Danny Yee >> Anthropology

Marlo Morgan's Mutant Message

To: sci.anthropology
From: Edward Singer (edsinger@nstate.nscc.cc.oh.us)
Date: 17 Dec 96 16:04:23 GMT

I am using Marlo Morgan's book "Mutant Message Down Under" -- a somewhat (non)fictional account of the author's life changing experience with nomadic aboriginals in the outback of Australia. Students really like the book. However, the hearsay is that Morgan misrepresented the aboriginals and her book has been denounced by the tribal peoples. I have done web searches for reviews of Morgan's book but to no avail. Is there anyone who has heard about this controversy and could comment on it? Thanks.

To: sci.anthropology
From: JS Trumper (jstrumper@aol.com)
Date: 18 Dec 1996 15:04:03 GMT

I can comment on "Mutant Messages" but you probably won't like it. The book is total bunk. There is no group of Aborigines such as the one Ms. Morgan created. The Washington Post, and a number of other papers, "exposed" Ms. Morgan as a fraud around the same time her book was hitting the best seller lists. Anthropologists familiar with her "area" (myself included) have gone on record insisting that her "tribe" is non-existent. Her "details" are vague, but the popular professional opinion is that she made up the whole thing.

Of more interest (to me anyway) is the fact that the general reading public didn't give a whit that it was complete fiction. It was widely acknowledged to be false, but was a lauded bestseller anyway. Why? Truth is, Ms. Morgan is not even as culturally sensitive as her work suggests. In fact, I was able to get a copy of the book before it had been picked up by a major publishing house, and it was just a vanity press production. Besides being chock full of grammatical and spelling errors, it also contained a number of ethnocentirc references which bordered on racism. (If interest is piqued, I will cite them upon request)

It seems Ms. Morgan has tapped into a Western love of the "other" and the exotic, but she has also exploited her "subjects." She grants her imaginary community of Aborigines a plethora of psychic powers and mystical understandings which make them more human than human. A classic romanticizing of the other. However there is a very real danger imparted by work such as hers. On the one hand is simply poor science (or fraud) which, when accepted by the mainstream reading community works against more legitimate and verifiable field reports. On the other, and more subtle, is the implication that true "aboriginality" (or otherness) is found in these otherworldly powers and in tribes that "hide from man" and other such pseudo-anthro clap-trap. Australian Aborigines are real people, often living in third world conditions imposed by Western colonization and contact. They are trying to make a place for themselves in a world in which they have, largely, been denied equal access to culturally valued rewards. They want jobs, healthcare, land rights, etc. Ms. Morgan is one of many whose work paints a false, idealistic, romantic picture of Aboriginal culture whose very otherness is related to the degree of difference between them and the West. As a result, the "real" aborigines are judged (in terms of their true "aboriginality") against these mythical fictions. Her work is helping to both exploit and hold back Australian aborigines.

I would encourage you to use another source for teaching any class about Australian aboriginal culture. If you would like any recommendations, please feel free to contact me.

Excuse my rant, this one hit close to home...

Jonathan Schwartz

For more information see Australian Aborigines vs. Marlo Morgan

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