Tarzan, King of the Apes, swings into Paris museum

Tue Jun 16, 2009 5:35am EDT
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By James Mackenzie

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Tarzan swings out of the African jungle and into France's showcase museum of indigenous art this month in an exhibition that sets out to illustrate one of modern pop culture's most enduring myths.

The exhibition "Tarzan!" is an exception for the Quai Branly Museum, set up by former President Jacques Chirac as a center for the so-called "primary arts" of Africa, the Pacific, the Americas and Asia.

It has little to say about any real African culture, instead focusing on the exotic web of images and mythology behind the King of the Apes and his mate Jane.

"For a good part of the 20th century, popular culture has got its inspiration from the non-European world," said Stephane Martin, director of the Quai Branly museum. "This is a good synthesis of the way popular culture has looked at Africa."

Created in 1912 by Edgar Rice Burroughs, a restless former soldier, prospector and publicity agent from Chicago who never set foot in Africa, Tarzan was an instant success, with over 20 novels translated into 56 languages, thousands of comic strips and dozens of films.

Immortalized onscreen by former Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller, the image of Tarzan, swinging through the trees with his yodeled cry "Or-ah-uh-ah-aaah-ah-uh-ah-uh-aah!," has remained anchored in the modern imagination ever since.

But Tarzan's jungle realm, populated variously by helpful apes, savage cannibals, tigers, sultry beauties clad in leopard skins and the lost descendants of Roman legionaries, is a purely imaginary product of early 20th century America.

HODGEPODGE   Continued...