Newspaper article #6
Cynical Agenda in New Age Assault
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
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
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.