Category Archives: Joseph Campbell

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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

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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

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

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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Filed under Disney/Pixar, Disneyland, Fairy Tales, Joseph Campbell, Myth, Walt Disney

The Death of the Academic Ivory Tower

December 21, 2012…this date has been the subject of all kinds of speculation regarding twisted interpretations of the Mayan calendar’s ending date. According to an interview with Mayan Elders posted on SERI’s (Subtle Energy Research Institute) website, the Mayan understanding of this time is not apocalyptic in the sense of linear history, but the renewing power of the coming of a new era. They suggest that what we are actually experiencing is the movement from a liminal space we have inhabited since the ending of the World of the Fourth Sun to the beginning of the World of the Fifth Sun.  Understood from their perspective, what is occuring is the opening of a cosmic channel that occurs only once every 26,000 years–the dissolution of the world as we know it, which has been in process for the past 25 odd years will have ended as the new is finally ushered into consciousness.

What does this mean for us? It means that there are many aspects of culture that are about to meet their demise. From the point of view of archetypal psychology, this newly opened cosmic channel is in the process bringing to light shadow aspects of our collective experience that 2012 offers an opportunity to dismember.

“The academy” will not be exempt from this period of change and dissolution. Specifically, within the context of the Humanities disciplines, the work of  the scholar has often been a haven for elitists who utlize the life of the mind as a platform to keep themselves alienated from larger humanity. Often called “The Ivory Tower,” this world  keeps important conversations and theoretical assertations safely ensconced away from those about whom these theories are often made. This is accomplished more effectively through attitude than through conscious design. A vicious cycle of shame and condescension keeps the free flow of useful ideas withdrawn from those outside the “tower.”

This “tower”, however, like many other structures is in the process of experiencing its own demise. The financial and social standings that once came with a higher graduate degree are beginning to unravel. More graduate students are completing degrees than ever before, utilizing such online platforms as University of Phoenix and National University. Masters degrees have become as common in this younger generation as Bachelors degrees were in the generation before. And yet, jobs are even more scarce and tenure practically unthinkable. In the context of a society that is becoming every more Spartan in its utlilitarianism, education is being stripped to the very basics necessary in order to find a job and fit like a good cog into the social machine. Where does the Humanities–by its very nature an undertaking intended to soothe the soul–fit into this kind of environment? I would suggest that the answer will become clear to us as we embrace the dissolution of our archaic notions of the “scholar”. We have an opportunity to be the actual soothing balm our culture needs during this process of dissolution, but that will require a willingness to set fire to our own “tower”. I suggest that this means defiantely reconsidering and perhaps dissolving our ideas of the kinds of topics that are considered scholarly, as well as our ways of engaging with these topics. While I am not suggesting that we sacrifice standards of excellence in research and quality of writing, I am suggesting that we reevaluate arbitrary paradigms, such as what Joseph Campbell called “high” and “pornographic” art. Contemporary societies have ignored the classic stories traditionally understood to be mythic. However, tragically, the importance of our popular stories, have also been dismissed, thereby stripping away an accepted outlet for for myth and ritual. In academic circles, where the ancient offerings of cultures past are perserved and appreciated, contemporary, popular myth and ritual making are often overlooked, or more commonly, ignored completely and dismissed. This presents a problem.  If we dismiss that which resonates with most of humanity, how then are we to connect with our soul(s), and futhermore, to orient ourselves in the context of planet Earth? These distinctions often keep us alienated in the “tower”, and bringing the life of the mind, the imagination, to a wider audience will help us become the cultural soothing balm that humanities scholars are intended to be.

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Filed under Depth Psychology, Joseph Campbell, Myth