meilufay’s #CBR4 review #43 Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan
Here’s the short version of my review: do not read this book. Do not under any circumstances buy this book. If any of your friends suggest that they might want to read this book, use all your power to convince them not to.
Now for the longer version.
I’ve had this book given to me three times. Not handed to me with a suggestion that I might like to read it, but physically given to me as a gift. The first two copies ended up donated in my periodic bookshelf organizing sprees. The third time someone gave it to me, I felt obligated to read it. I’d been assured, many many times that I would love this book. My friends all know that I am interested in Australian Aboriginal culture and history. Everyone told me that if I wanted to learn more about the Australian Aborigines, this book was a must read.
The book presents itself as a memoir and, more importantly, as an accurate (if perhaps fictionalized) communication of Australian Aborigine beliefs and culture. Everything from the back cover description to the quotations and endorsements from various famous spiritual figures to the opening chapter of the book suggests an intention to be as true as possible to Australian Aborigine mythology. I read it as a sort of fabular memoir. I honestly would not have read it if it weren’t implied that this book captures Australian Aborigine belief systems because the quality of Marlo Morgan’s writing is tiresomely mediocre. Some very unbelievable things happen to Marlo Morgan in this book, but taking it as her attempts to communicate mythology in an identifiable way, I initially accepted it. But as the narrative of the book continued on, the improbable events which Morgan so earnestly insists really happened accumulated past my toleration limit. I put the book aside and googled it. I wanted to see the crowd-sourced wisdom on this book. There are whole websites dedicated to breaking down absolutely everything that Marlo Morgan has written in this book so I’m not going to go into details about it. If you’re curious, google it. Here’s the basics: Marlo Morgan seems to be a sincere person of average intelligence who stumbled upon a New Age phenomenon. That can happen to anybody. I don’t really have a problem with the fact that she wrote this book. I have a problem with the fact that this book is racist, it promotes dangerous ideas about an already misunderstood ethnic minority and most importantly, I have a problem with the fact that because both the publisher and Marlo Morgan have made a sh*t ton of money from this book, they have made no attempt whatsoever to correct the idea that this book is a memoir, or to retract the book’s false assertions about Australian Aborigines and their beliefs. The Australian Aborigines whose names were used to promote this book have withdrawn their endorsements but their names continue to be printed in the book’s pages. Groups of Australian Aborigines have tried repeatedly to point out all the inaccuracies and misrepresentations in this book and yet it continues to be sold as is, with no change in its packaging. This book is evil because it promotes demeaning stereotypes. I don’t think it should be banned, but I do think that it should be labelled differently. When a work of fiction (which is what this is) is marketed and promoted as a factual account about a poorly understood minority and their belief systems, when that book is likely to be the only book that most people will read about that minority, a great injustice is being done.
In the book, Morgan is essentially kidnapped by a tribe of Australian Aborigines who want her to go on walkabout with them. Once she realizes that their intentions are benevolent, she accepts her situation and learns to adjust to the primal and difficult way in which the Aborigines live. So far, so not too terribly evil. After having a few adventures with the Aborigines (learning to hunt, etc), Morgan discovers their true purpose in bringing her along with them. The world is in danger, the Aborigines have been caretakers of the planet but have decided to commit genetic suicide (they will not procreate because THEY WANT TO BE EXTINCT) but someone needs to carry the mantel of the Aborigine’s spiritual purpose and that person, that chosen one, is a blonde white American woman. Entire essays can and have been written about how racist the basic premise of the book is. Morgan seems genuinely taken with her myth of the noble primitive, she’s fallen in love with these imaginary creatures and she wants so desperately to be one of them that she casts herself as the hero in their story. I don’t believe she meant to write a racist book, I think she simply lacked the intelligence, honesty and self-awareness to realize that her book was racist. My problem with Marlo Morgan and this book is not that she wrote it. My problem is that while portraying herself as a champion of the Australian Aborigines, she is actually making money by perpetuating damaging myths about them, myths that are very comforting to the white people who consume them. My problem is that she has been given every opportunity to correct the mistakes made in how this book has been promoted and she hasn’t done so. While her original intentions may have been positive, while the racism she displayed in writing was a passive racism of unchallenged assumptions, she is now making money off the backs of these people and has ignored their repeated attempted to make her change how her book is marketed. Now Marlo Morgan’s racism is an active one. She is literally making money off a white supremacy product while assuring those who buy her books and pay to attend her lectures that her “mission” has been endorsed by the very ethnic minority she is misrepresenting.
The thing is, none of my friends are racist or stupid. They read this book, in good faith, as part-mythology, part-memoir. They read it as a sincere attempt to communicate the Australian Aborigine lifestyle and belief system. This is why I think this book is particularly evil. Or rather, I should say, Marlo Morgan and her publishers are evil. The book itself is not evil. What is evil is that the book is disseminating a misleading and patronizing narrative that the Australian Aborigines have tried many many times to counter. As I mentioned earlier, the Australian Aborigines whose names are used to endorse the book as a fair representation of their people and spiritual beliefs have repeatedly attempted to have their names and misleading statements removed from the book and have been ignored by Marlo Morgan and her publishers.
This is the only book I’ve ever thrown away. I can not in good conscience donate it to a local Goodwill and know that I have in some way participated in perpetuating its dangerous lies. It’s the first book I’ve ever considered burning. It’s a cancer in the heart of pop cultural consciousness. It should be removed, stored in a formaldehyde jar and properly labelled as a cautionary tale for future generations.
If you choose to read this book out of curiosity, as is your right to do, then please don’t buy it. Marlo Morgan and her publishers don’t deserve your money. And please consider reading other perspectives on Marlo Morgan’s story. This website is a good place to start: http://marlomorgan.wordpress.com/helping-yourself-fabrication-of-aboriginal-culture/