Naomusings

My musings on the mainstream media and culture.

Archive for the category “Film”

Make the Pridelands Great Again: How Scar Overthrew the Kingdom By Mobilizing the Hyenas

antelope.png

Hey, antelope comrade, the system is rigged.

 

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom called the Pridelands, which was ruled by an elite group of lions. The lions, who represented a fraction of one percent of the kingdom’s population, controlled about 40 percent of the resources in the kingdom. They also frequently ate members of the middle class, like antelopes and elephants. This didn’t sit well with Simba, the bright young heir to the throne, so he asked his father King Mufasa why this seemingly oppressive practice was acceptable.

“It’s okay, Simba,” explained Mufasa. “It’s all part of the Circle of Life.”

“The Circle of Life?”

“Yes, son. You see, it may seem unfair. But when we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life. So, you see, Simba,” said Mufasa, “all lives matter.”

Simba was still skeptical. “But Dad,” he asked, “there are so many more of them than us. Why don’t they rise up and overthrow their oppressors?”

Mufasa laughed heartily. “You’re so funny, son!” he exclaimed. “Come, let’s go practice your pouncing skills on our humble and terrified servant Zazu.”

But there was one member of the lion elite who wasn’t so happy with the Circle of Life. That was Scar, the king’s brother. Scar was socially awkward and kind of funny-looking, so the other elite lions scoffed at him. And things were getting worse for Scar, because these days, the female lions were finally getting more power. There was talk of a young lioness named Nala becoming the leader someday, which enraged Scar, because his position in the lion patriarchy was the only thing that kept him feeling superior. On top of that, Nala wasn’t even a 10!

Unfortunately for the other lions — and for the kingdom as a whole — Scar was a sociopathic narcissist, so he devised a plan.  He started hanging out with the hyenas, who lived in an elephant graveyard that once housed manufacturing plants.  The jobs had moved to other lands, though, and the hyenas were poor, desperate, and despised by the rest of the Pridelands. In fact, disdain of the hyenas was one of the things that kept the middle class antelopes and elephants from overthrowing the lions, as they were easy scapegoats. “It’s the fault of those hyena scavengers!” cried the lions when resources were scarce, and the middle class animals believed them — and felt better about themselves because at least they weren’t as lowly as the hyenas.

Scar started holding rallies in the hyena lands. “If you help me become king,” he declared, “I’ll bring jobs back! Stick with me, and you’ll never go hungry again!”

“Hooray!” cried the hyenas.

“The lions want to make Nala the queen,” said Scar. “She’s the one responsible for the loss of your jobs because of trade deals she made with other lands.”

“Eat her up!” cried the hyenas.

“Ah,” said Scar below his breath, “I love the uneducated.”

So, with the help of the hyenas, Scar killed Mufasa and sent Simba into exile, and Nala returned to her inferior place in the patriarchal system. Unfortunately, Scar had no government experience or diplomatic skills, so the kingdom eroded into disarray. Of course, he abandoned his promises to the hyenas, who were as hungry and despised as ever.

We know how this story is supposed to end. Simba returns to the Pridelands and takes his “rightful” place as the king. Nala becomes his queen, and someday, she or another elite lioness might be the leader of the Pridelands.  The hyenas rebel against Scar and kill him, but after he takes over, Simba doesn’t provide anything better for them. The Circle of Life continues, and the elephants and antelopes continue to be dinner.

But maybe there’s an alternate ending. Maybe the antelopes will have some meetings, and start saying, “Hey! The system is rigged, and it’s the lions who are doing the rigging!” Maybe they’ll demand real change from the so-called Circle of Life. And maybe they’ll realize the hyenas are allies, not scapegoats, and maybe they’ll work side by side to create a truly democratic and egalitarian Pridelands.

Maybe. Or more than likely, the antelopes will go back to reality TV, Facebook, and other forms of Hakuna Matata. But maybe, just maybe, the antelopes and the hyenas will have their day.

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Stereotypes: Where’s the Line Between Offensive and Multicultural?

Cam Tucker and his daughter Lily from Modern Family

Cam Tucker and his daughter Lily from Modern Family

So when it comes to media representations, where’s the line between (a) humorous glimpses into a multicultural world and (b) offensive, hateful generalizations about marginalized groups? Can humor about a marginalized group actually be a healthy way of promoting diversity?

An offensive, stereotypical  "pickaninny" image of black children, popular in early 20th century ads.

An offensive, stereotypical “picaninny” image of a black child, popular in early 20th century ads.

Clearly, stereotypes can be dangerous because at their worst, they provide “evidence” that a marginalized group of people is inferior, therefore justifying the marginalization. In Nazi Germany, stereotypes about Jews were used as justification for discrimination and eventually for concentration camps. In the United States, D.W. Griffith’s 1915 epic silent film (and Ku Klux Klan propaganda piece) Birth of a Nation promoted stereotypes than African-American men were dangerous, corrupt rapists and thieves. These attitudes fueled the “need” for Jim Crow laws and other forms of racial discrimination.

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Embracing My Inner Eponine

cossette

Dan and I spent New Year’s Eve watching Les Miserables. I saw it on Broadway 23 years ago, in the cheap seats during my sophomore year of college.

As an insecure 19-year-old, what resonated most for me at the time was the story of Eponine. Perchance you haven’t seen Les Mis, it goes like this: Eponine loves Marius, but he just thinks of her as a friend. Then he catches a glimpse of Cosette, the heroine who represents all that is good and pure in this truly dark narrative.  He instantly falls in love. Eponine joins the rebel group and dies saving Marius’ life. He is grateful for a brief moment. Then a bunch of other stuff happens and he marries Cosette.

Despite liberal doses of feminism at an early age, my greatest fear in the world — to be painfully blunt —  was that I would never find a life partner.  My 19-year-old world seemed full of Cosettes who were far more beautiful and thin and fabulous than me, and they all seemed to have boyfriends who would never even notice a lowly Eponine like myself.  I wanted nothing more than to be Cosette.

Then, twenty-three years later, I watched the movie version with my husband.  And I noticed something very quickly.

Cosette is lame.

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Lincoln, Civility, and Reality TV

cspanWould we be better off if members of Congress abandoned all vestiges of civility, and instead went after each other with a cruel barrage of insults?

This goes against our modern sense of how politics is supposed to function. In 2009, when a South Carolina Congressman shouted, “You lie!” as President Obama spoke, people were horrified. What has happened, we bemoaned, to civility in American politics? It’s bad enough that commentators are screaming at each other on Fox News, but now, in the House of Representatives?

But then, this past weekend, I went to see Lincoln. And to me, the most fascinating part was watching the Congressmen debating each other in the circa-1864 House of Representatives. These weren’t just any debates. Out of the mouths of these distinguished gentlemen came personal attacks and painfully clever barbs, which were followed by partisan roars of approval. Along with the cigars and spittoons, I almost expected to see these guys with frothy mugs of lager. They may as well have been at the pub.

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