Diego de Landa, Mel Gibson, and the Fantasy of the Abject Sadomasochist in the Maya World

Friday, January 6, 2017: 11:30 AM
Mile High Ballroom 1B (Colorado Convention Center)
Pete Sigal, Duke University
They had a dirty and grievous sacrifice where each person pierced a hole through the virile member.  They passed through as great a quantity of cord as they could stand.

—Franciscan friar Diego de Landa

It was a violent culture. Just thank God we didn’t show you the enemas.

—Film Producer Mel Gibson

Landa and Gibson fantasize about Maya men penetrated in a manner that causes both pleasure and pain.  They both suggest that they try to avert their gazes (as well as ours), but they instead draw our attention directly to the masochism of Maya men.  At the same time both Landa and Gibson emphasize the immense cruelty of the ancient Maya—enforcing the sadism of the warrior class.  I argue that we must understand the fantasies of Landa and Gibson as projection and abjection.  They project their own fears—of penetration and perversion—onto the Maya.  In doing so, they express their visceral disgust, creating an abject subject, one whose masculinity comes into question through the fierce nature of sexual perversion and pain. In addition to Landa’s text and Gibson’s film, I support my analysis with Maya hieroglyphs and pictorial texts, the documents produced through the investigation of Landa’s inquisition, some Yucatec Maya songs (the Songs of Dzitbalche), and interviews of Gibson and the cast of Apocalypto.  As I work to analyze Landa’s and Gibson’s fantasies, I argue that only through an analysis of fantasy can we understand the violent processes involved in the colonial and postcolonial religious/ethnographic/film encounters.

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