Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: douglas brode

Nudity and Purpose: Final Thoughts on Disneyanity

Do I have your attention? I’m terrible at titles and tying them in with SEO, but this is not clickbait. The post actually is about nudity and the idea of purpose, separately though. Please read on.

Have ever a read a non-fiction book, one you were so excited to read and glean from, and closed it muttering to yourself about how wrong the author is?

That’s what happened to me while reading Disneyanity by Douglas Brode.

I didn’t hate it. There were certainly a lot of very…interesting…takes on Disney movies and tv shows. I just don’t agree with most of them. Some of them seemed outright crazy to me, like maybe he was looking through a strangely distorted magnifying glass.

But then, that’s what we all do with life. The experiences we’ve had and what we’ve made of them, distorts what we see around us, unless we make a very concentrated effort to do otherwise. That’s what I tried to do while I read this book, but sometimes…wow… I wondered if we had been watching the same movies.

Sometimes I wondered what he was talking about. Maybe it was above my head? Too academic? It seemed disjointed and contradictory at times, a collection of unrelated essays. BUT I did like reading it and I found so much to think about. I even clarified some of my own “religious” thinking. I’m going through my notes, wondering what to do with them all. Such is my process, or lack thereof.

For this final post on Disneyanity, I’ll share one bit that I found magical and one that made me cringe.

First the magical one!

nudity

In All the Cats Join In (1946), a white female’s lithe body unswervingly moves to The Big Beat. She drives home, then unashamedly strips and leaps into a hot shower – female nudity on display as it would be four years later in an early sequence of Cinderella. It must be recalled that this was when post-war feminists, including France’s controversial Brigitte Bardot and America’s Marilyn Monroe, embraced nudity as “freedom.” (The concept that this indicates “exploitation” by and for men would emerge in the late-1960s.) Shortly, Disney positively portrayed his teen heroine on a dance floor, be-bopping with the boys, apparently without auteurial criticism.”

Auteurial: A creative artist, especially a film director, seen as having a specific, recognizable artistic vision, and who is seen as the single or preeminent ‘author’ of his works.

There’s a new word for me! It took me some time to figure out what he meant by “auteurial criticism.” Still, I’m wondering why he used that word. Does he mean that the creator was showing the teen girl dancing as a positive action, not a negative one?

What I really came to here to talk about was nudity. Yes! It’s something I have had a bit of an issue with for most of my life. When I was a kid, I refused to cover myself up and my mother was constantly after me about it. “You’re attracting the wrong kind of attention.” I was hot, so I wore shorts. I wanted my shoulders tanned, so I wore strappy tank tops. I was uncomfortably restrained, so I wouldn’t wear a bra. What I wore or not was about me and my comfort…until the world told me that I was attracting the wrong kind of attention. And then I only wondered what that attention was and why it was wrong.

This could be a whole blog post, couldn’t it?

I’m going to keep it short here and just say that nudity is freedom, and so are some articles of clothing.  Personally, with my fair skin, I can be outside much longer if I’m wearing a shirt, and my jeans and boots keep me from getting hurt on the trails. We need to figure out how to get around all this cultural programming that says men can walk around topless and women can’t. Men can show thigh, but women need to cover up. This is just crazy. Wear what makes you happy. Leave people alone. Clothes are for protection from the elements. Every other use is imaginary.

And now for the one that made me cringe.

“…the films, TV shows, and other storytelling forms offer variations on a theme that something deep in the human heart hungers for: The notion that each of us does indeed have a purpose in the greater cosmos. We can best realize it by wishing on a star, heeding Joseph Campbell’s call to ‘follow your bliss,’ and unwavering persistence, derived from faith and hope, to make your dream come true.

Whether you wish upon a star or any other heavenly body. Or the natural world around you.”

My note in the margin said, “I don’t WISH anything.” It reminds me of that uncouth saying, “Wish in one hand and shit in the other, see which one fills up faster.” Which, now that I think about it, is pretty good advice…figuratively. Wishing doesn’t get anything done, doing does.

And this notion of “purpose” really gets my goat lately. Do we all have some grand purpose in this world? I say, no, we don’t. Unless you consider just being here not making everyone else’s lives more difficult, a purpose. Then, yes, we all have THAT purpose.

When I wonder what my “grand purpose” is, I get depressed. This world will not know me when I’m gone. I made nothing better in the grand scheme of things. I’ve created nothing, built nothing, done nothing to better mankind in any big way. And that is the fate of 99.99% of humanity.

In my opinion, it’s sadder to think that billions of people over the millennia never found their purpose. All those serfs, slaves, farmers, peddlers, and clerics, never known by anyone but those they lived with, died penniless and alone, never leaving a mark on this existence. They didn’t even have books and movies, so they probably didn’t even know they needed a purpose other than to live and take care of themselves and the people around them…wait a minute.

Maybe “purpose” isn’t just what you see in books and movies. Those are just the glorified stories, the interesting, to more than you, ones. What if your purpose is better stated as “your personal reason for getting up in the morning?” It could be as simple as, “To see what tomorrow brings.” Hmm…more to think about.

Did I love this book? Yes, and no. Yes, because it brought me a different point of view. And no because it didn’t go far enough. I guess what I wanted was a more succinct and defined “Walt Religion,” a bible of sorts, but what I got was someone’s personal thoughts on a body of creative work. All good though, and I’d recommend it.

Silly Symphonies: It’s Research!

Yes, research! In the interest of social and behavioral science, I watched a few of the Silly Symphonies mentioned in Disneyanity  on Disney+ yesterday. I was tired and just couldn’t seem to get my butt in gear (Mom! Remember my brother and I wiggling our butts around like a stick shift when you used that figure of speech on us? “I’m having trouble with my clutch!”), so instead of grumping about what a lazy person I was all day and feeling bad about myself, I decided to try something different.

No, I did not use my amazing willpower to get up off the couch and do what needed to be done!

I decided to take the day off from other activities and read more of my book, watch some of the shows mentioned in it, talk on the phone with my mom and my brother, and just generally chill. I did feel a twinge of guilt for eating the rest of the oatmeal cookies AND the last of the peanut butter pretzels, but that’s what happens when I read. I must nibble! Which reminds me, I really need to find better reading nibbles. Any ideas? Raw veggies are boring but probably a good bet.

silly symphonies
By Walt Disney Productions – Published by The Walt Disney Company, Fair use, Link

The first few shows mentioned in Disneyanity are Steamboat Willie and Plane Crazy which I’ve seen about a thousand times. Both are shown in Main Street Cinema at Disneyland, and between my own childhood and my children’s I’ve spent quite a bit of time in there. No need to rewatch those, so I skipped to the Silly Symphonies. The Ugly Duckling I still remember well so I moved on to Flowers and Trees, The Goddess of Spring, and The Grasshopper and the Ants!

In Flowers and Trees, the animation was beautiful, the story told without a word, beautiful. I loved the feminine tree dancing, the curve of her “breast” seen each time she turned, so subtle. The old tree stump getting jealous and starting a fire, and the reaction of the forest. He only hurt himself in the end, just as jealousy does to us.

And then there was The Goddess of Spring. I will admit watching the character dance made me laugh. The animation of the 30’s, I’m not sure what it is, but her arms and body are elongated and moving in such a strange way. Just a tad creepy, really.

In the book, Brode writes “And yet numerous critics, professional as well as (in the age of the Internet and IMBD) amateur, complain that ‘Disney gets the story all wrong.’ Which is a naïve approach to the continuing art of storytelling. In fact, there is no original version of the Persephone tale in existence. During the Greek Golden Age, poets drew on oral versions of fables dating back to Mycenean and other early agricultural societies, existing long before anyone set down narratives in writing. What Disney achieved is what those storytellers earlier did; take a tale with ongoing/universal appeal for humanity itself and relate this so as to ring true for the citizenry of the artist’s own time.”

That’s what we do, it’s why we tell stories in the first place. We all know that there are no completely original stories. If my kids and I had seen this version, I would have become curious about its origin, and looked up other versions and shared them with my kids. This version is 90 years old. How would it be rewritten and presented today?

The Grasshopper and the Ant. Man, I can envision an entirely different kind of story. I do understand the point of Aesop’s fable was to encourage citizens to work together, not slack, help the community prepare for winter, but wouldn’t that have been better told as an errant fellow-ant instead of a grasshopper? I would retell the story as a cautionary tale about how different people (insects) live a different kind of life, all according to their own principles, each having its own motivations and outcomes, but all respected. An “I’m not crazy. I’m just not you.” story.

That reminds me of us making fun of tv shows and cartoons to that put WAY too much emphasis on “diversity” and not nearly enough on the content of the story. There are clever storytelling ways to get a point across without being too preachy or obvious, and Walt was the master of that.

As an afterthought (I really wasn’t ready to go make dinner), I decided to watch one more show, Ferdinand the Bull!

I distinctly remember reading this book as a kid. I know…you’re surprised that I loved books a kid too, but it’s true. This was one of my favorite picture books, one of the hundreds of classics I bought and read to my own kids as they grew up. The short movie was every bit as cute. I haven’t seen the new movie, but I think I’ll watch it today and see how they remade it into a longer feature.

Now…here’s where the author of Disneyanity and I part ways. He says shows like Ferdinand the Bull (1938) and The Reluctant Dragon (1941) were a statement on Walt’s position on homosexuality. I disagree. Ferdinand was a passivist, not homosexual. He simply wasn’t interested in fighting. As to the Reluctant Dragon, I haven’t seen it lately, but I do remember him being rather “effeminate” as well, but I do believe it was also, at the time, more of a statement about being different.

And THAT is a universal topic, one on which we could all use some continued education today. Just because someone looks a certain a way, here a bull and a dragon, doesn’t mean they will act like you believe they should. We should all be taking people at who they actually say they are, not what we think they should be.

Which makes me think again. Isn’t that the better way to tell a story? Lately it seems everything around me, every book, movie, club, etc. is segmented into narrower and narrower niches. If I don’t see exactly myself in the story, and if the story isn’t exactly about my likes/dislikes, culture, or situation, then it isn’t for me, and I can’t learn anything from it. At least that’s what I feel I’m being told.

I think that this is the kind of thing the keeps us all separate and fighting. Wouldn’t it be more helpful to make stories that help us realize that we are all different in a million different ways, but one greater thing unites us? We are all human.

That made me think of a story I’d like to see. One that shows us how much we all inadvertently misunderstand each other and that’s what creates the conflict.

Picture this: A large community that seemingly speaks the same language and fights constantly, but as the story progresses you realize that they use the same words but each has their own, entirely different meanings. When one character says hand me the salt, another character throws it toward him. This opens into a fight because the original character believes that the thrower is hostile. The thrower just thinks the asker is completely crazy. Then somehow, they learn that “hand me” means something totally different to each of them.

I think Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, and Jim Carrey need to be in this.  

Misunderstandings about meaning and intent, assuming that you know what a person wants or needs, and overstepping each other’s personal boundaries, are what start 99% of the battles we are facing right now. Good storytelling can help us here.

Storytelling in the Form of Movies

I’m 100% in love with Disneyanity by Douglas Brode, but I do have a few complaints. First of all, he uses the title or a character’s full name once and then abbreviates it for the rest of the essay and that drives me crazy. I’m constantly trying to remember who or what it stands for. It uses up brain energy, people. You’re typing, not writing it out by hand, please.

Second, I think he’s wrong in a lot of places. I know. Crazy. I could be wrong too, but I doubt it. (Read that in “sarcasm font.”) Honestly, though, I think he’s definitely reading into a lot, but it’s still fascinating to read. We all interpret movies and books from our own world view, seeing what we want to see, connecting the dots to create the picture we really want. We’re not scientists or historians! We’re artists and lovers of craft!

And what’s better than pulling apart and peering into the inner workings of a great story?!

“And yet numerous critics, professional as well as (in the age of the Internet and IMDB) amateur, complain that “Disney get the story all wrong.” Which is a naïve approach to the continuing art of storytelling. In fact, there is no original version of the Persephone tale in existence. During the Greek Golden Age, poets drew on oral versions of fables dating back to Mycenean and other early agricultural societies, existing long before anyone set down narratives in writing. What Disney achieved is what those storytellers earlier did; take a tale with ongoing/universal appeal for humanity itself and relate this so as to ring true for the citizenry of the artist’s own time.”

disneyanity by douglas brode

I’ve heard that complaint from people when new Disney movies came out and agreed with it. If you’re going to present movies about historical figures, shouldn’t they be as true to life as possible? Pocahontas was the first movie I heard people losing their minds about.

I guess it depends on why you’re making the movie, why you’re telling the story.

I mean, history books and biographies have already been written, probably a documentary has already been made. So why create another?

In the past I might have said because it hasn’t been told by you, in your words. But why are your words and images so important?

Disney isn’t teaching history. He’s creating mythology. He’s taking characters from our past and telling their story (and his own) in the context of our time. Not himself these days, since he died in 1966 (or did he), but his company of storytellers.

That’s what all movie makers are. Storytellers.

When we watch something, anything really, we need to remember who is telling the story and why, not simply digest everything we see on a screen as the gospel truth.

Instead of screaming to yourself, and the online community at large, “This is false! That’s not what that person did!” Try asking yourself, “What did the presenter of this try to tell me?” We can spend some time reading more about the real-life character or situation if we like, or we can take the entire thing as mythology, a story that attempts to convey a message about humanity and the world around us using names and places we already know.

As a sidenote, the Disney company should pay the author of this book for all the new subscriptions to Disney+ it is probably generating. Reading about each tv show and movie, I want to go back and watch some of them to see if I see what Douglas Brode is talking about. I can’t be the only one. Besides, there are so many new Disney movies that I haven’t seen.

Over the weekend, I watched Encanto while my husband was working on our bathroom remodel. He came in several times to find me cross-legged on the couch, bouncing along to the music like a child. Once, toward the end, when I heard him walk into the room, I shouted, “I’m not crying!”

That movie…oh, wow. Absolutely gorgeous and completely unexpected. I found myself talking back to the tv more than once, which isn’t unheard of around here. I tend to get a little excited about what I’m watching. One of the world’s most beautiful inventions? The pause button!

Disneyanity: New Read

It’s been a while since I bought a book because I saw in advertised in a magazine, but when I saw Disneyanity: Of “Walt” and Religion by Douglas Brode in Reason magazine two months in a row, I had to have it.

Background: Just in case you don’t know this, I am an avid Disney fan. How do I explain this? Here is one photo from high school to shed just a little light.

This is my “backpack,” or what I called it back then, “my travelling locker.”

I had everything I needed in here. All my books, my binders, my pens, along with various high school sundries. I had a locker at school, yes, but using it would require forethought and planning. I was more of a fly by the seat of my pants kind of girl, so I kept everything with me, just in case.

Me. Backstage as always. The “magic” maker.

Just in case what?

Well, what if I were in math class and already done with the assignment? I could work on history instead. And what if I were in the theater, which was where I was most of my day, and I found some downtime between rehearsals? I could work on whatever needed to be done…if I didn’t have to run to my locker and find it.

Knowing me, I’d forget what I was looking for while walking to my locker anyway, wander off and get a coke and a cookie instead.

Writing this I just realized something. This squirrel brain is not being caused by old age.

Like I was saying, I was (and still am) a huge Disney fan. You might even say more of a devout worshipper than a fan. I’ve fallen away at times, especially recently, but I always come back around. Don’t even get me started on the effects of the pandemic on my pilgrimages.

When I started working there, I was seventeen years old. I felt like I was entering the holy of holies, “maybe I should take my shoes off” kind of awe in my whole being. When I was ceremoniously cast outside the gates (fired) at 20, I was a “lost toy,” one of the darkest moments of my life.

And again, when I returned at 26, and finally chose to be home with my kids at 30. And then today…

Well, let’s say I’m worshipping from afar, dreaming of the day I’ll be able to return to the source of the magic.

disneyanity

When I saw this book promising, “a cogent and thought-provoking meditation on Disney Magic as Religious Belief,” I swooned. Could that feeling I’ve had since I was kid be a real thing, not just something I created for myself? Could others feel this way? I had to know more.

I’m 67 pages into the book already and loving it. It’s not what I expected. I’m not sure how I’ll share pieces of it with you, but something will come up, I’m sure. As the religious say, the spirit (or the muse) will speak somehow, if I allow it room.

I’ll leave you with one quote for today, one that sums up my feelings about fantasy and storytelling.

“’Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality,’ philosopher Lloyd Alexander stated, rather a ‘way of understanding it.’ As Disney realized, most people find everyday reality so unbearable that they must seek what appears merely blithe escapism as an alternative. Then again, what’s wrong with that? ‘Why should a man be scorned,’ J.R.R. Tolkien asked, ‘if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out or go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison walls?’”

from Disneyanity by douglas brode

Does this sound familiar, dad? I’ve heard you say it a million times. “I don’t watch movies to see real life.”

In some ways, it is an escape. And there is nothing wrong with trying to move away from what is hurting you, to get some relief. In other ways, fantasy and story helps us explain our reality. It’s easier to hear the underlying problem and solutions offered if we’re talking about aliens instead of foreigners, talking trees instead of gods.

Disneyland was my escape in high school, my happy place where I wasn’t just another theater nerd, not another kid at school to be corralled and contained until I was old enough to be let loose on the world. I was a whole person there, especially once I started working there. Then I was “part of the magic” that millions came to see every year, one of the chosen.

So, yeah, I’m looking forward to reading this gem cover to cover. It feels like more of a collection of short essays about each film, so I may just pull out my favorite pieces, the ones that speak directly to issues that are dearest to me. I’ve found a few I completely disagree with already, so I’m sure you’ll read at least one where I disagree with Walt’s vision of the world.

…sigh…

It feels good to be back here. Thanks for reading with me!

Want read more posts about the book Disneyanity by Douglas Brode? Check out:
Storytelling in the Form of Movies
Silly Symphonies: It’s Research!

Nudity and Purpose: Final Thoughts on Disneyanity

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