Sam Boga and his militants is perceived with scorn by the others, shown through Kate’s evident criticism of Sam Boga’s ‘inhumane’ actions.

In Xi’s community, the elders have power through their age, and one would also expect through knowledge. An immense sense of respect towards older people in Kalahari society adds to their power. The respect in the tribe is through age rather than gender. At the start of the movie we see the slightly restricted/less powerful or authoritative role of women in western society through Kate and her friends in the media. In ‘The Gods must be crazy’, Xi and the other members of the tribe gather around to listen to and act on the advice which the tribal elders give in regards to the ‘disposal’ of the Coke bottle.

Western Society, and its members are seen to possess authority, which is lacking in the Bushmen as the Bushmen don’t have a necessarily recognized legal system etc. in order for anyone to posses the legitimately recognized ability to essentially tell people what to do. Though their influence is based primarily on power, the tribal elders of the Kalahari possess to a lesser extent some amount of authority. They are presumably the informally recognised leaders of the tribe and their orders would therefore be accepted as how in Western Society we recognise the decisions and commands of our ‘leaders’ e.g. the prime minister. Kate has authority in her role as a school teacher, and the police have the authority to reprimand Xi when he breaks a law of Western Society.

However such laws and punishments are foreign to Xi, who was merely killing prey and had done the right thing by doing as was customary to talk to the animal and explain why it was being killed and saying sorry to it etc. He had even offered to share the food with the other man. Because of his misunderstanding of Western law he accidentally breaches it and is thus exposed to authority, in the form of a police officer, and is eventually tried by the legal system, found to be guilty and placed into a prison. Mpudi, who has knowledge of both Kalahari and Western society and their culture/s, understands that Xi will not be able to easily survive in his new confined environment.

As you can see from above, there are many situations and events in the movie that show how the fundamental concepts of Society, Culture, Persons and their Environment all interlink and cause flow on effects, with aspects of one particular concept (e.g. law) eventually resulting in the involvement of an aspect of another concept (e.g. a confined environment), with this all happening over a period of time. The movie ‘The Gods must be crazy’ has thus raised a great number of points relating to the courses in Society and Culture as well as being an amusing and thought provoking piece of entertainment produced by Western society for their entertainment, with cinematography and its enjoyment being an aspect of Western culture.


“The Gods Must Be Crazy” movie

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