The Gods Must Be Crazy 1 is a South African comedy film which tells the story of Xi, a Bushman from the deep Kalahari Desert. He lived happily with his family and tribe because he thought the god provided them with plenty of things. The film contains various elements about cultural differences and intercultural communication concepts. In this essay, I aim to analyze the film in the light of the concepts of ethnocentrism and values.
The literature review of the concepts will be discussed in the first two paragraphs, and a description of the segments relevant to the chosen concepts, followed by analysis and discussion on how these segments informs the concepts and what could help viewers to understand.
The term “Ethnocentrism” was first used by William G. Sumner in which he defined it as “the technical name for the view of things in which one’s own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it” (Piotr, 1996).
Sumner also stated it normally led to prejudice of one’s own group’s dominance, and belief of superiority over other groups. In general, ethnocentrism is the judgment of another culture only by one’s own values from their particular ethnic group or culture; particularly language, behaviour, customs, and religion are of concern. Ethnocentrism is classified into three stages: denial, defensiveness, and minimisation. In the denial stage, one is incapable or indisposed to recognise cultural difference, and avoid people from other groups unconsciously, and also strongly maintain a traditional worldview.
In the defensiveness stage, one will negatively judge cultural differences. In the minimisation stage, one accepts cultural differences while believing that all human beings are basically the same. Cultures have values that are generally shared by their members. These values identify what should be evaluated as good or bad. In some cultures, they mirror the values of respect and support from and for friends and family. Yet, it somehow means values from other cultures are differently perceived as good or bad.
Values are separated into three different types: universal values, cultural values, and personal values. Universal values being that humans universally value good manners. Personal Values provide an inner suggestion for what is good, important, beautiful, beneficial, useful and so on. It also influences behaviour and helps solve common difficulties and problems for human survival. Members of a culture will share similar values, which are transmitted by family, media, education, and religion. There are two segments from the film that I found particularly relevant to the concept of ethnocentrism.
In the first segment (S1), when Xi saw Kate Thompson in the bush and he thought she was the ugliest god he’d ever come across from Kalahari Desert, because her skin was white, and she was covering her body with skins that looked like it was made of cobweb. The second segment (S2) is when Xi got arrested for shooting a goat. In fact, Xi didn’t know he did something wrong and was getting in trouble, he shot the goat because he was hungry and he observed the goat as food which he would like to share, but the people who arrested him thought he was stealing the goat.
Furthermore, there are two other segments from the film that I also found particularly relevant to the concept of values. In the first segment (S3), before the Coke bottle drops from the sky, the Bushmen shared everything equally and with respect. When the bottle dropped from the sky, they thought it was from the god that they have never seen before. The tough properties of the bottle quickly replaced it for the villager’s current tools, mainly being bones.
However, there being only one bottle meant only one person had possession of the bottle at one time, changing their lives from the new experience of ownership. This caused fights between the villagers that had never occurred before. The second segment (S4) is when Xi was brought to the court for shooting the goat. The judge asked him if he was guilty or not guilty, M’pudi (the translator who can speak the Bushman language) did not know how to translate the word “guilty” to Xi, because in Xi’s language, there is no word for it. Ethnocentrism can either be positive or negative.
In S1, where Kate Thompson was putting her clothes on, the situation related to the defensiveness stage, where Xi negatively judged the attire of another culture. Xi could not understand the actions of Kate Thompson because her clothes and modesty were foreign to his tribe and culture. In S2 when Xi was arrested and jailed for stealing, it is likely relevant to the denial stage. The police, lawyers, and judges seemed to maintain their own traditional worldview and culture to condemn the actions of Xi to be absolutely illegal with no doubt.
But to Xi, it’s another story. In S3, the Coke bottle changed the values of the Bushmen and created a violent repercussion that did not exist before it dropped into their lives. As the Bushmen were contending to use the bottle “given from the god”, their relationship and society began to change. Unexpectedly, there was competition and disagreement between the members. They fought with each other, and punished each other, which has not occurred before. Those who controlled the bottle became different than those who did not.
Moreover, their values were not the same as they were before. Because of the bottle, they understood the feeling of ownership. In S4 situation, there is no such word “guilty” for Xi’s language. From this point, it is obvious that the values between the judges and Xi were very different. Not knowing the value of guilt, caused the punishment on him. There are still numerous segments about intercultural communication concepts in the film. The film was filmed relaxing and easy to discover if there is any concept in the segments or not.
To enhance and make sure the audiences can follow up with the film and looking for the concepts at the same time, previous study of concepts are required and important. As a starting point, if the audiences watch the film after the study of concepts, we (audiences) will be able to watch the film once and do not have to replay to seek for concepts. Again, this film has involved many intercultural concepts, and it helped me to get more familiar with what I am studying.