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News :: Education
Chomsky and Zinn are Idiots and Fascists
10 Jan 2005
The Real Atrocity in Tolkien's Middle Earth
By Jeff Alexander and Tom Bissell
McSweeney's Internet Tendency | January 7, 2005
Chomsky: The film opens with Galadriel speaking. "The world has changed," she tells us, "I can feel it in the water." She's actually stealing a line from the non-human Treebeard. He says this to Merry and Pippin in The Two Towers, the novel. Already we can see who is going to be privileged by this narrative and who is not.
Zinn: Of course. "The world has changed." I would argue that the main thing one learns when one watches this film is that the world hasn't changed. Not at all.
Chomsky: We should examine carefully what's being established here in the prologue. For one, the point is clearly made that the "master ring," the so-called "one ring to rule them all," is actually a rather elaborate justification for preemptive war on Mordor.
Zinn: I think that's correct. Tolkien makes no attempt to hide the fact that rings are wielded by every other ethnic enclave in Middle Earth. The Dwarves have seven rings, the Elves have three. The race of Man has nine rings, for God's sake. There are at least 19 rings floating around out there in Middle Earth, and yet Sauron's ring is supposedly so terrible that no one can be allowed to wield it. Why?
Chomsky: Notice too that the "war" being waged here is, evidently, in the land of Mordor itself — at the very base of Mount Doom. These terrible armies of Sauron, these dreadful demonized Orcs, have not proved very successful at conquering the neighboring realms — if that is even what Sauron was seeking to do. It seems fairly far-fetched.
Zinn: And observe the map device here — how the map is itself completely Gondor-centric. Rohan and Gondor are treated as though they are the literal center of Middle Earth. Obviously this is because they have men living there. What of places such as Anfalas and Forlindon or Near Harad? One never really hears anything about places like that. And this so-called map casually reveals other places — the Lost Realm, the Northern Waste (lost to whom? wasted how? I ask) — but tells us nothing about them. It is as though the people who live in these places are despicable, and unworthy of mention. Who is producing this tale? What is their agenda? What are their interests and how are those interests being served by this portrayal? Questions we need to ask repeatedly.
Chomsky: And here comes Bilbo Baggins. Now, this is, to my mind, where the story begins to reveal its deeper truths. In the books we learn that Saruman was spying on Gandalf for years. And he wondered why Gandalf was traveling so incessantly to the Shire. As Tolkien later establishes, the Shire's surfeit of pipe-weed is one of the major reasons for Gandalf's continued visits.
Zinn: You view the conflict as being primarily about pipe-weed, do you not?
Chomsky: Well, what we see here, in Hobbiton, farmers tilling crops. The thing to remember is that the crop they are tilling is, in fact, pipe-weed, an addictive drug transported and sold throughout Middle Earth for great profit.
Zinn: This is absolutely established in the books. Pipe-weed is something all the Hobbits abuse. Gandalf is smoking it constantly. You are correct when you point out that Middle Earth depends on pipe-weed in some crucial sense, but I think you may be overstating its importance. Clearly the war is not based only on the Shire's pipe-weed. Rohan and Gondor's unceasing hunger for war is a larger culprit, I would say.
Chomsky: But without the pipe-weed, Middle Earth would fall apart. Saruman is trying to break up Gandalf's pipe-weed ring. He's trying to divert it.
Zinn: Well, you know, it would be manifestly difficult to believe in magic rings unless everyone was high on pipe-weed. So it is in Gandalf's interest to keep Middle Earth hooked.
Chomsky: How do you think these wizards build gigantic towers and mighty fortresses? Where do they get the money? Keep in mind that I do not especially regard anyone, Saruman included, as an agent for progressivism. But obviously the pipe-weed operation that exists is the dominant influence in Middle Earth. It's not some ludicrous magical ring.
Zinn: You've mentioned in the past the various flavors of pipe-weed that Hobbits have cultivated: Gold Leaf, Old Toby, etc.
Chomsky: Nothing better illustrates the sophistication of the smuggling ring than the fact that there are different brand names associated with the pipe-weed. Ah, here we have Gandalf smoking a pipe in his wagon — the first of many clues that link us to the hidden undercurrents of power.
Zinn: Gandalf is deeply implicated. That's true. And of course the ring lore begins with him. He's the one who leaks this news of the supposed evil ring.
Chomsky: Now here, just before Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday party, we can see some of the symptoms of addiction. We are supposed to attribute Bilbo's tiredness, his sensation of feeling like too little butter spread out on a piece of bread, to this magical ring he supposedly has. It's clear something else may be at work, here.
Zinn: And soon Gandalf is delighting the Hobbits with his magic. Sauron's magic is somehow terrible but Gandalf's, you'll notice, is wonderful.
Chomsky: And note how Gandalf's magic is based on gunpowder, on explosions.
Chomsky: And it is interesting, too, that Gandalf's so-called magic is technological, and yet somehow technology seems to be what condemns Saruman's enterprises, as well as those of the Orcs.
Chomsky: But we will address that later. Here we have Pippin and Merry stealing a bunch of fireworks and setting them off. This might be closer to the true heart of the Hobbits.
Zinn: You mean the Hobbits' natural inclination?
Chomsky: I think the Hobbits are criminals, essentially.
Zinn: It also seems incredibly irresponsible for Gandalf to have a firework that powerful just sitting in the back of his wagon.
Chomsky: More of his smoke and mirrors, yes? Gandalf conjures the dragon Smaug to scare the people.
Zinn: One can always delight the little people with explosions.
Chomsky: As long as they're blowing up somewhere else. Now we come to Bilbo's disappearance. Again, we have to question the validity of the ring, and the magic powers attributed to it. Did Bilbo Baggins really disappear at his party, or is this some kind of mass hallucination attributable to a group of intoxicated Hobbits? When forced to consider so-called magic compared to the hallucinatory properties of a known narcotic, Occam's Razor would indicate the latter as a far more plausible explanation.
Zinn: I also think it is a spectacular display of bad manners to disappear at your own birthday party. And here, for the first time, Gandalf speaks to Bilbo about magic rings. Still, it is never clearly established why this one ring is so powerful. Everything used to justify that belief is legendary.
Chomsky: Gandalf is clearly wondering if it's time to invoke his plan for the supposed revelation concerning the secret magic ring. Why now? Well, I think it's because the people in Mordor — the Orcs, I'm speaking of — are starting to obtain some power, are starting to ask a little bit more from Middle Earth than Middle Earth has ever seen fit to give to them. And I don't think it's unreasonable for them to expect something back from Middle Earth. Of course, if that happened, the entire economy would be disrupted.
Zinn: The pipe-weed-based economy.
Chomsky: And, as you pointed out earlier, the military-industrial-complex that exists in Gondor. This constant state of alertness. This constant state of fear. And here Gandalf reveals his true nature.
Zinn: Indeed. Gandalf darkens the room and yells at poor Bilbo for rightfully accusing him of trying to steal his ring. It is abundantly obvious that Gandalf wants to steal the ring. But if he is caught with the ring himself, his pretext will dissolve. He needs to throw as much plausible deniability into his scheme as possible, which is why, later, he has Frodo carry the ring for him.
Chomsky: Gandalf knows the ring is powerless. It's interesting that he attaches so much importance to it and yet will not pick it up himself. This is because he knows that merely possessing the worthless ring will not help his cause. It's important to keep others thinking that it can. If Gandalf held the ring, he might be asked to do something with it. But its magic is nonexistent.
Zinn: Well, power needs to have its proxies. That way the damage is always deniable. As long as the Hobbits have the ring, no one will ever question the plot Gandalf has hatched. So here is the big scary ring, and all that happens when Gandalf moves to touch it is that he sees a big flaming eye. And notice it is a… different kind of eye — not like our eye.
Chomsky: Almost a cat-like eye.
Zinn: It's on fire. Somehow being an on-fire eye is this terrible thing in the minds of those in Middle Earth. I think this is a way of telling others in Middle Earth to be ashamed of their eyes. And of course you see the Orcs' eyes are all messed up, too. They're this terrible color. And what does Gandalf tell Frodo about the ring? "Keep it secret. Keep it safe."
Chomsky: "Let's leave the most powerful object in all of Middle Earth with a weak little Hobbit, a race known for its chattering and intoxication, and tell him to keep it a secret."
Zinn: Right. And here we receive our first glimpse of the supposedly dreadful Mordor, which actually looks like a fairly functioning place.
Chomsky: This type of city is most likely the best the Orcs can do if all they have are cliffs to grow on. It's very impressive, in that sense.
Zinn: Especially considering the economic sanctions no doubt faced by Mordor. They must be dreadful. We see now that the Black Riders have been released, and they're going after Frodo. The Black Riders. Of course they're black. Everything evil is always black. And later Gandalf the Grey becomes Gandalf the White. Have you noticed that?
Chomsky: The most simplistic color symbolism.
Zinn: And the writing on the ring, we learn here, is Orcish — the so-called "black speech." Orcish is evidently some spoliation of the language spoken in Rohan. This is what Tolkien says.
Chomsky: From what I understand, Orcish is a patois that the Orcs developed during their enslavement by Rohan, before they rebelled and left.
Zinn: Well, supposedly the Orcs were first bred by "the dark power of the north in the elder days." Tolkien says that "Orc" comes from the Mannish word tark, which means "man of Gondor."
Chomsky: Shameless really.
Zinn: Gandalf mentions the evil stirring in Mordor. That's all he has to say. "It's evil." He doesn't elaborate on what's going on in Mordor, what the people are going through. They're evil because they're there.
Chomsky: I think the fact that we never actually see the enemy is quite damning. Then again, Gandalf is the greatest storyteller of all. He weaves the tales that strand Middle Earth in this state of perpetual conflict.
Zinn: He is celebrated on one hand as a great statesman, a wise man, and viewed by the people who understand the role that he actually plays as a dangerous lunatic and a war criminal. And you will notice that Gandalf's war pitch hits its highest note when the Black Riders arrive in Hobbiton. I don't think that's a coincidence.
Chomsky: This is the Triumph of the Will.
Zinn: And now Frodo and Sam are joined by Merry and Pippin, as they finally escape the Shire. They're being chased by the Black Riders. Again, if these Black Riders are so fearsome, and they can smell the ring so lividly, why don't they ever seem able to find the Hobbits when they're standing right next to them?
Chomsky: Well, they're on horseback.
Chomsky: This episode in Bree should cause us to ask, too, how much Frodo knows about the conspiracy. He seems to be piecing it together a little bit. I think at first he's an unwitting participant, fooled by Gandalf's propaganda.
Zinn: I'm much more suspicious of Frodo than you are. I've always viewed him as one of the most malevolent actors in this drama, precisely because of how he abets people like Gandalf. He uses a fake name, Mr. Underhill, just as Gandalf goes by several names: Mithrandir, the Grey Pilgrim, the White Rider. Strider is also Aragorn, is also Estel, is also Elessar, is also Dunadan. He has all these identities.
Chomsky: We call those aliases today.
Zinn: But is Sauron ever anything but Sauron? Is Saruman ever anything but Saruman?
Chomsky: And now, with Frodo in the midst of a hallucinogenic, paranoid state, we meet Strider.
Zinn: Note that the first thing he starts talking about is the ring. "That is no trinket you carry." A very telling irony, that. It is the kind of irony that Shakespeare would use. It is something Iago might say. And did you hear that? "Sauron the Deceiver." That is what Strider, the ranger with multiple names, calls Sauron. A ranger. I believe today we call them serial killers.
Chomsky: Or drug smugglers.
Zinn: And notice how Strider characterizes the Black Riders. "Neither living nor dead." Why, that's a really useful enemy to have.
Chomsky: Yes. In this way you can never verify their existence, and yet they're horribly terrifying. We should not overlook the fact that Middle Earth is in a cold war at this moment, locked in perpetual conflict. Strider's rhetoric serves to keep fear alive.
Zinn: You've spoken to me before about Mordor's lack of access to the mineral wealth that the Dwarves control.
Chomsky: If we're going to get into the socio-economic reasons why certain structures develop in certain cultures… it's mainly geographical. We have Orcs in Mordor — trapped, with no mineral resources — hemmed in by the Ash Mountains, where the "free peoples" of Middle Earth can put a city, like Osgiliath, and effectively keep the border closed.
Zinn: Don't forget the Black Gate. The Black Gate, which, as Tolkien points out, was built by Gondor. And now we jump to the Orcs chopping down the trees in Isengard.
Chomsky: A terrible thing the Orcs do here, isn't it? They destroy nature. But again, what have we seen, time and time again?
Zinn: The Orcs have no resources. They're desperate.
Chomsky: Desperate people driven to do desperate things.
Zinn: Desperate to compete with the economic powerhouses of Rohan and Gondor.
Chomsky: Who really knows their motive? Maybe this is a means to an end. And while that might not be the best philosophy in the world, it makes the race of Man in no way superior. They're going to great lengths to hold onto their power. Two cultures locked in conflict over power, with one culture clearly suffering a great deal. I think sharing power and resources would have been the wisest approach, but Rohan and Gondor have shown no interest in doing so. Sometimes, revolution must be —
Zinn: Mistakes are often —
Chomsky: Blood must be shed. I forget what Thomas Jefferson —
Zinn: He said that blood was the —
Chomsky: The blood of tyrants —
Zinn: The blood of tyrants —
Chomsky: — waters the tree of —
Zinn: — revolution.
Chomsky: — freedom. Or revolution. Something like that.
Zinn: I think that's actually very, very close.
Chomsky: One of the problems with the perspective offered by the Man-Elf coalition is that you have to try so hard to get at the truth of the conflict, at what is really going on; it's so obscured by their propaganda and relentless militarism. I mean, here we have swords being distributed to the Hobbits by Strider so they can protect themselves against these "evil creatures." Now, in this case, it's probably warranted, though the "evil creatures" are looking for the ring in their own individual self-interest. They're behaving in a purely rational way.
Zinn: The Nazgul have been ordered to get the ring. So, that's what they're doing.
Chomsky: There are conflicts in rationality as well. Sometimes valid rationality is forced into conflict because of the structures of culture. But working through those cultural differences is where the peace lies. It doesn't lie in destroying some magical ring. This takes me back to the media's involvement in all this, and the way the media is being controlled by Gandalf, such as when he covers Saruman's palantir in Orthanc. This is the stone that allows one to see, and thus communicate with, different cultures.
Zinn: Right. "What does the eye command, my lord?" This is what the Orcs ask Saruman. In other words, what does the palantir say? Clearly the Orcs know a lot more about the people of Rohan and Gondor than the people of Rohan and Gondor have ever cared to know about them. They're curious beings.
Chomsky: Naturally, it's in Rohan/Gondor's interest to keep the Orcs obscured, to make everything as restricted and dehumanizing as possible. It's always the first step toward genocide. And is this — is there anything less than genocide being advocated in this film?
Zinn: I don't think so.
Chomsky: Is there any kind of idea that men should live in peace with the Orcs?
Zinn: Think of the scenes in the prologue with all the arrows hitting these thousands of Orcs. We're supposed to think that this is a good thing.
Chomsky: I think this is a tragedy, this story. Because it's about two cultures. And poor leadership. It's a human tragedy, and an Orcish tragedy.
Zinn: A perfect example of what you're talking about is right here, when Strider attacks the Black Riders, "saving" Frodo from them.
Chomsky: Think of it from the Black Riders' perspective. No doubt they arrived at Weathertop thinking, "Can we ask a few questions? We'd like to talk to you."
Zinn: Now from here we jump to Isengard, post-ecological atrocities. What I personally see here is… well, I see industrialization, I see a very cooperative workforce, I see a people who aren't terrorized, a people attempting to make do with what they have.
Chomsky: Well, they're making weapons, which is sad. I mean, it would be nice if they could make plowshares, but unfortunately this isn't the time for plowshares in their culture. But they're showing great ingenuity, and they're showing cooperation, you're right about that.
Zinn: Actually it shows the Orcs smithing a lot of pieces of metal. I don't think it's necessarily established that what they're making is swords, is it? They could be farming implements of some sort. They're definitely unusual-looking. But I have to ask you, what about the genetic engineering that goes on with the Uruk-hai?
Chomsky: It's certainly a strange aspect of their culture, but why should we be so condemning? I mean, this is the way they reproduce. If it looks disgusting to us, well maybe we should readjust what we regard as disgusting. I mean, is that any more vile than pulling a baby out of a gaping, bloody hole?
Zinn: And we go back to the Hobbits. After Frodo's been stabbed, Strider and Sam immediately journey out in search of another herb: kingsfoil, or athelas.
Chomsky: Aragorn is evidently into Research and Development as well.
Zinn: He certainly seems knowledgeable of "herbs" and "medicines."
Chomsky: And notice the way Arwen Evenstar greets Strider: a knife to the throat. I think that's a very telling, very interesting thing that happens over and over. Whenever "friendly" people encounter one another, they're raising swords, looking fearful and distrustful.
Zinn: Now we witness the Black Riders finally together — all nine Riders — giving chase to Arwen and Frodo. When we see the Orcs destroy their environment, it is this big scandal. But Arwen is able to send a whole herd of watery horses down a river, no doubt a very delicate ecosystem, and probably completely demolish it, and no one says anything about that.
Chomsky: The Elves, of course, always say that they are the best custodians of nature. And there's a curious type of nature-worship in their culture that allows them to claim, by every implication, "Trees are more important than people." They don't regard the Orcs as people. However, Orcs are thinking, sentient, conscious beings with a culture and a language. They feel pain. They express emotion. They are constantly evolving, trying to better themselves.
Zinn: But here the Elvish culture is revealed to be very elaborate, because, of course, they have better architecture. But I vastly prefer the real grittiness one finds in Mordor. Think of the suspiciously clean city of Rivendell. You don't see any life going on there. No people at all. There's hardly anyone in the streets. It should be said, though, that, on occasion, the Orcs have been known to eat one another.
Chomsky: That's cannibalism, sure, but maybe it's part of a sacred ritual with them. Maybe it's an ancient part of their culture. Who are we to judge? Still, I have problems with it, I agree.
Zinn: So here we have another shot of Rivendell being beautiful because it happens to be located in the mountains, where the lighter people live. And we see here the two primary players moving the action forward: an Elf and a wizard. Elrond and Gandalf.
Chomsky: This is our first real glimpse into the power structure of Middle Earth. It's basically two men who rule their people, deciding what will happen — not asking anyone what they think should happen. Gandalf, even more disturbingly, does not even rule a people but rather rules from his own personal whims and preferences.
Zinn: Isn't it implied that he's from Rohan?
Chomsky: Originally he's from over the sea. He is some type of magic person, according to his own myth about himself. He doesn't claim any land, instead acting as custodian of all of their lands. Of course, I think he's a classic dictator, pulling the strings. Can you detect how outraged I am by this?
Zinn: Why do you suppose it is that the Elves don't want the ring to stay in Rivendell? Isn't this obvious proof that the ring is nothing but a device to be used against Mordor?
Chomsky: This is their justification for war. That's why Boromir is so insightful when he says, basically, "Why don't we use it? If this ring's so great, who don't we use the damn thing?"
Zinn: And what happens to Boromir? The Orcs are tricked into killing him. Thus silencing him.
Chomsky: I think this is an interesting scene — Aragorn in Rivendell looking upon the Isildur mural — because it shows how the militarization of their propaganda has fed their cultural behaviors and religious beliefs.
Zinn: Isildur's broken sword, you mean?
Chomsky: The myth. I mean, look at this museum, this cult, all based around a broken sword. They've developed a religion so that people can be effectively marshaled into battle. And Aragorn is a part of that. He's a king, performing a ceremony for people to continue this senseless belief in some kind of genetic superiority. It is rather like saying, "I have the signet ring of the house of the tsar," or something. Now I can rule.
Zinn: Well, I think this scene shows us what kind of person Aragorn is — a loner, possibly a drug lord.
Chomsky: And then we get bathed in Aragorn-Arwen love lore. And it's the most simplistic kind of propaganda. You've got this beautiful woman who represents the Party, represents the people of the Motherland, and you have the hero. Develop a little love affair between them.
Zinn: A love affair between the putative hero and the personified Motherland concept, you mean.
Chomsky: Right. The humans are all so entranced by the Elves' completely mythological power. It's a spell that has been cast upon them.
Zinn: I see the humans, embodied by Aragorn, as being indicative of a sort of middle-class longing.
Chomsky: It keeps them striving. If you're a good enough man, you can be an Elf.
Zinn: An Elf. As if that's the best thing to be.
Chomsky: Now, at the Council of Elrond, we have the Middle Earth equivalent of a television broadcast. It's one guy sitting in a tall chair and talking at twenty other people. This is how information is spread in this culture. But, you know, it doesn't have to be this way. Imagine that, right now, you have the people in Gondor with a palantir, the people in Rohan with a palantir, the people in the Woodland Realm with a palantir. And everyone could be standing around it, talking to one another, sharing a conference in which the people have an equal interest and stake in what decisions are made.
Zinn: Technology that Gandalf already knows is available. But do we see a single Orc?
Chomsky: Oh, of course not. Of course not. Because everyone here has a vested interest in keeping the Orcs down.
Zinn: Boromir is the only one honest enough to talk about what the real story is here.
Chomsky: Boromir's an interesting case. His culture is threatened by the Orcs in a very real way. But he's also seen that this occupation of Orc land is engendered by his people's own aggressive policies. So he's like an enlightened Israeli who looks at the situation and says, "If I were in their situation, I would be just like them."
Zinn: Boromir here is talking about the eye, and how horrible Mordor is, which reveals the basic limitations of his cultural situation. Boromir embodies the prejudices of his culture, but I too think he's an interestingly problematic figure. He's really the only one who understands… my God. Look at this. Keep in mind that these are supposed to be Middle Earth's enlightened people at this Council, and they're all fighting, they all hate one another.
Chomsky: It's just so complicated, the webs of relationships.
Zinn: Now Frodo, son of Drogo, agrees to take the ring to Mount Doom. Something tells me that no one in Mordor calls it Mount Doom.
Chomsky: And everyone baits Frodo into this. "You are our agent, going on a suicide mission. You have to do it for the Motherland."
Zinn: So is Frodo the Mohammed Atta figure in this story?
Chomsky: He's a fanatical true believer. And crazy. Obviously, totally insane.
Zinn: And listen to what Aragorn tells Frodo: "You have my sword."
Chomsky: So militaristic.
Zinn: Notice that no one says, "You have my diplomatic skills." I think the only real diplomat of Middle Earth is Gollum. He's the only one who makes any meaningful, cross-cultural exchange with any of these people. Being a torture victim at the hand of the Orcs, and his attempted strangulation of the Hobbits.
Chomsky: I think of Gollum as more of a deluded madman, one more sinned against than sinned.
Zinn: There's room for argument. And, yet again, here we see Bilbo ravaged from the effects of pipe-weed. It's been flushed from his system in his idyll-cum-rehab in Rivendell. And what does he give Frodo? He gives him his sword, of course. Sting.
Chomsky: As if to say, "You know, when you've stabbed enough people in the back like I have, you'll need this shirt of mithril." Hobbits are bandits. They have this little veneer of nobility around them, but they are nothing more than demented little thieves.
Zinn: On the way to Moria, here, we should point out the fear that men and Elves have of the Dwarves' culture. They refuse to enter the mines of Moria.
Chomsky: There is something very funny lingering around the edges of the whole Moria episode. Could it be that the Dwarves living there were starting to get different ideas about the Orcs? Were starting to talk to the Orcs, and establish some means of cross-cultural communication? Perhaps Gandalf and some of his Rohan friends went there only to find a bunch of Dwarves and Orcs talking, maybe forming an alliance or pact. And then Gandalf massacred all of them, and pretended as though there was some huge battle. This would explain why Gandalf can't lead them back there. Genocide's been committed. He hasn't yet weaved a good enough story to explain away the evidence. He has to pretend that Moria is this scary place.
Zinn: So few kingdoms within Middle Earth are established with any vividness. This goes some way toward proving your point.
Chomsky: We're encouraged to think that no one but the Fellowship's active participants are important, but then we go into Moria, and we realize that this was once an incredible, deeply multicultural place. There were some Orcs who lived there, and who are still living there. So here we are, walking into Moria, the scene of what was possibly a great massacre at the hands of Gandalf. And of course, the Fellowship walks in and they see the hundreds of bodies. Don't think for a moment that Boromir is not suspicious about all of this.
Zinn: Earlier, Boromir says, "We make for the Gap of Rohan." If you're correct, what he is really saying is, "Let's back out. I need to talk to some people."
Chomsky: "I need to tell them about what I have lately discovered."
Zinn: Now, we see in Moria that the Dwarves had a fairly sophisticated mithril mine here. Wouldn't you say the Dwarves are the Jew-like figures of Middle Earth?
Chomsky: They are former slaves. The comparison is apt.
Zinn: They're good at doing things with their hands. This is something Tolkien is very adamant about. They're useful, but they're not very educated. Ah, and this is also where we first see Gollum. I stick to my view of Gollum as a rebel who transgresses boundaries. In many ways he is the heroic, empathetic conscience of this story. He's the only one who cares about bridging the gaps between these many cultures.
Chomsky: You could be right. I think there's possibly something very wise about Gollum. Obviously he's well-traveled, he's a hermit.
Zinn: I think his sexuality is questionable, and that's why he's viewed as this hateful, awful thing. Everyone always talks about killing him.
Chomsky: Gandalf of course likes to have as many ghosts around him as possible. He slyly encourages Frodo in this belief that Gollum is some kind of horrible, corrupt thing. He neglects to say, "You know, I tortured him just a couple of weeks ago."
Chomsky: Notice that Gandalf doesn't give anybody else the supposed Dwarf book to read. Gandalf could be passing it off as Balin's last words. We don't know what is actually recorded in it, though. Very cunning. It could be agreement drawn up between the Orcs and the Dwarves. It could quite easily be that.
Zinn: It would explain why he kept it out of Gimli's hands.
Chomsky: Sure. "No, don't worry. I'll read it. Let me read this to you guys."
Zinn: What I think this reveals is that the Dwarves have a very beautiful, elegant, poetic way about them.
Chomsky: Except Gandalf could be making it all up.
Zinn: That's what I mean: this is much more of a Gandalfian, flowery language. It's hard to imagine the Dwarves writing that way.
Chomsky: And now the terrible Orcs invade Balin's tomb. Let's be clear about a few things here. The Orcs are fighting a war of self-defense against the invading Fellowship. They basically busted in on the Orcs' place here. It's fairly clear that the Orcs are hiding there because if they go outside they have every reason to believe that they will be massacred by Gandalf.
Zinn: The Orcs certainly don't seem to be very good fighters, do they? If they're such a terrible, evil, warlike culture —
Chomsky: They can't kill even one of these little Hobbits who just received their swords only a few days ago. One would think that if the Orcs were as bad as the corrupt Man-Elf coalition says, they would be a lot better at fighting. It lends credence to the farming hypothesis — that they were trying to scrabble out a meager existence in the land in Mordor.
Zinn: You can see too here that the way the Hobbits fight is highly indicative of their culture: They jump on a wounded foe and then stab him in the neck.
Chomsky: They're very morally ambiguous characters. There's a nasty complacency about Hobbits. One would think that they could, easily enough, find out about all of the things that happen in the world — all of the consequences of their pipe-weed-growing actions. And now Middle Earth's power structure is revealing itself, and they're a part of it. Still, they don't question it. Worse yet, they revel in it.
Zinn: My question is how hard would the mithril have to be to able to stop the cave troll from piercing you with his spear? And where does this stuff come from? How would anybody find out about it? You'd think the creators would keep it as secret as possible.
Chomsky: Possibly mithril once served the same function in Middle Earth culture as pipe-weed does now. After all, you have to keep creating new industries.
Zinn: Of course. The culture of consumption is founded upon whatever the new thing happens to be. One day it's mithril, the next day it's pipe-weed. Perhaps tomorrow it will be kingsfoil?
Chomsky: Here again we have the Orcs running after the Fellowship. The Orcs, apparently, are going to slaughter them, and in my estimation they would be well within their rights to do so. But do they? No, they do not. They stop.
Zinn: They stop.
Chomsky: And then they run away because the Balrog comes out. Take note of the fact that the Orcs don't appear to like the Balrog much themselves. They're scared of it.
Zinn: I'm not sure what role the Balrog really plays in this.
Chomsky: I think it just happened to be there, guarding its own little part of the mine.
Zinn: And look at these Orcs! Supposedly so evil and vicious, and yet they don't do anything. They even appear to talk it over amongst themselves.
Chomsky: Look at it from their perspective: They've been locked up in this cave. They're frightened, they know they're not good fighters. They're just a bunch of farmers.
Zinn: As evidenced by their long, ungainly swords.
Chomsky: Perhaps they've been radicalized a bit. But I doubt they are true evil-doers.
Zinn: Again, I'm not sure what role the Balrog plays.
Chomsky: I, too, am uncertain on that point.
Zinn: Here, very significantly, we have the Bridge of Khazad-Dm. You will notice that what is destroyed is a bridge — another potential connector.
Chomsky: On a symbolic level, that is a very good point.
Zinn: All the borders in this film are constantly being destroyed, or overrun, or eliminated, or sealed. It's all about fear — fearing the other. Notice, too, that the Elf Legolas jumps across the ruined bridge first.
Chomsky: They'll cross this bridge and the bridge will collapse, and they'll never be able to communicate with the Balrog again, or with the Orcs inside. In fact, they're sealing off the Orcs from ever escaping. They're leaving the Orcs in the cave with this big Balrog. Now, again, surely, among these Moria Orcs were some Orc radicals — aggressive, angry, militant radicals. We shouldn't understate that.
Zinn: Well, look how the Orcs grow up. What do you expect?
Chomsky: I mean, what other options have they?
Zinn: I dare say that, were I an Orc, I might possibly be one of those terrorist Orcs, shooting arrows at the Fellowship myself.
Chomsky: Here comes the Balrog. Notice Gandalf's unilateral action. "Quick, get away, I have to fight this thing alone!"
Zinn: Once again you see a creature that's on fire being demonized in this movie: the flaming eye, the flaming Balrog. As though being on fire is this terrible affliction to have.
Chomsky: As though they can help it if they're on fire.
Zinn: After Gandalf falls, you get another view of the so-called terrorist Orcs. You know, the regrettable side of the Orcs does occasionally come out. The violence. It doesn't help their cause when these distinct, individual Orcs take it upon themselves to lash out at the inequality of the system. But notice that even these violent Orcs don't seem happy. They're not pleased with themselves. It's a violence borne of necessity.
Chomsky: Sure. They're trapped in a cycle of violence.
Zinn: And now we come to Galadriel's wood, Lothlorien. The film — inexcusably, in my view — leaves out a lot of the things that happen to Gimli in this sequence.
Chomsky: He's forced to wear a blindfold. He is not allowed to see the Elves. This is the apartheid system the Fellowship serves.
Zinn: And even here the Elves hold, you know, arrows to his head. He's completely brutalized. But of course Gimli falls in love with Galadriel, thus perpetuating the Dwarves' self-hatred.
Chomsky: It's somewhat similar to the method the Elves use to ensnare people like Aragorn — to affect their Elvish self-esteem. They want to be worshipped. It seems as though a peculiar kind of brainwashing occurs whenever anyone is exposed to Elf culture.
Zinn: I mean, look at how the Elves greet people — with arrows. Is that so different from the Orcs?
Chomsky: Right. And they're supposed to be nature-worshippers. It's sort of sickening and very bourgeois.
Zinn: And of course we should point out that Galadriel is wearing a ring throughout this entire scene. She has a ring — arguably the most powerful ring. Somehow she's trusted to wield this power responsibly. This woman who reads people's minds without asking them.
Chomsky: That's true. She's constantly invading other people's thoughts. Though there is one thing you have to say for the Elves. Women's rights. But of course, we learn here that even if you cede women these rights they become just as morally culpable as any man. And have you taken proper note of Galadriel's farewell gesture, when the Fellowship sets its boats down the Silverlode? It is some sort of Sieg Heil gesture.
Zinn: It is vaguely reminiscent of the biomechanics of National Socialism. You'll notice, too, how clearly the Man-Elf coalition controls all the modes of transportation in Middle Earth. We always see the Orcs running. But Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn — I mean, sometimes they are riding horses. The Orcs have nothing like any of this. The Orcs certainly don't canoe.
Chomsky: Well they don't have these wide, beautiful rivers to canoe on. That's part of the deprivation of their natural resources. And just as you say, here the Orcs are, running. A bunch of farmers, holding their clumsy weapons.
Zinn: The white hand of Saruman on the heads of the Uruk-hai. Of course, the hand in control is white. And good lord, these giant statues on the Anduin River. The Sentinels of Nתmenor. These huge, monolithic statues that have their hands thrust forever up. I think I can intuit what these sentinels are saying: "Stay away, Orcs."
Chomsky: "Keep out of our land."
Zinn: "Keep out of our land. Don't come in." It is little wonder that the Orcs are so warlike and angry.
Chomsky: And of course the sentinels are holding swords. More monolithic images of supposedly noble militarism.
Zinn: One suspects that Orc slaves probably build the things. I imagine there's a lot of Orc labor that gets in through Gondor and Rohan. They want to get out of Mordor. There are simply not a lot of economic options for them there.
Chomsky: Picture, for a moment, the average Orc's life. Hunted, hated, sometimes murdered. I think Jared Diamond would be an interesting person to write about the effects of environment and geography on all this.
Zinn: On the Orcs?
Chomsky: On Orcish culture as a whole. Of course, one of the interesting points in Diamond's work is that you have hunter-gathering cultures, and you have farming cultures, developed societies. And these developed societies, these agricultural cultures, mobilize and create large armies, and hunter-gathering cultures are not actually very effective at mounting large armies.
Zinn: Right. Like the Orcs.
Chomsky: This simple bunch of farmers, hastily rallied together against these well-armed, well-equipped Elves and men.
Zinn: Here we see the Orcs facing Aragorn for the first time. It's not very obvious what's happening here. The Orcs appear rather skittish.
Chomsky: Well, some of these Orcs are charging. It is fairly easy to imagine what they are feeling. No doubt they have seen this ranger's work before. Aragorn has so many names, it is all but certain that he has a few Orcish names as well. Orc-killer, perhaps. Orc-slayer. Madman. Look at all this casual slaughter.
Zinn: Clearly the Orcs have a hand in murdering Boromir, but Aragorn's innocence is not established by a long shot. I think he maneuvered Boromir into that position. To get him out of the way. After all, Boromir had a very clear claim to Aragorn's supposed kingship.
Chomsky: That is very possible.
Zinn: I have to ask, what does this story do for the powerful? For one, it makes them feel very good about the kind of things they've done to less powerful societies. The way they exploit them and the way they invent these phony pretexts to wage wars of aggression against less powerful people. The powerful need to tell themselves these stories.
Chomsky: And yet, as in all stories of this type, hidden within the story are the keys to unlocking the hidden modes of power.
Zinn: The thing is, though, that even when the dominant culture tells itself the story, the story cannot help but include those telltale signifiers of power that surrender the true nature of the story.
Chomsky: It is embedded, I would say, in the language of the story itself. No matter how often the storytellers try to obscure the truth, the truth will out. The truth will be betrayed through the way the story gets told.
Zinn: Thankfully, the literature of oppression can never last because the oppression is always so obvious. It's always about the people who are suppressed, who keep getting more and more aware of how they're suppressed. And once they're aware of how suppressed they are, they can —
Chomsky: Right, they're able to —
Zinn: We've got to get our conspiracy straight.
Chomsky: Not necessarily. Think of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Zinn: A patsy. A CIA agent.
Chomsky: A cold-blooded, ruthless killer.
Chomsky: He was a good shot. He was a bad shot.
Zinn: Right. Exactly.
Chomsky: But then, I don't really believe in conspiracy theories about JFK.
Zinn: Neither do I.
Zinn: Isn't that funny?
This work is in the public domain
Re: Chomsky and Zinn are Cool
(No verified email address)
11 Jan 2005
Re: Chomsky and Zinn are Idiots and Fascists
by Tony Allen
sept27th2002 (nospam) yahoo.com (unverified)
11 Jan 2005
I have recently had some unkind things to say about Chomsky, but he and Zinn are no idiots and are certainly not fascists. Both had stellar records in opposition to the US involvement in Indochina and both have contributed greatly to the debate about the goings on in the middle east. They are not above critique, but lets not go off the deep end.