When I was younger — much younger — I had a terrible addiction. I couldn’t ever get enough. It was true — I had a monkey on my back. Quite literally.
I was addicted to Tarzan.
By the time I was twelve, I had read every one of the Burroughs books. I had a stack of Tarzan comic books and had even learned the ape lingo. Kreegah! Bundalo, bundalo! See, I still remember a few words.
Now, of course, I can’t imagine it. People express concern about the racism of H.P. Lovecraft but Edgar Rice Burroughs had to have been just as bad. His portrayal of blacks and Arabs were revolting racist caricatures — inaccurate, unfair and illiberal. Now I couldn’t get through a few paragraphs.
But that’s what addiction will do to you — make you oblivious to the horrors of your situation, unaware of the poison you are ingesting.
Tarzan made me do terrible things. Once there was a Tarzan movie playing at the local theatre. I had seen every Tarzan movie but, this Saturday, I was supposed to go to my cousin’s wedding. How boring! I snuck out of the house and went to the movie instead. No one knew where I was and my parents were frantic. When I got home, my father sent me to my room and — worse — banned me from going to the movies for a month. No more Tarzan for me.
Furious, I kicked off my shoes. One of them went through the bedroom window. You can imagine how hard it was to persuade my father that it was an accident. I won’t go into how I got punished for that except it involved a stern talking to followed by certain repetitive actions with a slipper. One of perhaps three times things ever came to that.
Let that be an object lesson to anyone who is tempted to become addicted to anything. It’s not simply a harmless pastime. It can lead to all sorts of bad thoughts and worse actions. Especially if you get addicted to bad books with bad ideas.
Of course, I never really gave up on Tarzan. I kept watching movies and TV shows as they appeared. They were quite different from Burroughs original vision. Less racist, of course, and less immersed in colonial attitudes of the white man’s burden. Less outrageously violent, too. And stripped of their baggage, they were a little less fun and a lot less addicting.
And that’s the scary thing about bad ideas and bad beliefs. They act on us like drugs to impair our thinking and warp our sensibilities. So just say no to racist, sexist, homophobic and hateful ideas wherever you find them. Including your favorite books.
And that’s ten minutes.