To the rest of the world, today is an ordinary Monday – people are going to work, the mail is being delivered, the media focus on the latest outrages issuing from politicians, and so on. But here in Utah, it is Pioneer Day, a holiday bigger than the Fourth of July. Pioneer Day marks when Mormon settlers completed their arduous trek from Missouri to the Salt Lake Valley, thus entering into their Promised Land and escaping the hegemony and oppression of their tyrannical overlords – this being the U. S. government.
Like any such holiday, it’s more hype than history, and it tends to drive non-Mormon Utahns (called “gentiles” in these parts) straight up the wall. And so they celebrate their own holiday – “Pie ‘n’ Beer” Day, trumpeting the fact that they prefer beer to celebratory parades of handcarts. It is all meant in good fun, and most Mormons take it in stride. But, beneath the humor and irony, Pie ‘n’ Beer day is a way for Utahn gentiles to celebrate the ways in which they can escape the hegemony and oppression of their tyrannical overlords – this being the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
My family and I tend to be on the reclusive side, and so we will avoid any handcart parades or parties featuring pie and beer (separately delicious, but a most unfortunate combination, to my way of thinking). Instead, we have taken this holiday weekend to watch the latest re-boots of the Planet of the Apes movies.
The movies (Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn o.t.P.o.t.A.) are better than the original movies in every conceivable way, and all the credit goes to CGI and the amazing Andy Serkis. The core thrill of the films is to see apes – mistreated and tortured by greedy and violent humans – rise in intelligence and power until they can break free from their bondage and create a civilization of their own, while the human civilization goes down in flames.
It’s puzzling why my family, a small band of human primates, should cheer while watching our kind get pounded by another branch of primates. But I think it is because the films highlight ways in which we know our civilization has gone wrong – the capitalistic enterprises of pharmaceuticals and genetic engineering, the cruelty of those enterprises, and the broad human disposition toward war and devastating weaponry. The apes, led by the forward-thinking Caesar, represent at least the possibility of a different path – though one, as it turns out, that ends up facing the same problems of greed, power, treachery, and tragic misfortune. By cheering for the apes, we are cheering for some fantasy in which we can wipe the slate clean and establish a new society, thus celebrating the thought of escape from the hegemony and oppression of our tyrannical overlords – in this case, our own species.
Plus, the apes are wicked cool as they swing through the trees and roar and tumble. They are delightful films to watch with a beer in hand – saving the pie for later.