Academic journal article Extrapolation

Descent into the Pit of the Redeemer: The Sacrificial Child in International Film and Literature

Academic journal article Extrapolation

Descent into the Pit of the Redeemer: The Sacrificial Child in International Film and Literature

Article excerpt

The self-sacrificing child in turn-of-the-twenty-first-century films risks safety or life itself to rescue a scapegoated child or loved one from suffering, to save a community from hardship, or to otherwise meet collective needs. The sacrificial child surrenders or substitutes its own innocence, suffering, blood, or earthly existence to ransom the scapegoat or alleviate his/her isolation. This essay analyzes the motives of and meanings implied by the self-sacrificing child.

Introduction: The Challenges of Cross-Cultural Analysis

A few years ago, in more sanguine economic times, I attended two seemingly unrelated but complementary conferences within days of each other: one on African literature and art and one on the fantastic in the arts. That experience frames this essay's underlying thesis: European and American fantastic literature and art are influenced by colonized cultures with which these groups have historically interacted; however, literary and artistic analysis may not have sufficiently developed to facilitate academic understanding of such exposure. For example, although European and American consumers of fantastic literature and art may be familiar with the concept of zombies, some European and American literary analysts interested in creative uses of zombies may be insufficiently acquainted with existing culturally sensitive zombie scholarship to facilitate reasonably thorough excavation of the zombie's artistic significance. The result may be a paucity of or shallowness in European/American scholarly discussion of symbols that may offer a wealth of exploration in African/Diaspora literary and cultural study. To clarify that perspective, I will encapsulate an experience that supports it.

Within my first hour at an international African Literature conference, a jet-lagged Nigerian professor approached me and asked me to review with him the Xeroxed copies he'd made of photographs developed just before he'd boarded his plane for the United States. Clearly, the professor was in shock and sleep-deprived. I reviewed with him his Xeroxed photographs of machete-slaughtered villagers, victims of religious conflict whose bodies had been dragged from where they were killed and piled at the edge of forests, instead of brought into clearings to be claimed and buried by relatives. The villagers who were not claiming their dead relatives not only dreaded the macabre sight of the slaughtered but also feared encountering in the forest "zombies": hallucinogenically drugged child soldiers or other magic- maddened armed marauders, as well as restless spirits or corpses revivified by any number of means. I sorted the photographs so that the least shocking was on top, flipped the set upside-down and fastened them in place, and advised the professor to warn his listeners before sending his proof of atrocities out into the audience to be passed from hand to hand and viewed by the bravest among them.

Within days I found myself-still somewhat shell-shocked-at an international conference for the fantastic. I do not recall meeting scholars of African Literature there that year, and I struggled to engage with the presentations until I happened upon a panel discussing zombie games. There, I saw images similar to those the professor had shown me and scenes that evoked what the villagers must have feared and the professor had braved: confrontations with zombies in the dark. To my discomfort, the European and American presenters on that panel derided their subject as "unrealistic," laughing throughout its presentation. Europeans and Americans engaging in horror survival video games featuring concepts from non-European cultures might be seen as experiencing cross-cultural worldviews that, despite their legitimacy, may not have been encountered academically and therefore might be at risk of being analyzed superficially. W. E. B Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, Carter G. Woodson, and Chinweizu, Jemie, and Madubuike have all argued that understanding a community's colonizing culture is necessary for survival; not so, vice versa. …

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