Category Archives: Depth Psychology

Moana: A Call To Adventure. A Call for Healing.

moana-fallback_fde4d101

I just got back from seeing Moana. I am so blown away by the power and timeliness of this film that I find it difficult to put into words exactly what what I want to say about it. What can I say: I had tears rolling down my face for much of it. It speaks so deeply to what is crying out to be healed today. Two thumbs way up.

My Disney studies mythie partner in crime, Priscilla Hobbs. has already done a lovely discussion of Joseph Campbell’s theories related to this film. I completely agree with everything she said about it. This is Campbell’s hero’s journey through and through, and with Ron Clements and John Musker at the helm, it’s no surprise. You can read Priscilla’s take on it  — here.

moana

Here’s the story: Moana is the daughter of a chieftain, which technically makes her a princess, kinda, but already sets her up as a different kind of princess, much like Merida. She is in line to become the leader of her people, and again, much like Merida, her family expects her to assume a safe path set out in front of her. At first, she thinks she will take the place her family has set out for her. But she keeps hearing the call of the sea, and the stories of her grandmother beacon her further toward it.

As she assumes the role of leader, a natural disaster begins to develop. The coconut are failing and the fish have disappeared. The island is dying. The people look to their leader, Moana, who looks to her father. In his fear and desire to protect her, he suggests she continue with the conventional ways of doing things. Moana, frustrated, reaches out to her mother. She insists that her father just doesn’t understand her. Her mother replies that he does understand her because he WAS her. She tells Moana about a time when her father went on an adventure of his own and lost a friend in the process. He is afraid that he will lose her too.

Eventually, Moana reaches for an even deeper connection to her family’s woman wisdom. Her grandmother tells her the stories about the ancient chiefs and how they were voyagers. At one time, the people were in harmony with the ocean, and the gods continued to bless them with islands to explore. This all ended when Maui — the shapeshifter, the trickster — stole the heart from Te Fiti. This is a familiar story, much like Prometheus stealing fire to give to the humans in Greek myth. During this process, Maui encounters the lava monster Te Ka. He loses his fish hook, the source of his power and since then, the island of Te Fiti has been cursed.

Moana sets off on a quest to return the heart to Te Fiti, finding and befriending Maui in the process (BRILLIANTLY voiced by the legendary Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson).

The film’s themes are clear, and they are ones that Disney has explored in many and varied ways — ecological concerns have become central to Disney films. From live action movies such as Maleficent and The Jungle Book to Disney’s recent string of nature films, it’s become clear that Disney artists are deeply concerned about the state of our ecology. In fact, I’ve always understood the animal sidekicks of the Disney princesses as a reminder that humanity’s heart beats in time with the animal realm. I love that this film calls it out.

moana-trailer1-screen

About Maui: The trickster exists in every mythic tradition. Tricksters are complex and basically impossible to define, other than to say that they shape shift. They lie. They destroy things. The reverse human standards. They laugh (mostly at us). They piss us off. They also reveal things that have been buried and then the walk away, often leaving humanity to clean up their mess. Sure, tricksters are jerks, but they are also vital because they break things open that need to be broken and they often aid humanity in our search for knowledge. They insist that the gods share their wisdom with mortals. And they often suffer for it. Without tricksters, the quest for wisdom would never leave the shore.

It’s particularly important to note that Moana doesn’t have a villain in the traditional sense. There is no evil here, simply misunderstanding. Even the trickster isn’t evil, he is just sad, rejected, unloved, and a little misunderstood. And he isn’t just a trickster — he is also a warrior. That warrior part of him is thwarted by his role as a trickster.

Ultimately Moana, another incarnation of Disney’s archetypal maiden, steps forward in bravery, love and acceptance, heals the island, and saves her people. She helps both Maui and the lava monster remember who they are, and in doing so, she becomes a catalyst for healing. She returns balance to the ocean.

This film is a mythic respite of hope in a dark moment when American culture is overrun by the most destructive aspects of both the trickster archetype and the warrior. To me, it feels like a clear calling out of conventional images of masculinity — a come to Jesus moment if you will — as well as a calling out of patriarchal heroism. It reminds us that we can heal, if we want to, but to do that the gentlest among us need to rise up, take the trickster by the ear, and tell him that it’s time to journey across the mighty sea and return the heart he has stolen.

In some ways, Moana is a new kind of Disney heroine, but she is also one that is in line with who Disney heroines have always been — healers who love their families, their people, and especially their fathers. Young women of strength and power who listen to the voice of their elders and do what needs to be done. This film resonates with me a on a deep level. I love it. Thanks Disney!

Leave a comment

Filed under Depth Psychology, Disney/Pixar, Joseph Campbell, Movie Reviews, Walt Disney

On the Archetypal Significance of TV Epics and Ridiculously Embarrassing Celebrity Crushes

IMG_4996

Epic

I inclined 

To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin

Til Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind,

He said: I made the Iliad from such

A local row. Gods make their own importance.

-Patrick Kavanagh

Outlander season 2 is complete, and boy has it been a season for the ages. As this new droughtlander begins, I’m left feeling and thinking all the things. Thoughts are swirling like a whirlpool in my mind, buzzing like the stones at Craigh na Dun, making it nearly impossible to compose an articulate review at all, not to mention doing anything other than to continue to re-feel (perhaps to reveal?) everything this series is.

I’ve watched and re-watched the finale several times, re-watched half of season 1, and read countless reviews. I’ve been comforted and amused by some of the thoughts of other viewers about the strengths and the weaknesses of the season, particularly this one by the legendary and hilarious Connie Verzak. I’ve been annoyed by the critics, particularly the misogynistic ones. And, I’ve been in intuitive feeler space – a lot.

There’s much I could say about the choices the team made this year – a lot I could engage with on the topic, but most of it has been said already, and I’m not inclined to do so. It’s splitting hairs at this point anyway, and for me, doing so is not the most interesting way to engage with great art. Instead, I’ll say this to all parties involved: BRAVO! This series originates from some incredibly complex source material. The fact that Ron D. Moore, Maril Davis and crew were able to make something so coherent, so exquisitely compelling translate to screen is a task of Herculean magnitude. I salute this entire group of artists for what they have accomplished.

Outlander fans are legion, and we are passionate because the work simply is that  compelling. If you read regularly, you’ll know that I’ve already written about jumping on the #teamfraser wagon when it comes to my sense of the presence of overwhelming archetypal images in Outlander. I firmly believe that it’s a positive depiction of an aphroditic, erotic bond between these characters, written from a feminist perspective, that fans respond to when it comes to this this series. Frankly, we’ve had dry times in our media when it comes to depictions of love in this way, and I will defend it to the end against anyone who claims it to be “just a bodice ripper,” “mommy porn,” or a “just series for women” for several reasons, not the least of which is that 1). it is a patently unfair assessment, 2). there wasn’t all that much in terms of “bodice ripping” in season 2 anyway, and 3). that this attitude suggests that even if it were such a thing that would somehow make the work less important.

Now that that’s said – whew, I feel better – I need to talk about the archetypal importance of Outlander as an epic. I need to talk about the revival of the epic tradition on television, because epic is vital to our psychological health and like so many other mythic modalities is often diminished by a culture that overwhelms us with imagery while simultaneously offering us little in terms of both emotionally effective and affective content. You see, this is transcendent storytelling folks, and it is, in fact, authentically epic, not just colloquially so.

Epic is, of course, a literary term. It is generally defined as a long poem, most often from the ancient oral traditions, that crosses an extended period of time and space and recounts the legendary deeds of a hero or group of heroes. Epics are meant to be grand, poetic, engaging, and all encompassing. They are meant to swallow you broken and return you whole. Sound familiar? Good. We’ll get to that in a moment.

First, I am compelled to confess something to you, dear reader. I have been gripped more deeply by this entire series than by anything else I’ve ever encountered (while that might be a no DUH, I still need to say it). And that’s saying a lot. In my years as a student and scholar of mythology, I’ve engaged many stories in myriad ways. Indeed, I have engaged this series and for over a year now. I’ve been living and breathing it. I just can’t seem to put the story down, and I don’t foresee that I will do so any time in the near future. I keep re-reading and re-watching. And every time I do, it takes my breath away. The first time I encountered the penultimate climax chapter in Dragonfly in Amber, from the moment Dougal walks in as Claire and Jamie plot to kill the Stuart Prince to the agonizing moment when Claire hurls herself against the stone, I completely disappeared into the story. It blew my mind, and when I put it down, I realized that I’d not been breathing. It was as though at that moment I too had traveled back through the stones with Claire, back to my life in 21st century Southern California. The reality of it was jarring, disorientating, and frankly, somewhat frightening. That had simply never happened to me before.

The way this series affects me has become downright embarrassing. I recently attended a SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actor’s Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) event with my husband’s niece. She’s an actress and as a member of SAG-AFTRA, she received a notification email that there was going to be an evening with Caitriona Balfe. She immediately thought of me and got tickets. I was elated. I was compelled. I HAD to go.

This isn’t like me. I love stories and I’ve always been a film and TV buff, but I’m not usually quite THIS much of a fangirl. I live in an industry town. Santa Barbara has been a Hollywood ally/destination for as long Hollywood has existed. In fact, some of the earliest silent films were produced right here. It’s part of our culture in the same way it is in LA. I paraphrase what the late great Robin Williams once said about LA: it’s a place where the guy playing basketball next to you at the gym who looks like George Clooney actually IS George Clooney. Santa Barbarans are used to having celebrities around, and they don’t tend to faze us. I’ve been here for over 20 years and have gotten used to seeing people whose work in the entertainment community I admire. I thought I’d be fine. I believed I was unshakeable. I knew I would be excited, but I thought it would be an event like others I’d been to with celebrities. Super cool. I wanted to hear what she had to say. That’s it.

I decided to head down a day early to spend the night with my BFF, an amazing artist who lives in downtown LA’s The Brewery artist collective, and whom I had been desperately trying to convert to the fandom. She and I decided to make it an Outlander day. We drove to the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills to check out the exhibit they had running there and drool over the costumes. We wandered out for some coffee and we waited until it was time for me to meet up with my niece for the event. As we sat and talked, my friend began to recount her own recent experience at a SAG-AFTRA event. She mentioned that at the event she had attended, that several other cast members also showed. I found myself hoping that that wouldn’t be the case. As much as I love Sam Heughan as an actor and respect his work as an altruist, I intuited (correctly, as it turned out) that seeing him in person would be an experience I would not, at this juncture, be able to gracefully navigate.

Speaking of Sam, let’s just pause for a moment to say his name and breathe it in like a mantra.

Inhale Sam…

3410c0ffd3528308fee697ed95185f7c

Exhale Jamie…

13686558_984612338324446_3668450687711900954_n6d42d67238eebd748bfbd317af5f1f2a
Alright. Feel better? Good. Knew you would. Me too. So. Much. Better. 😀

Nope. I was totally fine just seeing Caitriona. Somehow I just KNEW that seeing the two of them together would constellate energy for me would come dangerously close to frying my psychological circuits – i.e. I likely would have fainted.

I could feel the excitement and nervousness welling up inside, an experience that only continued to strengthen as I met with my niece and stood in line for the event. It was the oddest sensation I’ve ever experienced, something between nervous joy and complete panic. The event itself was great. They screened an episode for us (season 2, episode 7, Faith) and then Caitriona came out to talk to us. It is a wonderful interview, mostly things I’ve heard her speak to in the past, but somehow hearing it in a room full of actors made the quality of the craft come alive in a more meaningful way.

814e76e99a53e4384180961f9e7fbe10

And this camera view is pretty much where I was. I sat quietly and listened, engaged and excited, – all the nods – and I remained relatively calm. The interview ended, and she left the room. As we all shuffled out the door, my niece and I decided to head down the hall to use the restroom. We talked about our impressions as we quietly went about our business, washing hands, brushing hair, the usual things one wishes to do before heading on the road home from an event. Then we walked out into the narrow hallway, and I ran face to face with her walking toward me with a group of event coordinators.

You’d think for a super fan such as myself, this would be the moment I would jump into action and tell her how glorious I find her work to be, but it didn’t happen like that at all. I froze. I can’t explain it other than to say that I felt an energetic glow coming off her the moment I saw her. I gasped (audibly) and didn’t move. She walked by and said hello to my niece and me with a smile, as she continued on her way down the hall. I was completely taken back by my reaction, and I also knew that it was both mythic and archetypal.

I was aware, completely and in that moment that my reaction had absolutely nothing to do with her on a physical level. As fabulous as she is, she was simply fulfilling a role that artists have fulfilled across time – that is to offer herself up as a channel and to be a catalyst for that transformational power that has traditionally been known as the mythic gods, what we often call archetypal images/energies in story.

I had, at that moment, experienced what depth psychologist James Hillman calls being arrested by beauty. Not her beauty, per se, though she is truly a lovely woman filled with luminous energy, but arrested by the beauty of the epic her presence evokes and invokes in me. This is why I’d hoped she would be on her own that day, because truly, just experiencing her part of this energy was enough to render me speechless. Having him there might have killed me. 😉

Artists intuit this archetypal power. We know it intimately. It’s why we do what we do. When we do our  best work, we give ourselves over to it so that through our art, others can also experience the power of creativity we channel. That level of engagement can be dangerous. Marilyn Monroe is a classic example. She became so identified with the archetypal energy she channeled that it completely destroyed her. Vivian Leigh is another example of someone who worked so closely with the unconscious that it ultimately destroyed her sanity.  Forest Whitaker has spoken honestly about it, noting that it took several months of purification through meditative practices for him to be able to rid himself of Idi Amin after his Oscar winning role in The Last King of Scotland. Yes, that level engagement can be dangerous, but it can also be the most powerful form of communication we have.

In her work on epic and cosmos, literary critic Louise Cowan writes that “…epic poets have to open their imaginations to an arena of sufficient scope that the gods may enter.”[i] I certainly felt the presence of this kind of mythic energy at SAG-AFTRA that day, and I know I’m not alone. There are many, many readers that have been captivated and transformed by this series of books since the first book was published – about 25 years ago when the two principal stars and me were preteens – too young to be aware that this epic that would prove so significant.

image1

Humanity has had many epics about war, the conquering of the foe, and the hero’s journey back to wholeness. In fact, it is generally believed that the entire reason for the Greek epic tradition was to heal a people and process the trauma of war. And we seem to continue to be in that moment, as the 2016 Emmy award nominations this morning reveal a shocking 23 nominations for the war epic Game of Thrones, but no nominations for the principal actors of Outlander.

Although war is certainly central to Outlander as well, what I’m left with is a firm belief that Outlander’s significance as an epic lives in what it reveals about the archetypal expression of passion, devotion, and creation. Our dominant cultural consciousness, seems to miss that epic has the ability to return all kinds of images to wholeness. In doing so, it call upon the concepts of what Plato calls the forms and the ideals, a mode of philosophical expression that this series does extremely well. It presents us with an ideal form of what is possible when partners invest their whole beings to the creative potentialities of relationship, and it tracks that investment across time and space with consistently powerful, fully formed characters, both masculine and feminine. By returning this story to the 18th century – the genesis of the enlightenment, it re-creates the modern western world for us, or least it offers a possibility for us to do so.

This is the psychological efficacy of epic. It allows our imaginations to breathe as we take an extensive and immersive journey with characters that reflects who we are and where we’ve been as a species. Epics create and order the world in long form. They give that process of creation attention, and they allow us to witness it. Television is uniquely positioned to offer a globalized version of this ancient mythic genre. It is impossible to over state the significance of this medium in creating global cultural identity and in regards to its ability to shape our attitudes about gender and relationship.

fe9b2ae74ad4ffcfb6a79f706916d885

It is of vital significance that epics like Outlander, a story about the way two whole, creative beings come together to make a new world, continue to have a central role in the myth making medium of television because this story of creativity is the power of Eros. We must make room in this process for this and other culturally subversive perspectives. Perhaps it is the life giving, feminist aspect of the story that balances it and makes it threatening to its detractors. Cowan writes, “the epic assumes that the sacred marriage of the two equal and complementary powers is possible and that in that wedding the whole world is renewed.”[ii] As far as I’m concerned, this is made clearer in Outlander than in any other offering of our contemporary image based forum for myth.

Ultimately, Outlander shows that sustaining the erotic charge not only creates life; it is life. Maybe we, like Claire and Jamie, are living in the last days of something, in our own 20 years of exile – of patriarchal purgatory before we will be able to reconnect and rebuild our cosmos in a way that truly values “rare women” and “loves them well.” But after this forced exile will come a chance for reconnection, a chance to value, cherish, and satisfy our rare women, heal the wounds and soothe the scars of our men, and in the end as a part of that process transcend gender all together to create something new. That WOULD be epic, would it not?

[i] The Epic Cosmos, 11.

[ii] IBID, 22.

4 Comments

Filed under Depth Psychology, Myth

The Beginning in the End. The End in the Beginning: Mad Men Drops Out and Sells Out. Spoilers Ahead!!!

Readers: I just realized I never finished this blog….so here it is. Please forgive the lateness of the hour in posting this.

don-mad-men-finale-hed-2015 mm-facebookJumbo

Last night was Mad Men‘s series finale. It was a bittersweet ending to a show that revived the 1960s for viewers, many of whom didn’t live through it the first time around (myself included). Though admittedly I didn’t watch the first few years, last summer I got hooked on the drama and binged watched my way through the whole series in less than a month.

Full disclosure: As a Gen Xer who was born in the year of the Star Wars IV (seven years after the show ends), I don’t have actual experience of this era. I am fully aware that from this position of hindsight any analysis I do of Mad Men is colored the fact that I can not look at this era without also linking the 20 year period that would come after. In other words, I can’t talk about the 60s without thinking about the 70s and 80s.

From my little mythie/depth psychological perspective, I’ve always understood Mad Men as a metaphor rather than simple history. The fact that it taps into the metaphorical realm of archetypes accounts for its great popularity. As with all other great epics, it speaks both to the story itself and its larger contemporary culture. Mad Men provides us with one of the great American “everyman” anti-heros, Don Draper, who I’ve previously written about as a metaphor for American ambition.

Through his relentless search for meaning, Don becomes an metaphor for what Jungians call the ego–ego being the psychological structure that forms one’s identity. The ego is what allows the psyche to have a sense of self. It holds the identity together, and interestingly enough, it is often both fragile and unshakably strong.

So what happens to Don’s ego to ambition and utopianism in end of Mad Men? Though earnest in his search for enlightenment, the enlightenment itself becomes a commodity. What happens to Don at the end of one of America’s most poignant, world-shaking, and prolific decades? He goes on pilgrimage to Esalen Institute. He breaks open. He sees his truth through another’s. He cries. He practices transcendental meditation.  And then he has a epiphany. The series leaves us with an image of him meditating as it then crosses over into a Coca Cola commercial, perhaps THE most iconic one ever.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Exf63KPXF6w

“It’s the real thing. What the world wants today. It’s the real thing…”

Many have questioned whether the creators of the show mean to suggest that Don created this iconic advertisement after returning from his time at Esalen. In the end, however, it really doesn’t matter whether they suggest that or not. What they are getting at is that there is the paradox that lies inextricably within American mythology; within the American experience/experiment. It’s the paradox inherent in the metaphor–that just as the American ego achieves a small moment of epiphany, an enlightenment, it channels that moment into selling something. In this case, that something  happens to be a carcinogenic, sugary addictive substance.

I’m just gonna leave that thought there for you all to drink in. Until next time readers!

Leave a comment

Filed under Depth Psychology, Myth

Off to the Highlands: Pixar’s Brave and the Allure of Scotland to the American Imagination

Hello dear readers!

Recently, I’ve begun reading the Outlander series (and watching it on TV–its epic…just go read/watch it). This has gotten my thoughts up again about notions of Scottish-ness in the American mythic imagination. The following are some musings that I gave as a paper at a Film and Myth conference in Milwaukee, Wi. back in 2012. It’s a long post. More of an essay than a blog proper. Enjoy!

brave-freedom-pixarsaltire3scottish_thistle_jmd_designsBrave-Concept-art-merida-20574884-720-318

Pixar continues to dazzle fans. They are experts in the ability to fuse technology with powerful story. This makes their presence in The Walt Disney Company key to this generation’s renewal of Disney myths. From the animation of America’s favorite toys, to our love affair with cars, Pixar reinterprets American identity from a point of view that is aware of both history and myth. Disney is, arguably, America’s most powerful and influential private sector myth-making enterprise. In the years since their 2006 merger with Disney, Pixar has become the most powerful purveyor of the mythic voice in The Walt Disney Company’s ethos.

Their films reveal—as all myths do—the complexes and collective archetypal base of a culture’s psyche. They craft identity, as folklorist Alan Dundes suggests, they tell stories of how things come to be. They are also specific. They equate a sense of belonging. They are the stories that people tell to say—these are the stories that belong to us. To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of the American mythopoetic process—played out in Disney/Pixar’s animated films—is an insistence that because of the diverse social and ethnic background of Americans, the world’s myths ARE America’s myths.

Typically, Pixar has shied away from an appropriation of myths and fairy tales from other cultures, preferring to keep their storytelling safely situated within a specifically American context. With few notable exceptions (Finding Nemo and Ratatouille for example), their fantasies are American fantasies—toys from American toy companies, uniquely American superheroes, a road trip down America’s “Main Street Highway,” and little girls chasing a place that is “like America, but south.” This stands in contrast to the films of The Walt Disney Animation Studio that has generally chosen to reinterpret myths, legends and, most notably, fairy tales from abroad. Pixar’s latest film Brave breaks this pattern. It traverses the fertile ground of Disney fairy tale with an original story, which I’d argue is loosely inspired by Robert San Souci’s Brave Margaret tale. It is set in medieval Scotland, a time a couple of centuries before the legendary and mythic era of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. As an animated film, Brave, is a caricature of myth. It is, however, also a fairy tale.

Although the debate over the primacy of myth over fairy tales is ongoing, I prefer to think of them as complimentary mediums that work in contrasting relationship to each other. In The Feminine in Fairy Tales, Jungian disciple Marie Louise von Franz suggests, “Fairy tales…migrate and cannot be linked up with a national collective consciousness. They rather contain a tremendous amount of compensatory material and usually contradict or compensate collective conscious ideas” (8). If myths are the stories that tell us who we are, fairy tales are the stories that tell us what in the unconscious unites humanity. Fairy tales are purely archetypal, which is why national identity is not central to the genre. Fairy tales are easily appropriated and re-told in any cultural milieu.

This might be why Americans are so quick to meld myth and fairy tale. American myths are often poly-cultural—a key feature of diasporic culture. This is also why it is difficult to define American mythology. This appropriation of fairy tale has created a style of storytelling that is comforting to Americans and mythically potent globally. Brave is an example of archetypal motifs explored through culturalized specificity. It is Scotland through American mythic fairy tale—a Scottish virgin goddess wrapped in an American princess story. The hows and whys of the American archetypal Scot is the focus of the following musings.

From Disney’s live action Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue to Randall Wallace’s screenplay for Braveheart, Scottish characters in American film often represent courage, dogged adherence to individual freedom, and the claim to one’s own fate or destiny. Scotland is a country from which many Americans claim heritage even if, perhaps, it is only an imagined or ideological heritage.

In America, myth-makers often develop their identity through a balance of ideology—land of the free and home of the Brave—and the creation of cultural/national inheritance rather than cultural/national history. Colonialists to the core, it is not simply land and power that we inhabit. Americans are also colonizers of stories. Ideologically speaking, American culture prizes the uniqueness of each perspective. It suggests that what unites us as Americans is our quest for liberty, and that liberty requires that the story of each “clans-member” be heard and respected. This notion of liberty requires Americans to adopt a certain amount of psychological malleability. It is an ideology that—in its best forms—opens the imagination to possibilities for every level of reinvention.

So why Scotland? Why the Scots? What has made this tiny country, which continues to be annexed by Britain and has landmass about the size of the state of Maine so integral to American identity? I would suggest that it is for two central reasons: first-a heritage of political ideology amenable to American myth, and the impact the thinkers of Scotland had on the American Revolution. Second is the cultural appropriation partnership between Scotland and America. The Scots seem to participate in the American appropriation of their mythic cultural heritage, and indeed they often relish the image of “Auld Scotland” and the rugged, indomitable Scot as inextricable from America’s mythic notions of autonomy, freedom, and heroism. It feeds into their sense of their own identity. These mythic images exist in a state of flux, and as well shall see, they provide a backdrop for the exploration of Disney/Pixar’s penultimate girl power princess—Merida, who may be understood as a reiteration of Disney/Pixar’s anima complex—an image of the divine feminine in a generally male dominated studio.

To begin with the historical roots of an American interpretation of the archetypal Scot, it would be safe to suggest that the Scottish people as an ethnic group are central to America’s ideological and political identity. In their book, The Scottish Invention of America: Democracy and Human Rights—The History of Liberty and Freedom from the Ancient Celts to the New Millenium, Alexander Leslie Klieforth and Robert John Munro note that the root of America’s political and ideological relationship with Scotland traces back to the Declaration of Arbroath Abby—signed in 1320—in which the leaders of Scotland issued their declaration of independence from England: “it is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honors that we are fighting, but for freedom—for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself” (5). This is ideological liberty and a genesis of civil rights in fourteenth century  over four hundred and fifty years before the American Declaration of Independence was conceived. Skip ahead about five hundred years, and the 18th century, saw many referring to Edinburgh as “the Athens of the North”. Scottish philosophy influenced thinkers such as John Locke and Thomas Paine, who in turn predicated the American Revolution.

In the American colonies, Scottish philosophy became so entwined with American patriotism that “King George allegedly called The American Revolution a ‘Presbyterian war’” (5), complicated though this relationship with the Scots happened to be.

The Scotch-Irish Intelligentsia: By the 19th century, the Scotch-Irish or Ulster-Scots represented an image of “Scottishness” which rose to such high prominence that in 1891 a speaker “declared that the synonym for the Scotch-Irish ‘race’ lay in the phrases ‘national freedom, general education, and sound scriptural faith’” (Scazs, 9). By April of 1954, The William and Mary Quarterly had an entire issue dedicated to the links between Scotland and America. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries the Scotch-Irish or Ulster-Scots remained a symbol American affluence.

So what is it that has allowed American filmmakers the narrative leeway to present medieval Scottish characters the way they are often presented today? How did America’s sense of Scottish identity turn from Scotch-Irish Presbyterians to Mel Gibson as William Wallace to Princess Merida and Queen Elinor? In contrast to history, myth allows for the presence of stories filled with sentiment, patriotism, nostalgia, and romance. American mythology in general and, Disney/Pixar storytelling in particular, tends to be deeply nostalgic—a term that is often used to argue against interpreting such stories as being mythic. The term “’nostalgia” comes from the Greek “nostos which means homecoming” and “algia which means severe pain, grief or distress.” Nostalgia as a homecoming of the mind is the crux of American myth. In his book simply titled Myth, Laurence Coupe suggests that it is our mythic expressions regarding home that carry the greatest potential for psychological healing. He writes, “Perhaps mythos, which has the power to release us from the limits of the given logos can restore us to oikos…” (214). In other words, stories have the power to release us from the limits of language and restore us to home.

To the extent that sentiment rules an unconscious drive for nostalgia, romance rules myth. This “romance” of Scottishness creates a longing for the re-creation of an archetypal Scotland of the mind. This romance begins in history, as it becomes a seminal aspect of the American myth of liberty. One might argue that this makes Hollywood—arguably the most potent maker of American myth—the natural choice for a continued dialectic between the mythic imagination and American cultural practices.

Enter what has been called “The Braveheart Effect.” In the last twenty years since Braveheart, practice has grown up around these notions of Scottishness. This includes American movements to reclaim clans-lands in Scotland, a revival of Highland Games/tartans, and perhaps the most powerful piece of the “Braveheart effect,” the image of the “warrior poet” This image has become a standard for masculinity among those engaged in contemporary Neo-Celtic culture.

In large part, it is because of these Hollywood images of that an interest in Neo-Pagan practice, a revival of a largely neglected tartan tradition, tattooing (common in ancient Celtic practice and forbidden for much of Christian history), an affection for the Thistle (Scotland’s national flower) and a revival of the tales of the “wee” folk, or the Scottish Will O’ The Wisps are all part of collective consciousness. The image of the highlander has eclipsed the image of the Scottish gentleman on the golf course, the seminarian, and perhaps even the rough and rugged Westward Ho pioneer.

Team DunBroch—In fact, while crafting Brave, Disney/Pixar participated so deeply in this romance of Scotland that it registered the tartans of the realm of DunBroch with the Scottish National Tartan Registry. By doing this, Brave speaks to the impact the “Braveheart effect” has on the concept of heritage building, creating a mirror image of Braveheart, which intentionally plays into the central Disney maxim for story: It’s gotta have heart.

On November 21, 2010, the Los Angeles Times posted an article suggesting that The Walt Disney Company was closing the book on fairy tales for the present (despite the widely popular Once Upon A Time television series—I’m not sure they are done). In other words, the big wigs at Disney are saying that they will leave Brave, and Merida as their last animated last word on the fairy tale princess until, as Ed Catmull, Pixar fellow and president of Disney Animation Studio suggests, the time comes to reinterpret them again. You may be thinking, yes, yes, this makes sense…but why another princess? And why the Scottish woman?

In August of 2011, I attended the Disney 23 Expo where Disney luminary, Don Hahn, gave a presentation on creativity and its psychological importance. In his presentation, he spoke about C.G. Jung’s concept of the archetypes as the genesis of what we create. He argued that Disney artists, like any artist, intuit and respond to changes in archetypal energies. Beyond any argument (true as it may be) that Disney/Pixar is riding the girl power/archer trend, it is also responding to a deeply felt shift in the feminine aspects of America’s collective psyche. The characters in Brave are part of this feminist shift within the studio, a shift in the anima complex.

The choice of Scotland and Scottish women as a zenith of Disney/Pixar’s animated word on fairy tale women makes sense in regards to a mythic fascination with the archetypal Celtic woman. “The Braveheart effect’s” intensely masculinized image of Scottishness casts the spirited Celtic woman in a supporting, albeit unforgettable role (think Jessica Lange in Rob Roy). This, however, is an unacceptable and inaccurate portrayal of the ancient Celtic woman. Klieforth and Munro remind us that most scholars of ancient Celtic culture agree that women had a remarkably egalitarian role in their society. They fought in battle, were equal to men, and maintained civil rights and property before, during, and after their marriages. Even Julius Caesar, (himself full of distain for the Celtic people) was impressed by the power of the Celtic woman. In contemporary American culture, the image of the Celtic woman often evokes the persona of a woman who refuses to sacrifice position, consequence, community, or heart. Merida and Elinor re-envision the archetypal Celtic woman: a feminine balance and a temper to the prevalence of “The Braveheart effect.” These images remind contemporary neo-Celtic culture devotees that the ancient world was a place where women were prevalent and goddesses were powerful.

Merida’s Brave Feminist Heart ALL stories in the canon of The Walt Disney Company ultimately speak to transformative nature of love and the importance of familial bonds, and Brave is no exception. Despite the gags and spectacular visual effects, Brave is fundamentally the story of a virgin princess who celebrates her own power and comes to learn to balance it. So, who IS Merida? She is an adolescent woman feeling the ennui of being oppressed by an insistence that she become the kind of princess her mother expects her to be. She shuns the idea of marriage, insisting that she has the power to shoot for her own hand as she desperately seeks to maintain her own identity.

The oppression she feels from her mother is made ever more acute by the ineffectual, good-natured barbarism of her father, and the stupidity of the men in power around her—again mirroring the world of Braveheart. She rebels, spouting rhetoric that could have come directly from William Wallace himself, and in her effort to change her mother; she unwittingly sets out on a quest to change herself and all those around her. However, in order to fulfill her desire, she must, like the virgin goddesses of the ancient world, withdraw to wildness of the forest.

This virgin archetype, as explored in Brave, evokes the presence of the Greek archer/bear goddess Artemis and the Celtic bear/warrior goddess Artio. Pixar conflate the two—a fact clearly indicated by the original name of Brenda Chapman’s screenplay for Brave, which was The Bear and the Bow. Toby D. Griffen, professor of German at Southern Illinois University, suggests that a connection between these two may be possible, as they share an etymological origin over 6000 years old, which is further suggests is the root of this names that later became Celtic Goddess Artio, Roman Goddess Diana and the Greek Goddess Artemis. Merida draws from this ancient well, in which the virgin goddess represents independence, ferocity and nature’s balance.

Artemis

ArtemisAnother Brave

Greek myth heralds Artemis as an archer, the goddess of the hunt, and twin sister of the god Apollo. She is the daughter of the sky-god Zeus and a mortal woman, Leto. According to the myth, by the age of three Artemis had already asked her father to allow her to remain a virgin. Like Zeus, Merida’s father, King Fergus, takes pride in her skill as an archer. Also, like Artemis, Merida prizes her freedom and individuality among all else. In Pagan Meditations: The Worlds of Aphrodite, Artemis and Hestia, depth psychologist Ginette Paris suggest that one who wishes to honor Artemis must accept that they may “neither see nor possess her; there is a core in the mysteries of untouched nature and of femininity that must remain virgin…the girl, the virgin, the Amazon, the archer—untamable and undomesticable primitive femininity” (115).

In her retreat to the safety of the Artemesian wild, Merida entreats the help of an archetypal fairy tale witch, as she carelessly plots to change her mother—though unaware what that change will entail. Beyond her abilities as an archer, it is Merida’s “indomesticable” spirit—her ferocity and her fearlessness—that connect her to Artemis. But in a twist on the myths of Artemis, Merida’s transformation, her loyalty and protection for her mother even after she is responsible for transforming her into a bear teaches her that her actions effect more than herself. This is accomplished by use of a fairy tale embedded in the narrative.

Artio

artio Brave-Fan-art-brave-30035423-500-666

By contrast, the ancient Celtic goddess Artio is also depicted as being connected to the bear. She is a bear totem first and an archer second. There is nothing fiercer in nature than a mother bear protecting her cub. Furthermore, fewer animals hibernate in such an intensely unique way as the bear. The bear goddess protects nature’s balance. She offers a sense that this balance does not require the hand of humanity to sustain it. In Brave, queen Elinor becomes an unwitting image of the bear goddess. Her transformation awakens her primal need to protect her daughter—to give her the unfettered space she deserves. As a bear, she begins to understand Merida’s Artemisian nature, as the highly cultured Elinor begins to lose her human self in her animal self. Merida, the archer with the wild ginger hair is clearly influenced by Artemis, and her mother, queen Elinor, is a symbol of control and duty.

Their relationship is a fascinating twist on the archetype of the Disney princess and on virgin goddess mythology. The early Disney princesses were almost passively communal—Snow White and the dwarves, Sleeping Beauty and the fairies, etc…Since Beauty and the Beast’s Belle, however, this archetypal image has changed dramatically. In preparing for this presentation, I read many reviews of this film. Several reviewers (even Ebert) suggest that Merida is too boyish for a Disney/Pixar princess. Some also suggest that she is, perhaps, a template for new lesbian princess. These critiques, while interesting, effortlessly miss the point of the archetypal images explored in Brave. In dwelling on cultural gender roles and Merida’s sexuality, one misses the archetypal power of Merida’s virginity—that is, a woman who belongs only to herself, and is not a pawn in the sexual games of men. That is, women in relationship to each other, and to the balance of the feminine and the masculine within them both. This film presents Merida as an antithesis to this traditional passivity. In choosing to transform Elinor into the bear, Disney/Pixar reinterprets the nurturing balance of nature as the companion of the virgin, rather than the virgin herself.

In order to break the spell that has turned her mother into a bear, Merida and Elinor must, “mend the bond torn by pride,” an epitaph given to them by the witch. MEND seems to be the focus of this piece. Julie Fowlis’ song, Into the Open Air gets at this message of mending. It plays while Merida and her mother are on their quest to break the spell. “I try to speak to you everyday but each word we spoke, the wind blew away. Could these walls come crumbling down? I want to feel my feet on the ground. And leave behind this prison we share. Step into the open air.” As they begin to listen to each other, they begin to break the spell.

This is consistent with Disney/Pixar’s overarching mythic message. As Douglas Brode suggests in his book, From Walt to Woodstock: How Disney Created Counterculture, “America, in Disney’s broad view, is not liberal or conservative, progressive or traditional, Democrat or Republican. The genius of the system resided in a symbiotic relationship of each complementary opposition–an ever-shifting balance between rugged individualism and commitment to community.” The women in Brave suggest that perhaps the American archetype of Scottishness has become TOO insistently individualistic, too obsessively masculinized. Perhaps Pixar is responding to a cultural need for community building as opposed to rugged-individualism or factionalism. Perhaps it responds to an American weariness with an individualism that precludes community. Either way, this film suggests that balance IS American, Feminist, and EMPOWERING. And perhaps Pixar, whose culture is notably cooperative, is uniquely suited to this type of narrative.

Ultimately, Brave is a love song to the wild, virgin goddess’s role in psychological balance. It advocates that she be respected. However, because it is a Disney/Pixar story, it also advocates for the importance of community and companionship. Brave suggests that dependence and independence are not mutually exclusive, and that weaving these together might require the touch of particularly clan-orientated archetypal women. This is why Scotland…why the Scot…why the Celtic woman. It is precisely because of the American associations with neo-Celticism and the archetypal freedom fighting Scot that this story is possible, and that it is effective.

Leave a comment

Filed under Depth Psychology, Disney/Pixar, Essays, Fairy Tales, Movie Reviews, Walt Disney

50 Shades of Shadow

fifty_shades_wallpaper_by_july58-d581glq

Heads up, dear readers. I will soon write a commentary of 50 Shades of Grey. I’ve been resisting it forever. I’ve been told over and over not to read it…that it would kill my brain cells…so I have. HOWEVER, it’s been bothering me. The worldwide phenomena that this series has become has been bothering me…what it is saying about humanity has been bothering me, and (finally) yesterday I figured out what it is mythically that is going on and that bugs me so much. So, rather than make you wait for however long it takes me to finally read the books, research the topic, and write, I thought I’d pass along the epiphany I had.

What caught my mind yesterday as the torrent of Jezebel, MoviePilot, and The Christian Left articles entered my view from left and right on Facebook is that in many ways, 50 Shades is simply a new iteration of the Beauty and the Beast motif. Boiled down to its most basic archetypal ingredients, Beauty and the Beast is about the beautiful aspects of feminine humanity coming to love and nurture what is dark, ugly and in shadow, particularly, what is shadow in the animalistic nature of humanity.

Some of the earliest versions of the motifs of the myths relate this to the archetypes of love (eros) and the soul (psyche), a perfect example of which would be Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, in which he gives the story of Eros and Psyche itself…a tale of love’s affair with the soul that eventually elevates humanity into the realm of the immortals.

Here’s the short version: Psyche is married to Eros as a sacrifice because her the idolatrous worship of her beauty has become an affront of Aphrodite. Psyche has no knowledge of who/what she married (as he always visits her in the dark of night), but finds her husband loving, attentive, and well, hot in bed. In their disbelief and jealously, her sisters convince her that she must find out. So, she visits his chamber at night with a lamp. As she gazes over him, marveling at his beauty, she drips oil out of her lamp onto his shoulder and burns him and his wings. Eros wakes immediately and flies home to Aphrodite, who nurses her wounds. Psyche is heartbroken. How can she return to her god of a husband, as she is only a human being? Aphrodite steps in for the sake of her son (who is also heartbroken), devising a series of labors for psyche (one of which includes a trip to visit Persephone in the underworld-the queen of death). Psyche completes them all and is elevated to Olympus…to immortal status–THIS is the story that Beauty and the Beast grows from. Archetypally, we are talking about the interplay of two central archetypes: love and soul. It is a story about how the relationship between the two develops.

reasons-why-fifty-shades-of-gray-should-shatter-expectations-and-rake-in-over-100-million-this-weekend

In contrast to this stands the story of Hades and Persephone, one of a young girl, still in the maidenhood of her development who, while picking a flower one day–a narcissus flower, which is definitely significant as far as self reflection and refusal to move out of maidenhood goes–is dragged down into the underworld and forced (essentially by her father) to marry the Lord of Death, (and her uncle, BAH) Hades. Now, much has been made of the importance of Persephone’s development out of maidenhood, so there is some value to that. The union with Hades forces Persephone to go deeper into the realms of what Jungians would call the unconscious than she ever would on her own, and in fact, some might suggest that without being snatched by Hades, she’s not likely to ever had made the trip at all. Furthermore, there are some details in the myth that support the idea that at least part of Persephone is pleased with the results of her union with Hades. Some might suggest that this is what is going on with 50 Shades…but this is “Western” culture. We are at complete odds with our shadow (the dark, unknown aspects of our soul). And the unconscious aspects of our sexual shadow, particularly female sexuality which has been relegated to the darkest realm of shadow, is millennia long. It seems to me that what is actually going on here is a manifestation of the Jungian shadow in a way that is particularly and insidiously dangerous and difficult to see.

1D274906429135-x_tdy_fifty_shades_trailer_140724.blocks_desktop_large

Many moons ago, I had a class with Dr. Ginette Paris at PGI–seriously, if you don’t know her, google her and read her stuff. She’s faboo. I really can’t remember what class it was, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that she said something that stuck in my mind, and continues to make poignant suggestions to me from time to time. Ginette said (wait for it, and I’m paraphrasing…) that TRAGEDY IS A MISALIGNMENT OF ARCHETYPES AT AN INAPPROPRIATE TIME. For example, a story about motherhood can be tragic, if the woman giving birth is still in the maiden stage, completely uninterested in and unprepared for becoming a mother. Make sense?

Ok, so bear with me here. It occurred to me that this is exactly what is going on with 50 Shades. This story, in all of its badly written, mommy porn Twilight fan-fic-ness, is being presented to us as a story that taps the archetypes of love and the soul, when in reality, it is tapping (hehehe–sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun) the archetypes of maidenhood and death. Let me say that another way: 50 Shades of Grey sells itself to be a re-telling of the myth of Eros and Psyche, but what it is is the shadow aspects of the myth of Hades and Persephone. And that is what makes it so dangerous. It isn’t that the story itself is tragic on its own, but that the storyteller is giving us the wrong names for the archetypes, and in doing so, she evokes a different story than what the archetypes constellate. It’s not a love story people. There’s nothing authentic of the Aphroditic and Erotic here (Irish hottie Jamie Dornan notwithstanding). But it is sold as if there is. So there you go: my epiphany. Stay tuned readers. I’m on the case to prove this (and possibly write a journal article in the process). In the meantime, Happy Valentine’s Day y’all. Now go find some authentic erotic experience. It’s a good thing.

1 Comment

Filed under Depth Psychology, Just Life, Movie Reviews, Myth

The Disney Princesses: Women of Faith, Loving Kindness, and Community

princesschar5

“Where there is kindness, there is goodness. Where there is goodness, there is magic.” –Cinderella’s mother qtd in the forthcoming live action “Cinderella” film (2014)

Confession: I love fairy tales in general and Disney fairy tales in particular. My adoration of the Disney princesses is legendary within my social circle. My husband still claims that the fastest he has ever seen me run is after Belle in Fantasyland one night when I was searching for an autograph. I love them. And, I’m very protective of them.

There’s something that has been sticking in my craw for a while now–the general critique of the Disney princesses as antifeminist. It’s been bugging me for so long that I’ve spoken about it in public a couple of times. Some time back, I gave a talk about the Disney princesses and the Jungian anima complex at the Popular Culture’s Association. The thesis was/is that Disney princesses reflect for the Disney studio what Jung suggested was a male projection of femininity. And since the studio (not to mention the animators) has, like the rest of Hollywood, been largely male throughout its history…well, enough said.

Personally, I find Jung’s gendered language both limiting and obnoxious. I feel that in continuing to align these concepts with biological gender only, we in the depth psychological, mythological, literary, and film studies communities continue to reinforce the status quo of all kinds of gender inequality. I do however, agree with his concept of the anima–the idea that there is feminine archetypal energy in our psychological reality, as well as a myriad of feminine archetypal images, all neither entirely positive or negative. I just happen to think that biological gender assignment has nothing to do with how one experiences them per se.

In 2012, I gave a paper on Merida at a Film and Myth conference on Milwaukee. In it, I suggested that Brave was an American feminist response to the over-masculinized and over-militarized myths of American mythic Scotland. Again, the paper focused on the concept of the feminine as more than biological gender…the idea that there is something about inherently feminine qualities, feminine energy in relationship that is lacking and necessary in our culture.

Now, to the princesses in general. Much has been made of them in their presentation of body image, their insanely perfect hair, and their focus on romance and marriage. I’ve heard the princesses criticized as cogs in the marketing machines whose entire purpose is to create “bling girls” so distracted by stuff they want to acquire that they don’t think critically. While I agree that there is some truth in that, I’ll leave those discussions to friends who are inclined to have them. Instead, I’d like to talk about the kind of positive mytho-psychic impact the Disney princesses have. In order to do that, I suggest that we disentangle these archetypal images from gender, and see them as messages from the archetypal feminine.

Disney princesses are often criticized for being weak and without volition. How can that be true? In every Disney princess tale, the actions of the princesses bring healing to their community. Sometimes they bring it through fighting–Mulan and Merida–and sometimes they bring it through their ability to be a catalyst for change–Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora. Again, why would one interpret them as weak and without volition? Is it because we see the stories where the princess herself is a catalyst as a sign of weakness? Is this assertion of weakness perhaps because we’ve learned to equate gentleness and kindness with powerlessness? Maybe?

Disney princesses are not shallow, vapid, helpless women who spend all day singing in the forest and looking for a prince. They are brave and tenacious. And none of them act alone. Animals, dragons, trees, good fairies, brothers, people enchanted into household objects, the world–all of the communities that surround the princess are helpers that one might miss if one was not paying attention or did not have the sensitivity to see them. These stories are not about conquering. They are about finding love and meaning in the world.

Let’s look at a list:

Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora–they reconnect with humans and animals, offering their creature friends safety, a human who sees them as sentient beings rather than commodities to be harnessed.

Ariel, Belle, Pocahontas, Mulan, Merida–among other things are literal saviors who are willing to fight and even die if necessary for those they love.

Rapunzel and Tiana–refuse to give up on their dreams.

Each of these characters sacrifice aspects of their own autonomy because they love, whether it is their kingdom, their families, their animal friends, their dreams, or a man. Why do we fear vulnerability so much? Is it because we fear the pain of it being unreciprocated? Perhaps. Perhaps we fear losing own power. Perhaps we criticize these characters in the wake of a culture of misogyny. Perhaps we are simply rebel against a media onslaught of imagery that lacks texture. Perhaps we simply resent what we perceive to be a lack of options for female characters. These are all fair. But these characters only become problematic to the extent that they are presented as the only option for female characters. And doesn’t this lack of options also happen to male characters as well?

True vulnerability is powerful. It can be a strength. Only through being willing to give up some of our control can we know what it is to love and connect with ourselves and others around us. Rather than to simply dismiss the Disney princesses (and remember I’m not suggesting we be uncritical of them), why not seek to also present them as a soft facet of feminine archetypal imagery? Why not make it ok for human beings to be vulnerable–period. If we think in these terms, perhaps we will begin to understand why these types of images are essential to humanity’s ability to love and empathize. Because truly, do we really want to risk missing the gentle beauty of goodness, kindness, and magic?

1 Comment

Filed under Depth Psychology, Disney/Pixar, Fairy Tales, Myth

Maleficent: Disney’s Era of Feminist Apologetics **Warning: Spoilers Ahead**

Image

Disney’s recent re-mythologizing of their classic fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty (1959), has much to commend it. It is beautiful to look at, the story is convincingly told, and, in my opinion, Angelina Jolie was just born to play this role.

Maleficent: What did I love about it? Mythically, that is…

Visuals: As I said, it was stunning. The costumes were lovely. It film’s aesthetic is a contemporary homage to the original Disney classic with its medieval look. I found the characters in the fairy land to be quite Jim Henson-y, which I love. It felt like a reunion of the cast of Labyrinth, and I totally want Aurora’s room in King Stefan’s castle.

Witch and Mother: I agree with the bloggers who have argued that this is a positive image of the witch and the mother. Maleficent is powerful, yet tender as a godmother to Aurora. I always love when they show the power of a mother’s love. In this version, Maleficent’s magical abilities are not the source of her evil, as is often the case in stories with witchy women. Her magic, until her violation that is, is shown as a gift that makes her protective, kind, connected, and strong.

Eco-Message: My first response to the film was: I get it…I get it…Mother Earth=good. Patriarchy=bad. Living in sustainability=good. Unchecked ambition and greed that leads to violence against the earth=bad. The eco-message is presented in connection to violation (some say rape) imagery. When King Stefan steals Maleficent’s wings, he violates her innocence. He drugs her while she is vulnerable in her love and protection of him. The trauma damages her ability to trust. It fills her with sadness and rage. I get that. As a metaphor for industry and ambition’s destructive relationship to the earth–perfect.

There are some things you just can’t take back: At one point during the story, Maleficent decides that she no longer wants Aurora to be cursed. When that happens she attempts to reverse the curse. But she can’t. There are some acts that cannot be redeemed…some choices that cannot be unmade. Good job Disney!

Love transforms/heals: I swear I’ve preached this so much that I’m blue in the face, but this is the central thrust of Disney’s cinematic myth. once again, they nail it.

Now about Disney and their contemporary Fairy Tales:

The archetypal nature of fairy tale is all over the screen. Really, it always has been with Disney. But this film in particular virtually screams von Franz, Campbell, and Jung, perhaps because it is, in fact, influenced by their work. In 2013, executive producer of Maleficent, Don Hahn, spoke about Jung’s concepts of the archetypes, of shadow and light at the D23 Expo. He talked about how archetypal energies move in the souls of people when they create and about how genuinely connecting with those energies and allowing them to transform your work is the path to true creativity.

I know. I was there. And I was floored. When asked, he admitted that although they are interested in Jungian theory, they are not experts in it. He also admitted that they do their best to explore it in their films.

During this meeting, it became clear that this newer crop of artists at Disney are deeply aware of the social, cultural, and psychological impact of their stories. They have read fairy tale theory. They are also concerned about their role in the production of their images. Furthermore, they are aware of the way they are criticized in the academy. They know that there are entire departments of feminist studies, fairy tale, sociology, and cultural anthropology scholars who are critical of their fairy tales. And, I can tell you with absolute certainty that they know that many find their older versions of Maleficent and Aurora mortally problematic. Personally, I don’t, because I understand that all characters are imperfect archetypal facets of their moment in time. I do, however, understand why people would, and I respect those perspectives.

Disney has been working to re-imagineer the embattled image of the Disney princess since their creation of Ariel in The Little Mermaid (1989). And they have been successful in many ways. Furthermore, their villains have become more textured, more understandable, less “pure evil.” But lately, I’ve been feeling like Disney has moved from character development into the field of apologetics–a field of philosophical theory that literally means “in defense of.” Simply put, this means that as they create their stories, they do so with conscious attempt to defend their myth, as if the older versions somehow require defending.

Here’s where it gets murky for me:

In their effort to redeem Maleficent and re-vision female relationships, I feel that they made one misstep.

THEY MISUNDERSTOOD AND MISUSED CONTEMPORARY FEMINISM BY GIVING US NO REAL POSITIVE IMAGES OF GENDER INCLUSIVITY.

If, in fact as I am pretty much sure they are, Disney is telling a story about how a true connection with the light aspects of the soul’s feminine energy/the anima (the archetypal maiden, Aurora) through love can be healing, that is great. Another story about women and daughters is great. A story about the redemption of one’s innocence…one’s ability to love and trust again in the face of trauma…GREAT! In their quest for the redemption of their feminist imagery, however, they gave us negative or underdeveloped images of males, and that bugs me.

The first romantic relationship–Maleficent and Stefan–ends in violence and betrayal. The second romantic relationship–Aurora and Phillip–has no true power. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with the way Stefan was portrayed. The destructive nature of male violence (especially in light of the recent tragic events near my home here at UCSB) bears repeating.

Where I feel they fell short, however, is bringing Phillip into the picture. Because Phillip’s role in the earlier tale is SO central, his short changed presence in the film makes it feel like the take-away message of this film is “forget true love in a romantic relationship with a man. He’ll only betray you, violate you, or stand there like an ineffectual doofus while you languish in eternal slumber.”  That is wrong. Romantic relationships can be a source of deep connection between people. They can be beautiful. In my opinion, this film’s treatment of sexual love is just as damaging as the original, because it swings the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. It is not helpful to make the archetypal charming prince into a clown. He too has important archetypal energy that should be respected and explored. What we need is true connection between characters, not cardboard cut-outs used as place holders.

The one positive image of a male character is Maleficent’s crow slave Diaval. He is the conscience of the piece, but he is shown as subserviant…not at all the kind of gender equality and inclusivity that the current feminist milieu would like to cultivate.

Disney: if you want to do apologetics, that is fine. Give us your stories about women in relationship. Make those female characters powerful, tough, and smart as well as beautiful. Show us how beauty and love heal. Remind us that greed breeds violence. Those are all great things to tell us. But don’t give us shallow images of male characters like this new Prince Phillip. Because he isn’t what this story is about. And that is ok. Just leave him out completely. Cause if you DO decide to put him in, I’m going to demand that you develop him as more than a simple trope.

Lastly, in spite of all this, I still really enjoyed it. I give it a A for effort and a B+ for success.

EPILOGUE: My dear friend (and Disney scholar guru) Amy Davis made a point that is salient to the above. I wanted to share it. She read Phillip’s relationship with Aurora as too young to be considered “true love.” How could it be true love if they only just met. However, she said, his presence on stage at the end suggested that the relationship was yet to develop. I agree with that. And I’ll admit that I considered that possibility. Good point Dr. Davis! I guess I just wanted a bit more development in him to be able to truly call him a positive male image.

And one more last thing: Several people have written reviews about the film from a feminst perspective. As gender studies is an interest but not an obsession of mine, I will leave it to them to say these things. Check these out.

http://www.avclub.com/review/maleficent-only-half-commits-subverting-disney-fai-205174

http://theweek.com/article/index/262679/girls-on-film-maleficent-is-less-progressive-than-1959s-sleeping-beauty#axzz33zRe3w2C

5 Comments

Filed under Depth Psychology, Disney/Pixar, Fairy Tales, Joseph Campbell