Monday, October 31, 2011

How are the Media and Schools catching up with Scientific Progress?-Pt2

Carried on from the first entry.

Introduction recap:

The taking up of African historiography by Europeans has long been mired with disinformation, as scholars of European descent sought to accommodate imperialist designs of their governments around the African continent. This matter had been particularly brushed on briefly in an earlier entry discussing the significance of additional Timbuktu chronicles that were brought to light in recent times and the corresponding rush to preserve those relics, whereby we come across the systematic construction of the "Ghana Conquest Theory", at a time when European polities had their eye set on colonizing African territories and fuel their growth with African resources. The historiography of Ancient Ghana, and Western Sudan (otherwise now recognized as "West Africa") in general, was but just one element of this disinformation campaign; the policy had extended to other elements of African historiography, Ancient Egypt being the most popular and enduring example of this. Complexes from Kush, Abyssinia or Aksum to the Great Zimbabwe had all become casualties of European disinformation.

Africa's historiography had to be set up in such a way, that the general image of Africans is one of supposed innate lack of human ingenuity and progress, which would therefore leave the door open for Europeans to stalk up their own image, and uphold the doctrine of "white supremacy". The purpose of "white supremacy" dogma was therefore twofold: 1) To justify to ordinary Europeans, military adventures into other lands in the name of "civilizing" non-European peoples, and 2) to desensitize Europeans to inhuman destruction of other societies.

In the case of the Ancient Ghana conquest theory, one noticed some gradual modifications to the theory, as history progressed from rudimentary stages of European propaganda campaign to justify upcoming European imperialism, through to the colonial periods, and the sacking of Europeans from their colonies in Africa due to mass anti-colonial resistance movements; each modification reflecting the general mood or state of European imperialism.

The goal here, is to evaluate how far "western" scholarship has come, since the early days of European racism and imperialist designs, with particular attention to African historiography. In particular, the question to be addressed, is whether "western" schools and media have caught up with scientific progress, because certainly science has made some strides since the early days of modern European imperialism, notwithstanding racism that intermittently plagues science in the more recent times.


One curious thing about the programs of History 2 channel around the Nile Valley, is the seeming discordance between an earlier installment and the latest ones. One would expect newer installments to be progressively better in signaling scientific progress than earlier ones, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. Contrasting scientific progress, content from earlier installments to latter examples instill a sense of regression.

The H2 airing, Egypt: Engineering an Empire (2006), appears to have taken the latest scientific revelations into account in its reenactments than the aforementioned programs above, just released this year. In that documentary, one even gets the sense that actual Egyptian actors may have been used in the reenactments.

All the actors are reasonably dark, from Djoser to his aids, as one would expect from examination of the many ancient Egyptian artistic renderings in wall reliefs, life-like & colossal statues and realistic small figurines to bio-anthropological reports on ancient Egyptian remains. Imhotep, as Djoser's main architect/engineer, appears somewhat lighter than Djoser himself in the reenactment, but remains still reasonably pigmented, against the confines of what is objectively acceptable according to ancient Egyptian art and bio-anthropological data.

The reenactments in that installment (Egypt: Engineering an Empire) feature personalities not all that discordant with Egyptian aids of actual archeologists and researchers featured in the program, whereas in the case of the aforementioned H2 programs, like say the Planet Egypt series, one easily notices the discordance between the reenactment actors and actual Egyptians assisting researchers being interviewed in the program. The actual Egyptian workers on the archeological sites are visibly darker than actors of the reenactments in the Planet Egypt series. The producers of the series must have calculated that this observation would be lost on the audience; that's the only logical explanation for why it was overlooked.

The focus of Egypt: Engineering an Empire appears to be on the construction wow-factor of the Giza Pyramids, and Djoser's person takes center stage as the main pioneering figure in its conception. Much of the narrative content of that show is pretty well-known generic stuff in Egyptology, and the main loose ends therein only lie in some commentary which had gone uncorroborated by scholars being interviewed.

A good example of such commentary that raise questions, is one made by a certain Lawrence Berman of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, who tells viewers that Djoser became worshiped in the 19th Dynasty, for his proclaimed role as the "Opener of Stone".

Popular culture in the U,S. by and large still closely mirrors documentary examples discussed above, as it pertains to retention of outmoded concepts. An example of this can be seen in say, the supposed lighthearted Robot Chicken's "Easter Basket" episode (2005), wherein ancient Egyptians are featured as Lego pieces, sporting yellow skin color and green kilts. Yellow? Well, how about that! Some might passively overlook this, because of the purported satirical nature of the show and its cartoon-like feel, yet one could just as well still ask, why the same effect could not have been achieved with Lego figurines of dark chocolate-brownish ancient Egyptians, just as actual figurines of ancient Egyptians feature (see the Egyptian troops above, for example) the Egyptians.

Surely, Lego pieces of dark colored ancient Egyptians would not have changed the satirical storyline of that segment of the Robot Chicken episode; nonetheless, the producers of the show felt it was necessary that they be portrayed with the unrealistic yellow pigmentation. Similar situations can be found in other elements of U.S. popular culture, as one will see among the following stills from Futurama; click on the images where necessary, to see higher resolution versions:

Image caption: Top to bottom, are stills from the Futurama episode "A Pharaoh to Remember" (2002); the plot of the episode revolves around a planet named "Osiris 4", wherein a civilization emulating Earth's Ancient Egypt thrived, not surprising, considering that the viewer is informed that the Osiris 4 people visited Earth and learned a lot from Earth's Ancient Egyptians.
The following quotes from the Futurama episode may sum up the fundamental theme of the plot:

Fry: Incredible. This place is just like the Ancient Egypt of my day.

Osiran: That is no coincidence. For our people visited your Egypt thousands of years ago.

Fry: I knew it! Insane theories: one! Regular theories: a billion!

Osiran: We learned many things from the mighty Egyptians, such as pyramid building, space travel and how to prepare our dead so as to scare Abbott and Costello. - 10 March, 2002 on FOX

The stills above from the Futurama episode, A Pharaoh to Remember, which was released by Fox on 10th March 2002, apparently feature themes that emulate those known about the Ancient Egyptian complex; take for instance, the obvious one—the pyramids, the desert-like environment and then the Jackal-headed humanoids, but for the purpose of the ongoing discussion, the interesting thing about this collection of images, is the attempt to portray the Osiris 4 occupants as a "mixed race" society--as racialist ideologues in the "west" would put it.

A viewer might well dismiss the significance of this aspect of the animation, given the satirical claim that these are not supposed to be Earth's Ancient Egyptians but extraterrestrial peoples whom the obviously space-traveling Ancient Egyptians visited and vice versa; however, given the noted emulations, there is good reason to expect this "mixed race" theme to also be a tacit emulation of Earth's Ancient Egyptian society.

To see this, one only needs to note the "Osiran" character accompanying the regular Futurama characters in the two top images; his person is meant to convey that of a "dark skinned" person, while those of the slave tenders seem to convey those of "light skinned" persons. The person of the outgoing Pharaoh of Osiris 4, i.e. "Pharaoh Hamenthotep"—seen in the bottom-most image on the right, is also suggestive of a "light skin" person, certainly so, when compared to "Osiran".

A case can therefore be made that the Futurama episode may be speaking to the ideology of those who anguish about the prospect of a primarily "Black Ancient Egypt", but to be fair to the producers of the show, it appears that there was a gesture towards redeeming themselves in their future installment concerning Ancient Egyptians. This seems to be the case, in the recently aired episode "That Darn Katz!" (aired 5th August 2010 on Comedy Central); here, the Ancient Egyptians--supposedly the "real" Ancient Egyptians this time around, are pretty much uniformly featured in "dark skins"; take a look [click where necessary, to get a high resolution]:

Image caption: Top to bottom, and left to right: An ancient Egyptian Pharaoh tending a "Thubanian" cat on his lap; the now-speaking "Thubanian" cats take charge over their human associates; and then, the "Thubanian" cat statues as symbols of worship by the Ancient Egyptians, placed in front of the great Sphinx's paw. Once again, the show revolves around extraterrestrial creatures which visited Ancient Egypt, where it is they this time around, who build the great pyramids, supposedly as "antennas" to divert the Earth's [which the Thubans called the "blue-blue shiny ball"] rotational energy to the planet of Thuban. It is also the Thubanian cats who teach the Ancient Egyptians their technology rather than the other way around, and because of their technological prowess, they were subsequently "worshiped" by the Ancient Egyptians. But as the story goes, the cats got used to "getting pampered" by the Ancient Egyptians and eventually grew lazy and "fat" and "became domesticated".
In  "That Darn Katz!", all the Egyptian characters, from the commoners to the royalty and their servants, are shown in the same skin shade as the Pharaoh character partially seen in the above stills. Perhaps this progressive undertaking suggests a trend towards psychological maturity and an embrace of scientific progress on the part of the show's producers, but the theme around "slavery" as the primary Ancient Egyptian labor pool for constructing the pyramids has been carried on from the earlier episode; this despite the dubious premise of the application of slavery in constructing the pyramids. This issue will be revisited again in subsequent passages. Aside from the slave labor matter, the show seems to be catering to ideologues of an "Ancient Egypt of extraterrestrial origin". Thus, in one aspect, the show had become progressive, while in others, it had remained regressive.

The reenactments in the History channel documentaries discussed above, with these examples of U.S. pop culture, together demonstrate that the misinformed portrayal of ancient Egyptians is a systematic one, and that therefore putting one or two films/TV shows aside and dismissing them as mere playful aberration, would be a mistake. The reenactments of this very day, 2011, are at times reminiscent of the old Hollywood days, from the 50s and 60s, of using actors of clearly recent European descent as ancient Egyptian characters: frozen in time! Hollywood does this even today, as can be seen in the flick, Mummy.

Compared to their U.S. counterparts, Europeans have become relatively more resigned to the reality of ancient Egyptians, just as science progressively and rapidly unravels it. Recent output gives a sense that elements of European pop culture, particularly French work, are comparatively more progressive than the U.S. counterpart. Take for instance, the French production, Princess of the Sun (2005), otherwise known as La Reine Soleil in French, and compare it against the best U.S. effort at capturing heavily pigmented ancient Egyptians, i.e. who could pass for occupants of a primarily "Black Ancient Egypt", The Prince of Egypt (1998); while the U.S. production is commendable for its relative progressive viewpoint of ancient Egyptian characters, compared to traditional U.S. portrayals, its approach is not quite as bold as the French counterpart. The following images may perhaps serve as prime examples of this:

Image caption: Image on the left - Ramses and his Son. Image on the right - Ramses and Moses.
The image above, on the left, is a still of a scene from The Prince of Egypt featuring Ramses and his son; in that capture, Ramses and his son have sufficient skin pigmentation which could allow either to pass for a "black person" in fairly skin color conscious societies like the U.S. Even in the image on the right hand side, visible contrast can be seen between Ramses' skin color and that of Moses; Ramses is clearly the darker of the two. Taking these observations into account, now compare The Prince of Egypt stills with those of Princess of the Sun below:

Image caption: Image on top, left - the figure in the foreground with his hands touching either side of his waist, is Moses, while the figure with one arm raised, is Ramses. Behind Moses, are his older brother "Aaron", his sister "Miriam", and then his Midianite romantic companion "Tzipporah", in the order of left to right. Behind Moses, on the other hand, are as follows, from left to right: the magician "Hotep", followed by magician "Huy", a seated Pharaoh Seti (Ramses' father) and then Seti's wife, the Queen. Image on the top right hand side - features Ramses towards the left of the image, pulling on the reins of the darkly pigmented horses, while Moses, to Ramses' left, pulls on the reins of the lighter-toned horses. The image on the bottom end, features the Queen (Seti's wife) holding an infant (note the youth side-lock) in her arms, while discovering a basket containing "baby Moses".
The Egyptian figures in these The Prince of Egypt stills are dark-skinned people by any reasonable account, but contrast them with the counterparts below, in stills taken from Princess of the Sun (click on all images for greater res):

As "dark" as The Prince of Egypt's ancient Egyptian characters may be, it is clear from the above, that the Princess of the Sun's are yet darker. The hues used in Princess of the Sun's characters more closely approach that generally applied to ancient Egyptian miniatures which had not undergone extensive fading, like the example below (click to get a higher res):

Image Caption: Cancellor Nakhti of the 12th Dynasty and his crew
Revisiting that earlier mention of The Prince of Egypt's Ramses character being relatively darker than its Moses character, this is not accidental. If one examines Moses' blood relatives, they all stand in contrast to the other Egyptian characters; they are generally lighter in tone than the said Egyptians; take a look (click on images to get higher resolution):

Image caption: All Ramses associates above, especially his blood relatives (described in the earlier images; and now Moses' mum is included, in 2nd row of images from top to buttom--the image on the left hand side), are noticeably on the relatively lighter side [i.e. skin tone] when compared against Egyptian figures like Ramses, Seti or Seti's wife, the Queen. The only immediate associate of Moses above, who is on the relative "dark" side of skin pigmentation, is his romantic other, the Midianite beauty by the name of "Tzipporah".
It may be argued that this contrast between characters of The Prince of Egypt, may have something to do with the biblical considerations of the animation's plot. Accordingly, Moses is supposed to be a Hebrew descendant, and as such, the Eurocentric characterization of ancient Hebrews is one of "non-black" peoples. Indeed, as already seen in the Futurama stills presented earlier, the animation's plot involves a familiar narrative of "slave builders" of the great pyramids.

This narrative of slavery used in the erection of the great pyramids has found expression to as far as TV commercials, like that recently made for Gillette, to promote its Gillette "odor shield" product; this "version" of history has been used over and over again in 'western' pop media, even though archaeological evidence has rendered it untenable for quite some time now.The time lag between archaeological revelations and media seizure of said revelations thereof, is astonishing. Accepting archaeological evidence in this case, would mean altering the popular biblical viewpoint of the link between Hebrew slaves and the great pyramids, and that's a bitter pill for many, especially the religious-minded, to follow.

Aside from contradicting actual archaeological evidence, which points to Egyptian labor pool used in the erection of the pyramids, the tale of slave labor used in the pyramid constructions does not inform wondering minds, of any evidence pertaining to the existence of its Hebraic human characters and events in the time frames invoked therein. The listener/audience is simply expected to unquestionably take the biblical narrative at face value.

Aside from telling the reader that Moses descends from the Abrahamic lineage, little else is said about Moses that suggests that he would have been viewed as anything other than a regular [but royalty] Egyptian, right down from his name to his upbringing. While The Prince of Egypt, by U.S. standards, has made a leap forward in how it captured its ancient Egyptian characters, it too seemed to have at least succumbed to religious idealism.

Go onto the next segment: Pt.3

Planet Egypt: Birth of an Empire, 2011.

Planet Egypt: Pharaohs at war, 2011.

Planet Egypt: Temples of Power, 2011.

Planet Egypt: Quest for Eternity, 2011.

Egypt: Engineering an Empire, 2006.

Robot Chicken, "Easter Basket" episode, 2005.

Futurama, "A Pharaoh to Remember", 2002.

Futurama, "That Darn Katz!", 2010.

The Prince of Egypt, 1998.

Princess of the Sun, 2005.

Achilles Tatius: Leucippe and Clitophon, by  Helen Morales (Introduction), Tim Whitmarsh (Translator), Oxford University Press, May, 2002.

Ape to Man, 2005.

Clash of the Cavemen, 2008.

The Link, 2009.

—Gonzalez-Perez et al., Population Relationships in the Mediterranean Revealed by Autosomal Genetic Data (Alu and Alu/STR Compound Systems), 2010

—M.A. Babiker et al., Genetic variation and population structure of Sudanese populations as indicated by 15 Identifiler sequence-tagged repeat loci, 2011.

*Personal notes, 2004 & 2011.

Appreciation to the San Diego Museum of Man.


Neferneferuaten said...

Thank you for your observations. Do you think all humans come from African ancestry?

Neferneferuaten said...

Thank you for your observations. Ithink if the story of Moses is real then he must have had asimilar complexion to the more normal melanin rich skin of the Egyptians of the palace. According to the story he fit in as a son. By the way do you think all humans are of African ancestry?

Mystery Solver said...

Ultimately....Yes, Neferneferuaten!

Mystery Solver said...

Neferneferuaten wrote:

Thank you for your observations. I think if the story of Moses is real then he must have had asimilar complexion to the more normal melanin rich skin of the Egyptians of the palace. According to the story he fit in as a son.

It's certainly a highly likely scenario. Even if it were not the case, "Moses" himself would have nonetheless have had an Egyptian world view, and thought of himself as nothing more or less than an Egyptian.

It's worth reminding though, that one of the scenarios explored in the main blog entry, is the idea that "Moses" was none other than Akhenaten himself. Interesting one, isn't it!