Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Scieszka's ME OH MAYA and Gibson's APOCALYPTO

Mel Gibson's film Apocalypto is about to be released. The previews promise a lot of action, and it looks like it features a lot of stereotypes, too, which means it'll probably do well at the box office. If you are interested in a critical review of Gibson's process of getting this film done, The Nation has one: Mad Mel and the Maya.

In the midst of the media attention of this film, I learned of a children's book by acclaimed author Jon Scieszka. Titled Me Oh Maya, it is part of his Time Warp Trio series of books in which three boys time travel, mostly to the past, but occasionally to the future. Me Oh Maya was first published in 2003 by Viking.

In Me Oh Maya the boys find themselves in a Mayan ball court. A "short brown-skinned guy in a wild feathered headdress stood on top of the wall looking down" at the boys and says to them "Explain yourselves or your blood will be spilled in sacrifice."

This guy turns out to be an "evil high priest" stands over them. His name, they learn, is Kakapupahed.

The Time Warp Trio series is pitched to kids who are "reluctant readers." This sort of book provides readers with clever writing that functions as a hook to draw in a kid who might otherwise not read. In this series, that hook is puns, lots of action, and, as the reviewer at School Library Journal notes, "a little bathroom humor."

In Me Oh Maya, the boys hear the high priests name and think "Cacapoopoohead":

They struggle, unsuccessfully, to contain their laughter. This "evil priest" is corrupt, and with the help of one of his relatives and her son, they manage to trick him and remove him from his position.

Reviews of the book say that kids can learn a lot about Mayan culture by reading this book. I don't think so. What they really learn is that it is perfectly fine to denigrate Mayan names and hence, the people who carry them. They learn that the Mayan's are fools who can be easily tricked ("primitive Indians" you know).

Those are my initial observations. There is much more to say about flaws in Me Oh Maya.

For now, I consider the context. A children's book. A feature length film. Both deeply flawed, yet those flaws escape notice. Why is that?

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