Disney and Mythology: Recycled Fairy Tale Motifs? Derivative Stories?

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Recently, I read a blog review of Frozen that claimed the film was cute, but lacking a bit in originality. This was not the first time that I’ve seen a reviewer talk about Disney fairy tales in this way. I’m not gonna lie. It kind of irritates me each time I see the argument. For some reason, people completely misunderstand creativity. Being creative does not mean being wholly original. As TS Eliot suggests in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” the creative person enters into a conversation that has been ongoing since the advent of artistic expression. The entire reason to create art is for the soul to speak into that conversation. But Disney has done something besides create art for almost 100 years now. It has created a mythology, and mythology, though a vehicle for art, is not itself art.

Disney is Mythology?: Wait, Say What Now?!

First let’s define mythology. This word that the “parlance of our times” refers to as “fiction” or a “lie” comes from the Greek language. It is constructed of two terms: mythos (muthos) which simply means story and logos which means words, but can be further understood as language…the structural make up through which mythos is conveyed.

Whew…that was heavy and theoretical. Putting it more simply, a mythology is group of stories that belong to a tradition. There! That was simple and to the point. So, has Disney created a mythology? Yes they have. Each one of their stories have the hallmarks of the Disney tradition…they belong to Disney and to all of us who resonate with their message. Dude, I’m not going to bore you with all of the details of Joseph Campbell’s four functions of mythology, but Disney’s stories do in fact: 1). create awe; 2). order the cosmos or explain why things are the way the are; 3). create and promote social/behavioral norms; and 4). provide vehicles for rituals through which we travel from birth to death.

So, what is Disney’s myth? Many of you would argue that Disney’s central myth is capitalism…and you wouldn’t be wrong. Walt himself was very proud of his own capitalist leanings. But, this is hardly the end of their myth. Director, animator, and producer Don Hahn (The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast fame to name a few) told me himself at the 2011 D23 Expo in Anaheim that you can’t really take The Walt Disney Company as anything other than a capitalist entity that is out to make profit. However, and these are his words, “those of us who are artists working for the company intuit something deeper…something archetypal and meaningful.” Exactly, Disney is creating a mythology…a RECOGNIZABLE tradition through which their stories come to us.

And, if that is the case, then the argument that Disney’s fairy tales are full of derivative motifs and images becomes a shallow reading of them. I will give people the argument (if they really need it) that Disney fairy tale characters do have a similar look and that these films have similar and recognizable motifs in imagery and song . Yes they do. But if you focus on that, you miss a broader point. The reason that they share those things is that they are all part of an actual mythic tradition…and I believe that we have been living without consciousness of mythology for so long that we don’t understand what that means. Sadly, we often don’t recognize it when we see it. It means that motifs continue to return, kaleidoscopically, to further convey a tradition’s myths (Disney fairy tales) through a tradition’s ritual (going to the movies/parks).

The better question is not are Disney’s fairy tales derivative, but why do they continue to traverse the same mythic atmosphere? Well, frankly, that is a topic for another blog, so I’ll give it to you in a nice, neat package. They do it because their mythic role in our world is to tell a particular story in a particular way. What’s the story? The story is that magic does in fact exist, but that perhaps we do not call magic by its real name–LOVE. In short, the myth of Disney fairy tales is that love exists and that love transforms.

So focused is this message that Disney has created an entire “logos” for their “mythos.” And, though again this is a topic for another blog, I believe with all my heart that this myth is indispensable to humanity.

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“Sisters…Sisters…there were never more devoted sisters…”

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Frozen is now called the greatest Disney musical since The Lion King…hailing Disney’s return to broadway quality the likes of which we have not seen since the team that gave us The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast (Howard Ashman and Alan Menken). I’ll admit it; I bawled like a baby. Pretty much everything about it is spectacular, but I was left thinking about what it is about Disney films that so affect me? When they work for me, WHY do they work? Answer: it’s the heart. For me, when art works it isn’t because of any intellectual exercise; it is because it makes me feel something. Disney has been known for intentionally going for the “feels”, and that’s what this film does. Furthermore, for me, when art works it “speaks” in some way. That is also what this film does. It provides perspective. In its purely archetypal, kaleidoscopic sense, it presents faceted images of the archetypal realm.

Please be advised that there will be **SPOILERS** ahead, so if you aren’t interested in finding out what happens in this film, please pass over this post. Also, in contrast to my other posts that tend to be theoretical, the following review is **PERSONAL**. I’m speaking my truth here.

Frozen is an incredibly loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. And when I say loose, I mean that pretty much the only thing this film and the original fairy tale have in common is some snow. Indeed, as per usual, Disney tends to pick up motifs from the older versions of fairy tales (trolls, royalty, snow, mirror) and re-mythologizes them completely. Andersen’s work is self-consciously moralizing in tone–lovely, but incredibly Victorian. That is not how Disney rolls…particularly since The Little Mermaid. Disney does comedy…caricature. It has always presented fairy tales in the vein of Hollywood standards, but since the late 1980s, (in my opinion the genius brought to the studio by Ashman) they have presented these tales through heart-stirring and powerful broadway style musicals. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that the films since Ariel all feature young women with strong, broadway caliber characters and voices. I’ve previously suggested that Disney princesses reflect the anima (or the soul’s feminine aspects) complex of the Disney Studios. They represent facets of feminine consciousness coming to light (hence the “feels”) through the belting ballads of Disney anima-tion.

Frozen features two of these power houses–sisters Elsa and Anna. As usual, Disney focuses on the ways love transforms us all and the importance of sharing bonds of love with family. This film is no exception. Though it is not the first story to focus of the power of relationships between women, it is the first to focus so intensely on the relationship between sisters as a catalyst for magical transformation.

THE PLOT:

Frozen begins with a powerful intro song similar to the opening piece of Beauty and The Beast or The Lion King. It’s a group of “ice harvesters,” singing about the beauty and power of ice and exhorting the audience to “beware the frozen heart.” The story soon turns to joy–two little sisters giggling and playing together in a wintery paradise created by magical powers. Elsa, the older sister, is the one with the magical powers to create ice and snow. Her younger sister, Anna, wakes her sister and begs her to play. “Do you want to build a snowmaaaaan?” An accident occurs as they play, and Anna is wounded by a stray bit of ice that enters her head. Elsa calls for her parents, and the family approaches a local family of trolls for magical advice. The elder troll heals Anna (he tells the family that she is lucky to have been wounded in the head–that the heart is more difficult to change), but also warns Elsa that her power is dangerous. He tells her that fear will be her Achilles heel–that she must master her fear to come into balance of her power. A central condition of Anna’s healing is that she have all her memories of magic erased.

The king and queen set about the business of trying to “control” Elsa’s powers. Between Elsa’s fear that she will hurt the ones she loves and Anna’s memory loss, the relationship between the sisters becomes distant, cold and strained. Elsa becomes more and more anxious about her powers, so anxious in fact that she locks herself away in her room. Anna is confused. She can’t understand why her sister doesn’t want to be with her. She can’t understand the breakdown of their relationship. Then tragedy strikes. While away on a voyage of presumed royal duty, the ship carrying the royal couple sinks. The princesses are left alone.

Fast forward to coronation day. The curtains and gates at the kingdom of Arendelle are about to open. Anna continues to seek Elsa, and Elsa continues to fear the possibilities of her power. They sing about their hopes and fears for the evening in “For the First Time in Forever” (Anna: “at least I have a chance”…Elsa: “But it’s only for today, It’s agony to wait”). Begin party…the sisters see each other and begin small talk. It’s awkward, but it’s clear that they both want to rekindle their relationship. Anna meets “the one” Prince Hans–a perfect IMAGE of a Disney prince. The two become engaged, much to Elsa’s dismay. They argue, and Elsa’s passionate response to her sister’s question of why she shuts her out ends in a display of her power. She flees, amid accusations of black sorcery, to the north mountain, and in an incredible moment that only Disney can create Elsa comes into her power as she sings the powerful ballad “Let it Go.” Dude, I gotta share it. It’s that good.

In doing this, Elsa unleashes perpetual winter, which sets Anna off on a journey to find her sister and “fix everything.” Along the way, she comes across a man named Kristoff, his fantastic reindeer Sven, and a snowman come to life by Elsa named Olaf. The relationship between Anna and these characters is adorable…but peripheral (though there is love, growth and education there) to a reunion between Anna and Elsa. Anna and crew eventually make their way to the north mountain where she and Elsa quarrel again. Anna believes that if they can just come together and be honest with each other, they can fix everything. Once again, Anna is accidentally injured…this time in her heart. The trolls tell her that only an act of true love will save her.

Kristoff and crew return her to her “true love” Prince Hans who, in a twist that apparently everyone but romantic little me saw coming, reveals himself as the villain (WHAT?!!). Hans locks Anna away and imprisons Elsa, attempting to drive an even deeper wedge between them. Elsa runs heart-broken into the snow, whipping up an even worse blizzard as she goes. Anna runs out into the snow searching for her “true love” moment, when suddenly the snow begins to die down and Anna sees Prince Hans attempting to kill Elsa. Anna, about to turn into a block of ice, gives herself for Elsa as she freezes. Elsa holds her sister and in a typical “true love’s kiss” moment, Anna comes back to life. Turns out that the act of true love she needed was one of her own, for her sister. All’s well that ends well…lesson learned…release the fear, embrace your power and love each other. Open the gates and never shut them again.

Now, Personal:

Confession: I have two sisters, both of whom I adore. I share a father with one sister and a mother with the other. And there is pain and trauma on both sides, which I am not at liberty to write about in this blog. Let’s just say that in relationship to both of them, I am the Anna. It is well known in our family that I am the silly, klutzy naive one of the group.I’ve got the freckles, the unshakable belief, the braids, the goofiness…they’ve got the beauty, the composure, grace, the maturity. I am also the one who has often been thought to need protection. I was so much younger that at different times, both of my sisters have, of their own belief and by our parents, felt that they could be the cause of hurt for me. Furthermore, they has caused them to doubt themselves and their gifts.

Both of my sisters are powerful women who have experienced differing levels of pressure to hold themselves back for fear of what release of their own intensity could mean. So they held back, and frankly, for a long time I didn’t really know my sisters. Now, as an adult, this story resonates with me. I can see how my sisters loved me and sought to protect me all through our lives. And, I know that an act of true love requires selfless acceptance, something I know that both my sisters and me were always willing to give. Just as Elsa needs to release the fear of her power…her ability to hurt the people she loves in order to embrace the beauty of who she is, so Anna needs to appreciate what her sister feels and support her in that power. But in order for that to happen, Elsa and Anna need to trust each other…a balance between the compassionate power of Queen Elsa and the boundless optimism of Princess Anna. These are powerful archetypal images that I find present in my relationship with my sisters. Older sisters, younger sisters. An act of true love can melt a frozen heart. And I’ve seen these archetypes in play in other families as well. My nieces, my cousins, my friends…

What could it mean for us all if we embraced our loved ones without fear? What if we bring what we believe to be shadow into light–accepting truth and loving each other, not in spite of it, but because of it? Disney’s Frozen tells us what happens. Love will thaw. And it is no coincidence that love comes to us through Disney’s healing touch of the feminine–on this point, sisterly love rather than romantic love. Sisters: The image of little girls at play and young women empowering each other. It is beautiful…and it heals, because we are more powerful together than apart. Together, we are whole.

Given, with love, for my darling sisters: Shari Merrill and Lisa Filippini

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Oz: The Great And Powerful and Re-Myth-ing the Origin Story

ImageApproximately ten months ago or so, my dear friend Bonnie and I spoke with some intuitives at our local mythie bookstore. One of the individuals with whom I spoke told me that he felt that I was in the middle of re-crafting my own origin stories. Of all the things we talked about that day that was the one thing that really stuck with me.

Origin stories? Genesis myths? Immediately, I asked a bunch of questions like: What does that mean? To exactly what kind of stories in my personal life might that speak? And, most importantly for this blog, how does this obsession with origin stories make its way into my personal myths? How are the myth-makers that I gravitate toward retelling their own origin stories?

Ever since this discussion, I am becoming more aware of the ways that I am drawn to people retelling their own genesis. I have become especially aware of the way that Disney has been in the process of doing so of late.

And why not? Speaking of our myths, noted philosopher, author and professor Sam Keen reminds us that “We need to reinvent them from time to time…The stories we tell of ourselves determine who we become, who we are, what we believe” (Your Mythic Journey qtd in Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Our Lives, Phil Cousineau, 7). There is a reason that origin myths are meant to be reenacted cyclically.

Perhaps this insight is particularly poignant right now—at the beginning of this year’s Passover and Holy Week remembrances. We respect (at least ideologically) the ritualizing of the origin stories of the religious traditions of all Americans. Origin myths are meant to be a living part of the calendar, and so they are in their own ways in our secular culture as well. We celebrate Independence Day each year, Election Day every four years, President’s Day every year and so on.

Many of these have a basis in history, but what of our imaginal origin stories? What about the origin stories that come about as a natural outpouring of fantasy? I am convinced that these origin stories are also reinvented on a cyclical basis as well.

From the work of the D23 to the heightened presence of the archives to the re-mything of the “golden age” of Los Angeles at Disney California Adventure in Disneyland Resort to Diane Disney’s Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco to a renewed interest in Oswald and Mickey Mouse cartoons spurned on by the success of the first Epic Mickey game, a renewed interest in origin stories seems to be everywhere in Disney’s storytelling at present.

Disney’s relationship with the Oz books dates back to the early days of Disney feature film animation. As early as the 1930’s, Walt Disney sought to acquire the rights to re-mythologize Baum’s books in film. Perhaps, as a Midwesterner (a Missourian/Kansas City-man) himself, Walt Disney felt particularly drawn (pun intended) to the Kansas landscape of Dorothy Gale and her family.

By 1954, he had acquired the rights to eleven of the books. By 1958, he had acquired the rights to all twelve of the books, but he was never quite ready to work them into film. Time, tide and technology never quite crossed for Walt and Oz.

In 1985, Disney released Return to Oz, which, although it became a bit of a cult classic among Gen X and Y’ers, has little else to recommend it. Now, all these years later, in 2013, The Walt Disney Company has finally decided to release a feature film version of an Oz story—Oz: The Great and Powerful.

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Why? This film is itself an effort to re-mythologize the genesis and importance of the film industry itself and Disney’s role in it (as well, perhaps, as Disney’s favorite medium within film, animation/computers and technology ala Pixar).

Let’s look at it:

This film is what is known as a prequel. It tells the story of how the “wizard” makes his way to Oz. Loosely inspired by Frank L. Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as well as the iconic 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz (originally released by Samuel Goldwyn, then bought by MGM, and now owned by Warner Bros.) this film draws on an iconic well of imagery—the black and white opening sequence, the tornado, an eye-popping candy-colored technologically wondrous Oz, the soft muted pastel pink of Glinda (The Good Witch of the South), Theodora (The Wicked Witch of the West)—her green skin and her black witchy garb complete with hat, flying primates, the look of the Emerald City and the Yellow Brick Road.

It tells the story of how the “wizard” (James Franco) makes his way to Oz and is unwittingly used by one bad witch (Evanora of the East, Rachel Weisz) to turn another witch wicked (Theodora of the West–Mila Kunis) before becoming using his abilities to become the savior of Oz. The “wizard,” aided by Glinda (the Good of the South–Michelle Williams) , is convinced to mobilize the people of Oz, and fights back against the wicked witches.

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There is, however, one problem—the wizard is not actually a wizard, in the conventional definition of the word. He is a charlatan and a con man. More importantly, he is an illusionist. He is a carnival performer, a kind of inspiration for the late great Johnny Carson’s “Carnac the Magnificent.” Oz is what is known as the archetypal trickster. As such, he is a master at sleight of hand, shapeshfting, lies, and illusions.

This trickster, however, really isn’t that clever. His illusions are easy to see through. It is clear that he yearns for greatness, but it is just as clear that that greatness eludes him. While on his journey through the land that bears his name, he begins to realize that, as Glinda says, he may not be the wizard they were expecting, but he is the wizard that has appeared. His affection for the people of Oz leads him to use his skill as an illusionist to convince the witches of the power he does not actually have. And, it works. In the end, the wizard defeats the witches through sheer illusion and sleight of hand. He fuses his hermetic abilities with the Tinkers’ (Imagineers perhaps?) ability to use technology. He creates a living, breathing illusion.

So, what does this have to do with Disney, the film industry, and origin myths? Simply put, this film suggests that like “the wizard,” filmmakers are both con artists and wizards. As myth-ie tricksters, filmmakers shepherd their audiences through to experiences that turn tin cans into walking, talking allies, convince them that they are in imminent danger from mechanical sharks, to create magical portals to mythic worlds using digital pixels, and simply entrance them will spectacle, color and delight.

Oz: The Great And Powerful is an origin myth crafted specifically to remind the audience of the importance of imagination, illusion, and storytelling. It makes sense that Disney chose to tell it through one of the most iconic and replete mythic systems ever to be touched by the film industry. It is intended to remind the audience why the kinds of things Disney is always up to (putting on a show, telling a story, ritualizing magical locales, and entertaining through illusionist sleight of hand) are powerful and central to psychic health. In that way, this film (for all its shortcomings…of which there are many…) works.

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Letter to the POTUS in response to his inauguration

Dorene Koehler, PhD

Santa Barbara, Ca. 93103

mythscholar429@me.com

January 22, 2013

Dr. President Obama:

I write to you today as one of your constituents—a supporter who believes in you and believes in the work you do for America.

Mr. President, I am tired, concerned, and anxious. I am concerned about our future as Americans, and I would like to ask you about some of what you envision for America.

As I write this letter to you, it has been approximately twenty-four hours since your second inauguration—a beautiful day filled with sacred American ritual. I want you to know that I heard your speech. I truly heard it! I have always known that one person and one administration alone cannot cure all the ills of the world and our system. It is a deep truth that we must act even in the face of the knowledge that what we do will never be complete, never enough. There will always be another day and another battle to fight.

You, however, must be aware of your own power as an iconic presence leading the changes we presently experience. The fact that you chose to be sworn in using both Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.’s bibles proves that you know the power of an icon—the mythic power of archetypal images—to move people.

And so I write to ask you: How are we going to begin to change our cultural understanding of the power of these archetypal images? How are we going to re-vivify the study of the humanities in America?

There were two studies released this year that really made the crisis in the Humanities clear to me (besides the fact that I’ve yet to find any kind of gainful employment utilizing my degree).

The first was the Pew Forum’s “Study on Religion and Public Life.” This 2012 study states that 1 in 5 Americans now claim no religious affiliation. That is a huge percentage of Americans with no organized communal outlet for their spirituality. American spirituality is in flux and in crisis. Large numbers of us seem to be abandoning old ways of connecting to the soul. Perhaps, in our secularized society, this may not seem like a huge crisis, but it is.  We cannot afford to allow our need to act on our ritual impulses to disappear into unconscious careless action. At the very least, we are called to address these changes, for the sake of the future–our children. If Americans neglect connecting with each other for the sake of tending to our souls in community, how can we tend to each other in the material world? Why would it even matter if we did?

The second study was an article released by The Chronicle of Higher Education, which notes a 43% unemployment rate among PhDs in the humanities. 43%!! How can it be that America has some of the brightest, most educated of its citizens living in poverty because they are burdened by the debt of an education that has taught them what it means to be a human being, and because they cannot find a job sharing that knowledge with their communities?

I understand (and agree by the way) that mathematics, science, and technology are going to drive our next economic boom. Everything you said about this in your inaugural address is true. But, we cannot expect Americans to come together in the way we need to for prosperity if we continue to neglect our spiritual, psychological, and mythological needs as human beings.

Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

And, in his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum wrote, “I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”

I believe that you know this instinctually and viscerally. That is why I trust you with my vote. I know you value the power of symbols, of culture, of the soul, Mr. President, and so I ask you: What can we do? What can I do? How can I be a part of reclaiming and healing the soul of America for the future?

Thank you for lending your ear,

Dorene Koehler, PhD

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My Review of “Hitchcock”

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When I saw that a biopic about Hitchcock and the making of Psycho was about to be released, I was uncontrollably excited!  After all, it was Hitchcock’s work that lit the fire of cinematic passion in my heart. My sister, who happens to be seven years older than me, loves Hitchcock films. She is particularly enamoured with Vertigo, arguably Hitchcock (Hitch) ‘s most genius treatment of the psychopathology of sexual obsession and control. The Birds was another family favorite. My mother, brothers, and sister once lived in Valley Ford, a town just a few miles from Bodega Bay that has the distinction of housing the film’s infamous “Fawcett farm”. And yes, Bruce and I did go see it when it was recently rereleased in theaters for one night.

I can remember being no older than five or six and watching a documentary on TV about the making of Psycho. I can’t really remember the time in my life when I didn’t know about Janet Leigh’s famous swallowing of a contact lens as she lay dead on the floor of the shower. When I got married, I was lucky enough to snag a partner who loves Hitch’s movies even more than I do. Around the time that Hitch’s birthday comes around every August, Bruce always pulls out these classic films: Rear Window, Rope, Vertigo, Marnie, Spellbound, Notorious, The Birds, Psycho, The Man Who Knew Too Much, North By Northwest, Shadow of A Doubt. We’ve watched these movies so many times, I’m surprised we haven’t (pardon the pun) worn a hole through them.

I am also kind of obsessed with the ways golden age Hollywood is portrayed in film. Factuality is not important to me. I just like to analyze what the films are doing. So, lucky me! Genius Tony Hopkins (a high school crush of mine) plays the creepiest director in history. Not to mention Helen Mirren as his inimitable wife. How could they lose?

Bruce and I saw it last night and here’s my mythie take on it.

Hitch was called the master of suspense. Everyone knows that. Everyone who knows anything about him knows that he was obsessed with murder, suspense, and the macabre. He was interested in Freudian psychology, and he clearly loved to explore the deepest darkest recesses of the mind. He loved to shock audiences with what was possible in the realm of human behavior.

Psychologist and PGI godfather, James Hillman, made an interesting documentary in 2005 (Surfing LA) in which he explored the archetypal nature of the city of Los Angeles. He suggests that there is something about Los Angeles that is underworldly, that the energy of the place–from the geography to the violent history of the city to the presence of the film industry and the darkness that seems to surround it–makes it the entrance to the underworld. It seems fitting that this master of macabre storytelling would make his home the City of Angels during its golden age.

Hitchcock explores a time when this master filmmaker seemed about to fall from his golden pedastal. The film begins with a member of the press asking him why at sixty years old he doesnt just retire while he is ahead. The viewer can see the anger brewing inside of him. He searches for his next project, and when it does it is an adaptation of Psycho, a novel based on the true story of psychotic murder Ed Gein. Hitch descends into madness as the character of Norman Bates begins to resonate with him. The anger that Hitch feels toward everyone in his life is turned interior, as he lives it vicariously through Norman.

All of these details are fascinating, but it was the mythic associations of the characters of Hitch and his wife Alma themselves that had me really interested. I wondered to myself: Is there a pattern from classical mythology being played out in this relationship? If so, what is it?

As per usual, I turned to Greek mythology, and it became clear to me that there was indeed a series of motifs from Greek mythology being played out in the story of the making of Psycho, and probably in the truth of Hitch’s life.

According to the Encyclopedia Mythica (pantheon.org):

Hephaestus, the god of fire, especially the blacksmith’s fire, was the patron of all craftsmen, principally those working with metals. Known as the lame god, Hephaestus was born weak and crippled. Displeased by the sight of her son, Hera threw Hephaestus from Mount Olympus, and he fell for a whole day before landing in the sea. Nymphs rescued him and took him to Lemnos, where the people of the island cared for him. 

To gain revenge for his rejection by Hera, Hephaestus fashioned a magic throne, which was presented to her on Mount Olympus. When Hera sat on the throne, it entrapped her, making her a prisoner. Hephaestus eventually released Hera after being given the beautiful Aphrodite as his bride.

The god of craftsmen, and poets, and, I would suggest that is applies to filmmakers as well, the archetypal energy of Hephaestus is present in Hitch, the archetypal craftsman and poet. Hitch lives deep in the bowels of the cutting room, making, shifting, editing his way to greatness. Like Hephaestus, he is considered ugly–overweight, bald, and (ehem) not tall. Also, like Hephaestus, he is metaphorically wed to Aphrodite, as he is cursed to live an obsession with the blond Hitchcockian woman of mystery, who is always guaranteed to scorn his form.

By contrast, like Hera, his wife Alma is presented as being the queen of the “Hills.” It becomes clear that Hitch would be nothing without her. And, if fact, he says as much to her at one point during the film. She is a genius editor, writer, and intuitive producer. She is involved in every aspect of the project from the cast choices to the camera angles. She is the mother of his creation, and their relationship reflects the possessiveness, perversion, and obsession of a Freudian Oedipal relationship. She is consistently frustrated by his destructive “ugliness.” She spends much of the films pushing him away and pursuing her own well deserved goals.

The Alma of this film longs for her own work. She believes she will find it in a new collaborator, but in the end, she is called back to her work with Hitch, and through that return he is forced to recognize that, well, she’s more powerful than he is, and that he loves her.

When Alma tells Hitch that she has waited thirty years for him to tell her that she is more beautiful than any Hitchcock blonde, he tells her: “And THAT, my dear, is the reason they call me the master of suspense.”

Ultimately, Bruce and I both found this film to be a fascinating portrayal of this pivotal period of Hitchcock’s career. Hopkins and Mirren shine. Scarlett Johansson inhabits Janet Leigh, and James D’Arcy’s portrayal of Anthony Perkins is at once incredibly unsettling and sympathetic. Fine holiday fun for a pair of Hitchcock nerds. We loved it!

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Election Day and the American Archetypal Manifestation of Individualism

As our American founding fathers once wrote about the importance of a government made up of individuals bound by a social contract:

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” –Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

I’ve been thinking about the significance of election day for a while. There is always a lot of individualistic lip service connected to election day, but this election seems to have been particularly full of individualist rhetoric. So, what does it mean, mythically, to be an individual with the right to vote?…to have the freedom to make a choice?…to have a right to speak one’s into the government? and to be a one individual piece in a system that makes up a whole nation?

Fuzz, Fuzz, Fuzz

First, let’s not forget that the entire concept of what it means to be an individual, and to have individual choice is what C.G. Jung called an archetype.

Jung defines archetypes, or the Imago Dei, in terms of the concept of the Platonic ideals or forms. In Volume 9 of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung (Archetypes Of Collective Unconsious), he writes of the term archetype:

“For our purposes this term is apposite and helpful, because it tells us that so far as the collective unconscious contents are concerned we are dealing with archaic or- I would say- primordial types, that is, with universal images that have existed since the remotest times.” Archetypes house the soul’s energy. And, there is a energy in the soul of humanity that calls to have its individual voice to be heard. The way that archetypal energy is played out in culture becomes the mythic/archetypal manifestation of that energy. All of these archetypal manifestations together make up a mythology…a mythic identity.

Many, MANY different archetypal images come together to shape these mythic identities, some more powerful and influential than others, and one might argue that this archetypal image of individualism is the definining aspect of America’s ideological identity. Who one votes for in terms of the office of the presidency has become the ultimate expression of American individualism.

I’m really not going to go into what these candidates/parties represent, as that is up for debate. I will say that Americans often grouse that elections change nothing, which in essence means that many Americans believe that their individual voice counts for nothing. This morning, at the pinnacle of America’s sacred moment of election, I heard someone say that either way, whoever wins, this will be a rough four years. This person truly believed that it doesn’t matter who wins the election, that one is as good as the next. Many Americans are convinced that their vote doesn’t count (either due to the electoral college or due to simple disinterest), or that the winning candidate (whoever that may be) does not represent them and therefore cannot speak for them–valid arguements, although perhaps short-sighted. It often makes us feel powerless, hopeless, and anxious.

Take heart! Candidates are not themselves the solutions Americans wish them to be. They are images upon which Americans project their mythic ideals. Sure, they may spend their time in office doing good work for America, but in reality it is not simply that good work that makes them elect-able, it is their ability to embody the ideals of the collective individual American.

The fusion of these ideals and a sense of individualism becomes tricky because we often forget that the key to the experience of archetypal individualism as practiced in America lies in the paradox that in order to be free, to have the individual’s voice heard, one must relinquish the right to exercise that freedom 100% of the time. It is paradox, and it is irony–truth that comes from the combination of two contradictions–that humanity is most free when limitations call for the balance of that individual freedom in service to the good of all. That is what makes our elections choices so complicated, and our choices often counter-intuitive. And in that context, it is, perhaps, the elction itself that makes us free, and not necessarily the results of it.

All this to say:

Please go vote! It is more than your civic duty, its the ultimate expression of your individualism! In doing so, you participate in the penultimate American archetypal experience.

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Filed under Depth Psychology, Myth

Fairy Tales and Disney…do we still believe?

I’m preempting my blog on “Big Fish” for a moment to give response to an article posted by my dear friend, and fellow mythologist/Disn-o-phile, Dr. Priscilla Hobbs-Penn.

http://www.uchicago.edu/features/20120611_fairy_tales/

This article came from the University of Chicago Magazine, a deeply respected academic institution, known for its prowess in the humanities–particularly in religious studies and anthropology. Generally, I respect them too, although I do find them guilty of the same kind of soulessness as the rest of the academy, which is especially egregious as in these fields the soul is THE THING.

This article is fascinating! I’d love to read Dr. Maggi’s book. It sounds to me that he has a lot of good insights (lest you think I’m bashing him before I’ve even considered his ideas). This article does, however, make something even clearer to me than it already was. I am becoming increasingly aware that many in the academy are completely out of touch with an authentic experience of mythology, not to mention humanity’s wider partipation with it. Arguing that an audience’s laugh at Snow White’s tittering response to Prince Charming’s entrance indicates that the stories no longer have resonance they once had just doesn’t add up for me.

Furthermore, suggesting that the fact that these are “made up stories” somehow belittles their archetypal essence doesn’t make sense to me either. All stories are made up stories. All stories reflect the time in which they were made. I will give Dr. Maggi that these stories NEED to be retold in a way that speaks to the now, but what we need is not exactly (and simply) a new mythology. I’m not even sure there is such a thing. What we need is a new authenticity. Joseph Campbell once said that he did not believe people were looking for the meaning of life, but rather they were looking for an experience of life. Fairy tales can offer one avenue into that experience.

The reason why these fairy tales stick with us is NOT because we feel some duty or responsibility to them. It is NOT because they are part of some cultural heritage that we cannot eject. The reason why they stick with us–why we continue to remake them and renew older versions of them–is because they allow the imagination to play. Fairy tales give us permission to leave the duldrums and anxieties of our world behind and simply engage with their magic. And Disney fairy tales, in particular, have no qualms about presenting stories by and for believers.

Believer: this seems like a dirty word these days. Particularly in the academy…forgive us if we believe in anything!!

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What we need are tales, a mythology in fact, that return the experience of myth and humanity’s old stories in a new way.

Example: ABC’s Once Upon a Time. This show irreverantly rips apart traditional Disney fairy tales and beyond (my favorite is Rumple killing Cinderella’s fairy godmother). Frankly, this show does capitalize on the Disney versions, and there have been plenty of times when I’ve been sitting there watching and thought to myself things like, “Really dudes? Really? A chipped teacup? That’s just pandering.” Beyond all of this is a show about believers and the magic that can occur when people work with and for each other.

Now, before you get all diss-y on me about this, let’s look at the numbers. In a time when reality TV dominates the small screen, this crazy show about fairy tale characters trapped in a curse has become ratings gold (pardon the pun) for ABC. It became 2011/12′s top rated ABC drama with an average of 11.8 million viewers! This year it topped that number, returning to a stunning 14.5 million viewers. This show has an incredibly devoted fanbase (My favorite being the new Captain Hook fans who call themselves “Hookers”. HAHAHA!).

Why is that? Is it because Americans feel linked to Disney versions of fairy tales? Not really, since this show has integrated all different kinds of fairy tale characters (many never touched by Disney) since day one. And, by the way, it intends to continue, suggesting that Oz might be next to arrive on the Once stage. Is it because the show is full of all kinds of interesting special effects? Well partly…some of the imagery is super cool. Is it because of the action? The romance? The pathos? What IS it?!!

I think it is because of the believers. At their core, fairy tales still need believers. As a wise woman, Dianne Wiest as Aunt Jet Owens once said in the wonderful film Practical Magic, “You can’t practice witchcraft while you look down your nose at it.”I often think that we are so busy trying to analyze mythology that we have forgotten how to experience mythology…how to believe in the magic…

Once Upon a Time does that, as Entertainment Weekly’s James Hibberd notes, “it is the most optimistic show on tv.” THAT optimism is central to Disney’s participation with fairy tales. As Prince Charming says, “Good can’t just lose, can it?” And that optimism is what humanity has come to love about Disney’s fairy tales. Because optimism is hope, and hope is in short supply these days. Disney sees Pandora’s world for all its damage, but they are also not afraid to practice what, at this point, I see as being the most radical act of optimism: belief in humanity and faith in love. Call me a Christian…that’s fine! I’ll take that one (seeing as how I am one), but redemption IS possible folks.

We need to rediscover our store of fairy dust.

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Filed under Disney/Pixar, Fairy Tales