Friday, June 23, 2017

The Gods Must Be Crazy

The Gods Must Be Crazy on the surface seems like a light hearted comedy where vastly different cultures come into contact with each other and struggle to find common ground and to communicate. There is another layer entirely to the film that is less obvious. With such different cultures and different understandings of what is socially acceptable and even what reality is, there comes a point where individuals from the different cultures need to find some sort of understanding of each other. Taking place in the continent of Africa, the film shows how even in a continent where most would assume that all cultures and types of living would be more or less on the same page there are clear and massive differences in the cultures of its peoples. These differences are so substantial that the cultures, while neighboring, live in almost different worlds entirely.
                A particularly interesting scene is when a pilot flying overhead drops an empty Coca-Cola bottle from the plane window which falls to the earth unbroken. The bottle is then found by a member of the Bushmen tribe. The Bushmen that finds it is perplexed by the bottle as it is unlike anything he had ever seen. The film describes it from the Bushmen perspective as looking like water yet being the hardest thing he had ever seen. The Bushmen then brings it back to his tribe and the tribe is equally confused by the strange object. They take turns trying to figure out what the object is and what it is used for. The unique properties of the object make it great for a variety of tasks, none of which were the intended purpose of the bottle. They find it is ideal for decorating clothing, skinning snakes, as an instrument, and ultimately as a weapon. With only one bottle and many tribal people they soon found that they were competing over the use of the new object. With such great scarcity and so many different uses the bottle became a prized possession that ultimately ended up being fought over. After two tribal people ended up in a physical altercation over the bottle sentiment regarding the bottle shifted from enthusiastic to almost fearful. They realized that the way the tribe had been acting since the arrival of that damn bottle made them worse off than before it was found. This led to the decision that the object needed to be returned to the gods in order to rid the tribe of the chaos and violence it had brought. The rest of the film follows the tribe member that goes on a journey to throw the object off the end of the earth.
                While this film had plenty of comedy, it also made me realize the stark contrast between different ways of living that exist at the same time. I found the bottle situation interesting because it was such a simple object but became such a luxury and yet such a bane at the same time. I also couldn’t help but feel bad for the other Africans in the film that lived in a semi-civilized condition because of the film’s reference to the infighting and civil war that still happens to this day in African nations. The use of children as human shields for the criminal leader of the guerilla fighter to escape from the country he was be pursued in made me think if the usage of children both as human shields and as child soldiers. The comedic aspects of the film start to seem to me like a necessity to balance out the ugliness of these other aspects of the film.

                The simple bottle and the myriad of events that it brings in The Gods Must Be Crazy is comical but also seems to make reference to societal realities and problems that exist in the world outside of the Bushmen tribe. The introduction of scarcity brought by the new object is representative of the problems that are brought about by materialism and more broadly capitalism. The Bushmen before lived in a society without any real scarcity where people freely shared with each other and there was no sense of possessiveness. In a way the introduction of the bottle had an effect on the Milieu of the tribe in that it began rapidly shifting social factors in the tribe and initiated a type of Rhythm Chaos (Deleuze, 1987). It created haves and have-nots, or in this case one have and many have-nots. It seems that the introduction of scarcity alone can completely change the structure of a society. Scarcity quickly degrades egalitarianism within a society and is so transformative that it can shift that society into a smooth space. Also important regarding the bottle is the Nomadism relating to its use in the Bushmen tribe. The bottle had a completely different intended use but the Bushmen repurpose the bottle for multiple other tasks. This is done unintentionally because when taken out of the context of the society in which the bottle was created, the same object can become a completely different type of tool. The bottle was intended to be used as a container for liquid but to the Bushmen who had no context with which to relate the bottle it became a musical instrument, a tool for decoration, or a hammer. In terms of nomadism, the Bushmen are clearly living outside the existence of a state and it is tempting to call them nomads but after further analysis they appear to be something else. Nomadism seems to imply that the nomads are knowingly and somewhat willingly living outside the scope of their society (Nomad-Wiki). That doesn’t seem to be the case with these Bushmen as they are unaware of any state existing around them. This idea of a state is probably so far out of their norm that they cannot conceptualize what it is. Therefore the Bushmen cannot be intentionally living outside the reach of the state and certainly do not mean to disrupt or challenge it. The direction of Nomadism of existing outside the state and a large scale status quo is something that the Bushmen seem to take so far as to be beyond Nomadism. It is important in affirmative nomadology to have somewhere to go to escape society after you refuse to be a part of it (Holland, 2011). The Bushmen have that small plot of land and that place to go but never needed a general strike against the state as they were never a part of it to begin with. Therefore it is actually easy to argue that the Bushmen are not nomads at all.

Deleuze, Gilles & Felix Guattari (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (trans. Brian Massumi). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Nomad Citizenship: Free-Market Communism and the Slow-Motion GeneralStrike, Eugene Holland, University of Minnesota Press. 2011

Nomad-Wiki (2017), Multiple Authors.


  1. You brought up some thought provoking points that I had not considered. There is indeed a certain ugliness to the society that we observe, and humor has often times been the most effective means to tell a simple truth. When I consider nomadism, I don't necessarily think of a state. In the context of Affirmative Nomadism and Nomad Citizenship, the state is very central to the idea, but Deleuze and Guattari define the nomad in terms of its ability to navigate smooth and striated spaces with ease. I would therefore argue that while the Bushmen in this film represent a society without a state or a centralized authority, that they are in fact living in a striated space.

    I appreciated you bringing up reterritorialization into the conversation, because I believe it is important. One question I have is how the Bushmen would behave after Xi came home. Would they be completely free of the bottle and live life as if it had never happened, or is the change in social structure that you described a more permanent aspect. Will they leave untouched, or will the bottle forever change the social dynamics of the tribe?

    (Jake Kaminetzky, since the site won't recognize my account)

    1. That is a good question Jake. The bottle may have not changed the tribe too much as they ended up rejecting it due to the social tensions it was causing. At the same time their reality has shifted simply by knowing that the bottle exists and both the positive and negative impacts it had on their tribe.

  2. It's interesting to hear you define nomadism in relative terms, but the concept of relativism is important in the analysis. From a western "civilized" perspective, it is difficult to argue that the Bushmen are not nomads relative to us. However, from their perspective, if there is no intent to be nomadic, it is difficult to argue they have separated their thinking from their identity. So if they are not nomads, is their way of living still useful in informing us of how to be nomadic? I would argue yes, and that perhaps the question is not whether or not they are nomads, but who they are nomads to and what purpose they serve in various perspectives.

    I think this alludes to the notion of defining things by their attributes or by their use. In class we talked about the hammer. Is a toy hammer really a hammer if it doesn't perform the tasks a hammer should, but has a head and a handle? Regarding your analysis, once the bottle was reterritorialized by the Bushmen, was it still a bottle though its shape never changed? Further, is a nomad really a nomad if they are not liberated from their societal structures even if they are useful in enlightening "civilized" people of alternate forms of community? Answers will differ drastically depending upon the lens.

    Ryan Chauner

    1. I like the hammer analogy because it does point out the differences in form versus function. Like you said the toy hammer may have the form of a hammer but does not have its function. By contrast a stone does not have the form of a hammer but can easily serve the same function as a hammer. I'd argue that the object remains the same regardless of its function. Therefore the form defines the reality of the object while the function is completely dependent on the perspective or the lens you mentioned. The function seems to be a construct of the user's interpretation of the properties of the object (form) and how those properties can be applied to a given system to carry out a specific function.

      Regarding nomadism, I agree that their way of living is indeed useful to our purpose of learning to be nomadic. In my interpretation of nomadism there needs to be an intention to be a nomad from a state in order to be nomadic. While the intent doesn't appear to be there the method is and that, I agree, is something that we can learn from even from our own perspective.