Friday, May 28, 2010

Welcome to the Space Jam

Oh God. I can't get enough of this (pdf), Michal Brody's paper on the startling similarities between the 1996 MJ-and-Bugs vehicle Space Jam and the Mayan creation myth Popul Vuh.
Consciously or unconsciously, the film's writers have developed a narrative in which a pair of heroes (Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan) 1) are summoned to play a high-stakes underworld ball-game against a variety of frightening villains, 2) manage to defeat those villains through the heroes' summoning of extra-human ability, and 3) ascend from the underworld with a glowing orb, all of which occur in the Popol Vuh. While the details vary (in the Popol Vuh, the heroes intend to retrieve the head of their father, Hunahpu; whereas in Space Jam, the villains have stolen the talent of NBA stars such as Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing), the congruence is remarkable. Brody also shows that the well-known phonetic irregularities of, e.g., Daffy Duck and Sylvester are quite analogous to those of ancestral characters in a variety of native cosmologies.
Hero twins. Also, Bill Murray.
In addition, the Looney Tunes are not bound by the physical laws of the known world and are capable of recovering almost instantly from injuries that would more than kill any one of us. Those characteristics are shared as well by the Hero Twins of the Popol Vuh. Like the Tune Squad, their adventure in defeating the lords of the under-world is filled with treachery, faith, and the symbolic power of the sphere. Thus, we’ve seen that a venerated and classic story with grand- scale cultural importance has significant thematic parallels with a trifling and inconsequential Hollywood bauble intended principally for viewing by children.  
There's a digital version of the Popul Vuh (Wuj?) here, if anyone would like to take this further, compare-and-contrast styles. Alternative option: compare Who Framed Roger Rabbit with the inevitable apotheosis of the monomyth's Universal Hero.

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