THE BUDDHA JAYANTI

Tibetan despotism Buddhism history


Tibetan Buddhism in American Popular Filmby Eve L. Mullen

Abstract

Many contemporary American popular films are presenting us with particular views of Tibetan Buddhism and culture. Unfortunately, the views these movies present are often misleading. In this essay I will identify four false characterizations of Tibetan Buddhism, as described by Tibetologist Donald Lopez, characterizations that have been refuted by post-colonial scholarship. I will then show how these misleading characterizations make their way into three contemporary films, Seven Years in Tibet, Kundun and Little Buddha. Finally, I will offer an explanation for the American fascination with Tibet as Tibetan culture is represented in these films.

Article

[1] Tibetan religion and culture are experiencing an unparalleled popularity. Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan history are commonly the subjects of Hollywood films. Being in the American spotlight, however, means being subject to the sound byte culture in which we live. Quick quotables, rapid montages of images, and the crafting of simple stories are commonplace as the manners in which media consumers in America are accustomed to receiving information both in contexts of fictional entertainment and nonfictional news. Simplified, deceptive constructions of Tibet permeate our culture. To what ends are such presentations crafted? Why is the American public so accepting of these new craftings, and why do we now fall prey to the orientalism of the past and salvage paradigms refuted by post-colonial scholarship decades ago? To begin to answer these questions, this paper will: first, examine new age orientalism in the case of Tibet as Tibetologist Donald Lopez characterizes it; second, explore orientalist themes in the commercialization of Tibetan Buddhism in the American films Seven Years in Tibet, Kundun and Little Buddha; and third, offer an explication based on a psychological model of the commercial creators of such popularizations and the American...

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