On inoculations

On inoculations – “Apocalypse Now”

There is a scene in the film Apocalypse Now where Kurtz (Brando) is telling Captain Willard (Sheen) of the incident where a South Vietnamese village’s children had been inoculated against smallpox by the US forces. When the marine medics had left the village, the Viet Minh returned and hacked off each inoculated arm. A pile of little limbs in a heap in the middle of the village. The ‘sheer genius’; of that, says Kurtz. ‘We will never defeat them’.

Remember that Kurtz, and Willard, are on a wholly western quest. Upriver, towards ‘the Horror’ (Conrad’s manual replaced by special ops documentation). What book does Kurtz throw at the spaced out photographer (Hopper) to silence him? An anthropology text – The Golden Bough – by the consummate armchair anthropologist, Sir James Frazer. Famed for never having gone on any quest, ‘heaven forbid’, Frazer is reputed to have said at the prospect of meeting the savages he wrote about. Something here stands for the futile arrogance of those questing inoculators who, surely, just want to help the other (to health, to democracy). To want to help in this way is the same complicity that anthropology always had as handmaiden of colonialism, only nowadays this is reconfigured so that the social sciences, and culture, is to be reworked in the service of globalisation.


About john hutnyk

Writer on culture, cities, diaspora, history, film, prisons, colonialism, education, Marxism. Studied and taught in Australia at Deakin and Melbourne Universities; and in the UK in Manchester University’s Institute for Creative and Cultural Research; before moving to Goldsmiths in 1998, and becoming Academic Director of the Centre for Cultural Studies in 2004-2014. Has held visiting researcher posts in Germany at the South Asia Institute and Institute fur Ethnologie at Heidelberg University, and Visiting Professor posts in InterCultural Studies at Nagoya City University Japan, Zeppelin University and Hamburg University, Germany, Sociology at Mimar Sinan University, Istanbul, Turkey and at the Graduate institute for Social Research and Cultural Studies, National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan. Immediate past adjunct Professor of RMIT University, Melbourne and GIAN Visiting Professor Jadavpur Uni Kolkata.
This entry was posted in writing. Bookmark the permalink.