Cargo cults and para culture Above artwork attributed to Bruce Pennington (here, here, here).
See gallery of pics at bottom of page of a homemade pillow created by SMiles’ mother using a cloth pattern featuring the above Bruce Pennington artwork featuring UFO related imagery overlaid with Star Wars “knock-off” imagery.
A cargo cult is a Melanesianmillenarian movement encompassing a diverse range of practices and occurring in the wake of contact with the commercial networks of colonizing societies. The name derives from the belief that various ritualistic acts will lead to a bestowing of material wealth (“cargo“).
Cargo cults often develop during a combination of crises. Under conditions of social stress, such a movement may form under the leadership of a charismatic figure. This leader may have a “vision” (or “myth-dream”) of the future, often linked to an ancestral efficacy (“mana“) thought to be recoverable by a return to traditional morality. This leader may characterize the present state regimes as a dismantling of the old social order, meaning that social hierarchy and ego boundaries have been broken down.
Contact with colonizing groups brought about a considerable transformation in the way indigenous peoples of Melanesia have thought about other societies. Early theories of cargo cults began from the assumption that practitioners simply failed to understand technology, colonization, or capitalist reform; in this model, cargo cults are a misunderstanding of the trade networks involved in resource distribution and an attempt to acquire such goods in the wake of interrupted trade. However, many of these practitioners actually focus on the importance of sustaining and creating new social relationships, with material relations being secondary.
Since the late twentieth century, alternative theories have arisen. For example, some scholars, such as Kaplan and Lindstrom, focus on Europeans’ characterization of these movements as a fascination with manufactured goods and what such a focus says about Western commodity fetishism. Others point to the need to see each movement as reflecting a particularized historical context, even eschewing the term “cargo cult” for them unless there is an attempt to elicit an exchange relationship from Europeans.
Cargoism: The discourse on cargo cults
More recent work has debated the suitability of the term cargo cult arguing that it does not refer to an identifiable empirical reality, and that the emphasis on “cargo” says more about Western ideological bias than it does about the movements concerned.
Nancy McDowell argues that the focus on cargo cult isolates the phenomena from the wider social and cultural field (such as politics and economics) that gives it meaning. She states that people experience change as dramatic and complete, rather than as gradual and evolutionary. This sense of a dramatic break is expressed through cargo cult ideology.
Lamont Lindstrom takes this analysis one step farther through his examination of “cargoism”, the discourse of the west about cargo cults. His analysis is concerned with our western fascination with the phenomenon in both academic and popular writing. A serious problem with the name is its pejorative connotation of backwardness, since it imputes a goal (cargo) obtained through the wrong means (cult); the actual goal is not so much obtaining material goods as creating and renewing social relationships under threat. Martha Kaplan thus argues we should erase the term altogether.
Metaphorical uses of the term
The term “cargo cult” has been used metaphorically to describe an attempt to recreate successful outcomes by replicating circumstances associated with those outcomes, although those circumstances are either unrelated to the causes of outcomes or insufficient to produce them by themselves. In the former case, this is an instance of the post hoc ergo propter hocfallacy.
Novelist Chinua Achebe in his 1984 book The Trouble with Nigeria criticized what he called the “cargo cult mentality” of the rulers of many developing countries who issued lofty proclamations about the future of their countries but fail to exert the necessary effort to bring about those improvements.
Economist Bryan Caplan has referred to Communism as “the largest cargo cult the world has ever seen”, describing the economic strategy of the 20th-century Communist leaders as “mimicking a few random characteristics of advanced economies”, such as the production of steel.
American rock critic Robert Duncan used cargo cults as an organizing metaphor for the social dislocations in 1960–1970s America in his 1984 book, The Noise.
The 2013 art theme of the week-long annual Burning Man festival held in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada was titled “Cargo Cult” and directly references the John Frum cult.
Burridge, Kenelm (1969). New Heaven, New Earth: A study of Millenarian Activities. London: Basil Blackwell. p. 48.
Lindstrom, Lamont (1993). Cargo Cult: Strange Stories of desire from Melanesia and beyond. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Burridge, Kenelm (1993). Lockwood, V. S.; Harding, T. G.; B. J., Wallace, eds. Contemporary Pacific Societies: Studies in Development and Change. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. p. 283.
Worley, Peter (1957). The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of ‘Cargo Cults’ in Melanesia. New York: Schocken books.
Otto, Ton (2009). “What happened to Cargo Cults? Material Religions in Melanesia and the West”. Social Analysis53 (1): 93–4.
Otto, Ton (2009). “What happened to Cargo Cults? Material Religions in Melanesia and the West”. Social Analysis53 (1).
Otto, Ton (2009). “What happened to Cargo Cults? Material Religions in Melanesia and the West”. Social Analysis53 (1): 90. doi:10.3167/sa.2009.530106.
Schwartz, Theodore (1976). “The Cargo Cult: A Melanesian Type-Response to Change”. In DeVos, George A. Responses to Change: Society, Culture, and Personality. New York: Van Nostrand. p. 174. ISBN0442220944.
Harris, Marvin. Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture. New York: Random House, 1974, pg. 133-152
Burridge, Kenelm (1969). New Heaven, New Earth: A study of Millenarian Activities. London: Basil Blackwell. pp. 65–72.
Otto, Ton (2009). “What happened to Cargo Cults? Material Religions in Melanesia and the West”. Social Analysis53 (1): 87. doi:10.3167/sa.2009.530106.
Worsley, Peter (1957). The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of ‘Cargo Cults’ in Melanesia. New York: Schocken books. pp. 17–31.
Harris, Marvin. Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture. New York: Random House, 1974.
Inglis, Judy. “Cargo Cults: The Problem of Explanation”, Oceania vol. xxvii no. 4, 1957.
Jebens, Holger (ed.). Cargo, Cult, and Culture Critique. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.
Kaplan, Martha. Neither cargo nor cult: ritual politics and the colonial imagination in Fiji. Durham: Duke University Press, 1995.
Lawrence, Peter. Road belong cargo: a study of the Cargo Movement in the Southern Madang District, New Guinea. Manchester University Press, 1964.
Lindstrom, Lamont. Cargo cult: strange stories of desire from Melanesia and beyond. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993.
Read, K. E. A Cargo Situation in the Markham Valley, New Guinea. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, vol. 14 no. 3, 1958.
Trenkenschuh, F. Cargo cult in Asmat: Examples and prospects, in: F. Trenkenschuh (ed.), An Asmat Sketchbook, vol. 2, Hastings, NE: Crosier Missions, 1974.
Wagner, Roy. The invention of culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.
Worsley, Peter. The trumpet shall sound: a study of “cargo” cults in Melanesia, London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1957.
Several pages are devoted to cargo cults in Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion.
A chapter named “Cargo Cult” is in David Attenborough’s travel book Journeys to the past: Travels in New Guinea, Madagascar, and the northern territory of Australia, Penguin Books, 1983. ISBN 0-14-00-64133.
A Chapter named “The oddest island in Vanuatu” in Paul Theroux’s book The Happy Isles Of Oceania pages 267-277 describes Paul’s visit to a John Frum village and provides answers about the faith and its practices. Penguin books, 1992.
Theme by Larry Harvey, text by Larry Harvey and Stuart Mangrum, illustration by D.A. of Black Rock (aka Dominic Tinio)
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke
“Who is John Frum? He is known to us by many names, this Visitor from Elsewhere, dispenser of endless abundance and wielder of mysterious technologies: John Frum, Quetzalcoatl, Osiris, “Bob.” His cargo is splendid, his generosity boundless, his motives beyond our understanding. But across the ages and around the world, the stories all agree: one day he will return, bearing great gifts. Our theme this year asks three related questions; who is John Frum, where is hereally from, and where, on spaceship Earth, are we all going? …
Our story begins in Melanesia during World War II. Thousands of American GIs suddenly descended on this South Sea island chain, bearing with them unimaginable riches: magical foodstuffs that never spoiled,inconceivable power sources. Just as abruptly the troops departed, leaving only broken,rusted Jeeps, crumpled beer cans, and the memory of Spam. To the astonished eyes of the natives, this was a miraculous occurrence, and they yearned for the return of abundance. Accordingly, they built totemic sky-craft in an attempt to summon back these Visitors and their legendary leader, the man the Melanesians called John Frum. They had formed a Cargo Cult.
This Myth of Return is no less relevant today. To put this in a modern context, what if your electricity went dead and stayed that way — would you know how to make the current flow again? Can you fix your car if it breaks down, or build yourself a new one? Like the islanders, most of us are many steps removed from the Cargo that entirely shapes our lives. We don’t know how it’s made, where it’s made, or how it works; all we can do is look beyond the sky and pray for magic that will keep consumption flowing.”
Pavilion design by Lewis Zaumeyer, illustration by Andrew Johnstone
Theatres in North Carolina recently began showing, as a short feature, a state-funded film advocating teen-age sexual abstinence. In The Power to Create, a teen-age couple in a car are contemplating having sex until the sky lights up and an alien emperor implores, “You have the power to create life. Don’t abuse it.” The kids-decide to go to a movie instead.
What to make of Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North? Touted as “the largest angel sculpture in the world,” it was erected Feb. 15 on a hillock next to a highway outside Gateshead (where the huge Baltic Flour Mills art center is to be built) in the northeast of England. At the work’s inauguration for the press and local dignitaries, who were lashed by gale-force wind and hail, Lord Gowrie, departing chairman of the Arts Council of England declared the work “a piece of public art unique in the history of this country . . . to be compared to the Eiffel Tower.” It is telling that he compared it to a structure famed as a piece of engineering rather than a work of art. Its statistics are more impressive than the object itself-65 feet high with a 175-foot wingspan “as big as a jumbo jet.” The work’s price tag was $1.28 million.
The colossal rust-colored thing just looms there, imposing but deadly dull, its steel-ribbed, featureless body saddled with curious plank-like appendages of its awkward “wings.” The canny people of Gateshead, originally skeptical, especially about the cost, seem to have taken it to their hearts, and await a lucrative influx of an estimated 150,000 Angel viewers each year. -Lynn MacRitchie
-all images reproduced for research purposes only-