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Indy -- a pinko?

Posted by Joshua Glenn  May 28, 2008 02:26 PM

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The latest Indiana Jones movie, in which Harrison Ford's swashbuckling archaeologist battles Cate Blanchett's sinister KGB agent for control of a crystal skull that may or may not hail from another dimension, has ticked off a Communist Party chief in the former Soviet Union. "It's rubbish," Sergei Malinkovich told the Reuters news agency last weekend. "In 1957, the Communists did not run with crystal skulls throughout the US."

PS: I wrote about crystal skulls (fact vs. fiction) in a previous post.

Cate Blanchett as Soviet agent Irina Spalko

Unlike the fascists and cultists with whom Indy tangled in his previous outings, it seems that communists are still around -- and they don't like being maligned. But is "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" really an anticommunist movie? Does Ford's character oppose the theory of a classless, stateless society based on common ownership of the means of production? Or is he instead merely an anti-Communist, i.e., opposed to a single-party regime devoted to the implementation of communist policies in, for example, the USSR?

PS: Thanks for linking to this item, Boing Boing and io9!

The movie -- in which Professor Jones is put on administrative leave because the FBI suspects he might have collaborated with Soviet spies -- doesn't answer this question. However, certain clues that have come to light in the blogosphere hint at a surprising possibility.

Writing at the Globe's Movie Nation blog, recently, film critic Wesley Morris noted that when Jones is placed on leave, the head of his department asks him what he plans to do: "First, Indy says, he's going to London, then there's a job offer from the University of Leipzig he might well take. Leipzig is in what was then East Germany. Indy wants to defect!"

As if that weren't suspicious enough, Alex Golub, an adjunct assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai'i Manoa, points out at Savage Mind, an anthropological blog, that in one early scene, Jones tells a student to read V. Gordon Childe. (Childe was an eminent British prehistorian whose Marxism got him into hot water in his native Australia; during the early cold war, he maintained contact with archaeologists in the Soviet Union.) "Would a die-hard anticommunist really recommend a Marxist archaeologist to a student?" demands Golub.

Indiana Jones -- a pinko? What a cliffhanger! Can't wait for the sequel.


UPDATE: There was a particularly good comment posted to a Boing Boing item making note of this Brainiac item. Here's an excerpt:

If one accepts "Young Indiana Jones" as part of the Indy canon... Indy is very well-travelled, and even had friends in Russia who were part of the Bolshevik revolution. Hatred of a culture is usually fed by ignorance of that culture; when one actually has or had friends who were part of it, one tends to be more ambivalent, even if one disagrees in principle. Indy, of course, is a man of many cultures.
The fact that his partner turns out to be a turncoat gets Indy in hot water (right after his post-fallout scrubdown, of course), and his whole past is brought into question --- in typical commie witch-hunt style. One may protest one's patriotism... but one may feel resentment toward this treatment that could easily lean towards distrust of the American government.
Indy is not a politician. He's an archaeologist. As such, tippie-toeing around political issues is not first & foremost on his mind. He's often been at odds with the government even as he's served it. (Think the final scene in "Raiders.") This does not make him a fascist, and it doesn't make him a "pinko." He may agree in principle with the ideals of communism, but he won't say so out loud, and he wouldn't care for the way the KGB turned out.
Furthermore, the University of Leipzig has a campus within walking distance of the French border --- in West Germany. (However, I don't know if this campus existed then, or was part of the University, so this could be irrelevant.)

Thanks for these insights, Boing Boing reader NDOLLAK!


UPDATE: Brainiac reader (and hotshot playwright) Jason Grote saw the Indy movie last night, and sent me his take on the Commie question:

I liked [the movie], despite a fair number of cringe-inducing moments and the vacuum-like charismalessness of Shia LaBeouf. But I gotta say that there was little to no crypto-socialism -- just your standard-issue cold war liberalism. There's plenty of Russo-phobia (the speechless heavy bears more than a passing resemblance to Vladimir Putin), and there are a few McCarthyite blocking characters, but the basic terms of the debate are such that McCarthyism is just bad anticommunism, and the more liberal style of Indy (a rugged FDR passing the torch to LaBeouf's JFK) is the best way to kick commie ass. The McCarthyites are more like stick-in-the-mud bureaucrats who prevent the real heroes from doing their jobs.
I also get the sense that anti-McCarthyism is an article of faith in Hollywood, at least among screenwriters; plenty of blacklisted screenwriters made their returns in the '60s and 70s and became active in the Writers' Guild and mentored a younger generation, and so on. This was certainly on display in the hand-wringing when Elia Kazan got his lifetime achievement Oscar. Most screenwriters are liberals, but there is also that "protest too much" quality about it -- that is, the job requires so many daily compromises of principle and integrity that the mythology of the (very real) blacklist is what people can hold on to.
In the final analysis, though, the real ideology of all Hollywood movies, from "It's a Wonderful Life" to "Rambo" to "Fahrenheit 9/11," is Hollywood.

Excellent stuff, Jason, thanks!


More SF- and comics-related stories: "We are Iron Man!" (Brainiac) | "Post-Apocalyptic Kiddie Movies" (Brainiac) | "The Slacktivism of Richard Linklater" (Slate) | "Black Iron Prison" (n+1) | "Back to Utopia" (Boston Globe Ideas) | "In a Perfect World" (Boston Globe Ideas) | "Philip K. Dick: Hermenaut of the Month" (Hermenaut) | "Journeys to the Center " (New York Times Book Review/IHT) | "Climate of Fear" (Boston Globe Ideas) | "Pulp Affection" (Boston Globe Ideas) | "Eco-Spaceship Redux" (Brainiac) | "Post-Apocalyptic Juvie Lit" (Brainiac) | "The New Skrullicism" (Brainiac) | "Prez" (Brainiac) | "Life Imitates Comic Book" (Brainiac) "Vintage Ads of Fictional Futures" (Brainiac) | "The Partisans" (Brainiac) | "The New Gods" (Brainiac) | "Rarebit Fiend!" (Brainiac audio slideshow) | "Dr. Strange vs. Dr. Craven" (Brainiac)

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4 comments so far...
  1. As your colleague Wesley Morris has already pointed out, there's actually plausible evidence in the movie that Indy is a communist, Ike-liking notwithstanding, in addition to being anti-Communist.

    Posted by anon May 28, 08 04:41 PM
  1. Perhaps Indy is merely a communist sympathizer.

    Or maybe he is just soft on communism.

    Or perhaps he plans to spy on them for the CIA.

    Or maybe he wants to better understand his enemy.

    Or maybe, like many intellectually honest academics, he's not so ideologically narrow that he allows himself to be neatly pigeon-holed into one political category. or another.

    Posted by Snorkasaurus May 30, 08 01:59 AM
  1. Isn't the Lepzig thing more likely to have been a joke about his having been pushed out on suspicion of communist sympathies?

    Posted by Julian May 30, 08 01:10 PM
  1. Dammit, Indie's an archaeologist, not a political scientist! Anyway, what if he is a left-leaning commie fink? So was Robert Oppenheimer (also quoted in the movie). Is this country still so afraid of a school of thought it can't even define, but must demonize by holding up Joe Stalin as the boogeyman of the age? As the Uppah Krust of formerly Great Britain used to say, "Goes without saying." But it should be said, and frequently, that Joe McCarthy -- like George W. Bush -- was a price these United States should never have had to pay.

    Posted by grikdog May 30, 08 03:34 PM
About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

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Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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