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Mutant Message Down Under

Newspaper article #6

Cynical Agenda in New Age Assault
Fancoise Dussart

    This season the American public was offered two books describing encounters of white women with Australian Aborigines.  The first work, Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn, is an elegant and rigorous biography every bit as eccentric as its subject.  The other book, which I have the misfortune to review, is neither elegant nor rigorous, though eccentric it certainly is.
    Marlo Morgan's Mutant Message Down Under is a work that its author has claimed to be fact (when it was self-published back in 1991) and fiction (now launched with great fanfare and a $US1.7 million advance).  Sadly, it is neither.
    Mutant Message Down Under is a mishmash of pseudo-Christian, pseudo-New Age pronouncements prompted by a visit of undefined duration (a one-week package tour?) to an unnamed Aboriginal "tribe" about which Morgan is equally oblique.
    She travels to a "centre of human concern" - aka "the Outback" - to receive her message from those she demeaningly calls the "Wild People", the "Ancient Ones", "the Real People tribe", "the tribe of the Divine Oneness", "God's Real People", "God's First people" and "the only true human beings left on the planet".
    And what is Morgan's message?  Nothing less than "the knowledge of the true relationship of humans to the world we live in, the world beyond, the dimension from which we came, and the dimension where we shall return".
    The irony is that her particular brand of universal spiritual salvation is so wildly Eurocentric and ethnocentric that it would be hard to find any Wild People willing to accept it.  Which is perhaps why she refuses to mention any of her WPs by name.
    Morgan claims to have been urged by her WPs to cross the desert in searcgh of universal truth.  Other links to prophet predecessors abound: she fasts; she starves; she has visions; she sees the light.
    Though she was aided in this quest by an interpreter and a gift rare in the field of Aboriginal research, mental telepathy, she mentions several times that communication was extremely difficult.
    Nevertheless, she was able to have dense philosophical conversations that most of us would find difficult to have in our own mother tongue.  Can telepathy transcend language and concepts?  It's a wonder an interpreter was necessary.
    It is during her various walkabouts - yes, all the usual catchphrases of Outbackspeak and New Age healing can be found in this book - that her notions of spiritual growth, love of each individual and the eternal part of our beingness emerge.  None of which has much to do with any Aboriginal culture that I have come across.  Morgan only mentions in passing the most fundamental concept in Aboriginal culture: the Dreaming or Dreamtime.  Her book reifies the old Western chestnut about the noble savage and a pristine world lost amid the ills of modernity.
    Mutant Message Down Under is not about them but about a pseudo-New Age vision of "them" by an unrigorous member of our own Western tribes.  If this book has any message at all it is Morgan's alone.
    I find it difficult to envision her portrait of an oppressed tribe eager to share their wisdom with a culture that has made them victims.  The Aboriginal people I know have more immediate concerns, such as reclaiming their land and their health.
    Ultimately, this book is not about spiritual matters.  It is about the unscrupulous transformation of an indigenous culture already under assault.  The Wild People become a commodity made palatable to Western audiences.  In Morgan's hands, Aboriginal culture is packaged into a slim book and soon, alas, probably will become a slim movie.  (I know because I was asked to be a consultant anthropologist.  Consider this review a rather public no thank you.)
    Let us hope that Aboriginal people will attack the message in Mutant Message Down Under for what I believe it is: a book about misrepresentation, appropriation and concoction, about spiritless white middle-class mid-life-crisis feel-goodism.
    Neither fact nor fiction, Morgan's book is a mutant in the worst sense, offering little in the way of satisfaction and much in the way of outrage.  It belongs to a long and cynical tradition in Western publishing that profits from a readership that thirsts for books offering a balm to millenial fears.
    I have my own fears.  Mostly that books such as this one will continue to be promoted while the quieter and more important reports such as Julia Blackburn's disappear.

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