My relationship with The Lord of the Rings is and has been incredibly intense. In the following, I will attempt to underline what I see as the core project of LOTR and why it is inherently incompatible with its co-option and commodification by Amazon.
Extra challenge: I will try to do this with as little cursing as possible.
Professor Tolkien wrote the Hobbit as a story for his children. He then continued expanding his mythology as a background to investigate his languages. From its outset the LOTR was too long, too big, too complex, too multi-lingual, too confusing and too particular for mass consumption. Which was exactly what made it so powerful.
The entire point of LOTR is that experience, language, narrative, history, and interactions should not be flattened. The Ring is the threat of the singular. In fact, Professor Tolkien hated allegory for this reason: the collapse of meaning-making into a 1-to-1 transference.
The point of the Lord of the Rings is that salvation comes through particularity, through multiculturalism – not multiculturalism that erases history or distinction – but rather a healthy and resilient ecosystem that thrives because of its multiplicity of distinct species.
By studying and reconnecting with English’s roots, Professor Tolkien was not proposing the dominance of English – was not writing so that English could (continue to) consume and colonize other languages – but rather as a return and revitalizing at the roots. In underlining its unique and strange history, Professor Tolkien deconstructed the monolith of “English.”
Enter the culture industry (based on the ideas of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno but quoting from Jack Zipes’ “Breaking the Magic Spell”). The culture industry is “the mode by which cultural forms are produced, organized, and exchanged as commodities within a capitalist socio-economic system so that they no longer relate to the needs and experiences of the people who create them.” The culture industry is interested in creating the “universal” which simply means the dominance of a singular capitalist ideology that relies on dehumanization and passive acceptance.
Enter Amazon with its interest only in what sells, what is easy to package, what is commodifiable. Interested in “franchising” the shit out of everything. Fuck Jeff Bezos.
What the Lord of the Rings represents
- Multiculturalism – specifically a kind that does not require integration (no elves are trying to indoctrinate dwarves – telling them to be less dwarvish – attempting to dominate their culture – colonizing etc.)
- Narrative as the confluence of specific and particular language, meaning, and history.
- The continuation of many distinct languages – not the dominance of one.
- The continuation of many distinct narratives – not the dominance of one.
- The continuation of the natural world – not domination through industrialization.
- The great evil that is enforced labor (the main evil of Sauron is that he enslaved people and elves – in the form of orcs) vs. the Shire where hobbits engage in un-alienated labor.
What Amazon represents
- Primary interest is dominance and accumulation of wealth (channeling of all streams into one “universal” capital-based culture).
- Invested in narrowing all narratives into one narrative – a narrative that obfuscates capitalism and leaves the audience either “happily passive or disturbed and impotent” (Zipes).
- Flattening of language – increasingly disturbing based on the number of vulnerable or nearly extinct languages.
- Flattening of expression – singularity of experience from the shopping platform to the streaming platform. All stories must fit into their grooves with little to no room for creativity or imagination. The strange becomes pre-packaged. Again, as Zipes describes it “programming mass consciousness through an infrastructural authoritarianism that belies its apparent superstructural egalitarianism.”
- Erasing distinction and unique histories in the name of “equality” and “acceptance.” (Acceptance by whom? And if we choose not to be acceptable?)
In short, Amazon (Jeff Bezos) is the embodiment of Melkor/ Morgoth/ Sauron. And I’m not on board.
So, no, I will not be watching. Thanks and see you next time I get angry.
P.S. THIS SHOULD NOT BE INTERPRETED as me boycotting for the same reason some angry, white dudes are boycotting. “Oh no, there are people of color in this series! What a betrayal!”
See above re: resistance of flattening, connection to the needs and experiences of the people (English is not now and arguably never was solely owned by any one race). Tolkien also saw his mythology as becoming a part of a living, growing tapestry. So. F*ck off.