Savage Theory

Savage Theory

Savage Theory

Savage Theory

Synopsis

Using the Tennessee antievolution 'Monkey Law,' authored by a local legislator, as a measure of how conservatives successfully resisted, co-opted, or ignored reform efforts, Jeanette Keith explores conflicts over the meaning and cost of progress in Tennessee's hill country from 1890 to 1925.

Until the 1890s, the Upper Cumberland was dominated by small farmers who favored limited government and firm local control of churches and schools. Farm men controlled their families' labor and opposed economic risk taking; farm women married young, had large families, and produced much of the family's sustenance. But the arrival of the railroad in 1890 transformed the local economy. Farmers battled town dwellers for control of community institutions, while Progressives called for cultural, political, and economic modernization. Keith demonstrates how these conflicts affected the region's mobilization for World War I, and she argues that by the 1920s shifting gender roles and employment patterns threatened traditionalists' cultural hegemony. According to Keith, religion played a major role in the adjustment to modernity, and local people united to support the 'Monkey Law' as a way of confirming their traditional religious values.

Excerpt

"All voodoo is at night" So concludes Pepe, Hunter's companion in his endeavor to save a missing aviator who has fallen victim to the Djukas, a tribe of savages living in the depths of Dutch Guiana's jungle. the Djukas are less famous for their successful slave rebellion than for the horrific ritual practices that were thus preserved from their African ancestry, which involve, among other things, human sacrifice. a newsreel journalist, Hunter is not without resources to save the dying flyer, as he watches through his camera's lens, perched amid the foliage of a distant tree. the victim is fussed over by men wearing large white feathers while others, wearing loincloths, dance on burning embers. "Wait a minute," says Hunter, "they go for magic don't they?" "Yes," replies Pepe, "everything in voodoo is magic." Hunter's strong jaw relaxes into a victorious smile, he beams triumphantly and says, "We're going to give them a little magic of our own!"

Come nightfall, the human sacrifice to fire is interrupted by the clang of a fire alarm, blaring sirens and giant fire trucks zooming across the night sky. the savage Djukas are held in trance. Locomotive horns blast their way toward the stunned and silent men; the threat posed by a close-up of the tracks' rock bed, that they too might be underneath the train's wheels, is relieved by a dynamite explosion of a glacier in slow motion. Bulls that bellow and pound the earth seem to stampede the awestruck spectators but pass them by, so that they look behind them to see where the bulls have gotten to. When a tank smashes just before careening out at them from the screen, they turn to their leader, who faces the screen boldly, only to see a diver reeling backward out of the water to the sound of a gentle waltz; the diver is suspended in air atop the diving board, and they all bend their heads and torsos way low, completing the anticipated action of falling back down with their own bodies. a cannon bends forward, its barrel as large as the screen, and points head on at them. They turn backward only to see their magical authority, who, more annoyed than scared, leads them to re-address the screen with gestures of protest. a man's voice in pidgin Spanish threatens to burn down their village if they . . .

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