Dennis O'Rourke

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Yap: How Did You Know We’d Like TV

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 28, 2015

Have you ever heard of Yap Island, out there in Micronesia? Well Yap Island has heard of you. That sounds like it about sums up the situation, doesn’t it? Backwaters, and the centres of commerce and power and influence. It’s too bad that privilege isn’t more informed about the rest of the world. It’d be nice if privilege could go out there, make contact and spend some time. Nice, but probably not practical. And anyway, the backwaters have got to join modern times, and the modern world. We don’t know about the Yaps, but they certainly look to us.

A few things attend that process, or that conversation. One is that we can counter it, and sometimes idealize the indigenous as we do so. We contrast their post-noble post-savagery (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in part; Robert Flaherty, to a degree) with the less savoury parts of our own capitalistic and technocratic pre-eminence. Idealizing seems like a good impulse, though it can also lead us astray. Maybe by distracting us from the task at hand. Here we are. And there they are. What are we going to do now?

A good thing crosses our minds. Wouldn’t it be great if, isn’t it great that we can share of our bounty, and that poor folks share in the benefit? Definitely! Colonialism in its many guises comes in for a lot of criticism these days. As it should. But hasn’t there also been some reciprocity, even, straight out, some macro-charity!

This is such an important conversation, with so many local and global implications. O’Rourke manages this particular part of that conversation very well, establishing clarities, even verities at the same time that he levels serious charges. This situation is particular, and doesn’t seem to be too directly pertinent to so many of us. Is that part of the lesson, potentially? The patterns pertain!

A challenge: I’d better not watch some 40 year old film, and think that I’m up to date. In some ways, 1981 is so long ago as to be irrelevant. But though things change, and history is past, you can always learn about what’s been, and extrapolate to the point of understanding what still is, and where our responsibility lies as a result.