A few class periods ago we looked at and examined the FEMA USR signs and their curious correlations with some Haitian voodoo vévé images and symbols. My group’s discussion on this topic turned into a very eye-opening conversation on our origins of our knowledges of voodoo, and I was surprised to uncover what the connotations that some of our first exposures to voodoo in popular culture, film, and television had in relation to what we have been discussing on Roach’s ideas of relationships with the dead and performances of memory.
When my group’s discussion of the vévé transitioned into a remembering of our first encounters with voodoo I was really interested in how some of us seemed to have grown up with a very specific, particularly negatively portrayed, performance of this religion. I mentioned to the group that I was pretty sure that my first memory of voodoo came from some Scooby Doo made-for-TV movie or special. When I started thinking about this I was flooded with nostalgia and memories of childhood sleepovers with my best friend watching these Scooby Doo movie marathons and really just having a wonderful, care-free time.
After some more research on this special in particular, Scooby Doo on Zombie Island, I was intrigued to find that in this special, the gang heads on a road trip to New Orleans where after a series of ghost and zombie encounters they find themselves at the mercy of two young voodoo practicing women. These women turn out to be the trickster figures of the show and their voodoo is portrayed solely as a sinister, manipulative practice used by villains for their own gain. The gang then has to outsmart these villains and their voodoo ritual in order to stop zombies from overtaking the island. To say the least, this show portrayed voodoo almost as a palimpsest, in that it was a performance that layered over other performances to create “…more or less systematic cultural misrecognition…[and a] narrative of abandonment, a cultural performance of forgetting.” (Roach, 45)
I was surprised, to say the least, that this is what my first memory of voodoo originated from. I couldn’t (yet at the same time, totally could) believe that it was allowed for the creators of this children’s program to personify this religion in such an overtly negative way. After doing some more research I found that this general theme of children’s media depicting voodoo in a negative way ran swiftly and deeply. Just one example that I found of this included Disney’s 2009 animated film, The Princess and the Frog, where the villain of the film is associated with voodoo and the loa are vengeful and evil. In our group’s discussion in class that day we talked briefly about this widely popularized portrayal of voodoo and how our new knowledge of the religion, understood through the texts we encountered in class, challenged our previous understandings of this practice. I specifically remember Spencer saying in our group that, “I didn’t know that voodoo was this complex.”
I believe that this greater understanding of origins of a performance is something really important for me to take note of as this course progresses. Roach talks about how “…the ambivalence associated with the dead must enter into any discussion of the relationship between memory, performance, and substitution.” (Roach, 36) This really makes me think in a more large-scale way about how hurricanes enter into this discussion and foster this sense of equivocation of people and forgetting. I will definitely be returning to this thread of thinkING as the semester pushes on, as this theme of forgetting origins is something that I think will run throughout the texts we will continue to encounter.