walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

book group and disney

I ultimately skimmed random sections of the Chevalier book, _The Virgin Blue_. Amazingly enough, reading the book in full does not lead to either greater understanding of what's going on (which is basically opaque no matter how hard you try) much less enjoyment, based no what other people at book group said. I'm really glad I went; it was a lot of fun. We spent a good chunk of the hour discussing upcoming selections yet-to-be-made. AND, best of all, we _won't_ be reading Neuromancer in June. We may be reading _Cosmicomics_ or _Invisible Cities_ instead.

On an unrelated topic, _From Mouse to Mermaid: the Politics of Film, Gender and Culture_ is one of a number of Disney critical academic texts I bought used recently. I posted an Agnes de Mille quote from one of the essays already. There are a number of interesting observations in this book. One essay advocating a general approach for "culture workers" to deconstruct the pedagogy blah blah blah also included an extremely good critique of _Good Morning, Vietnam_. One point that is revisited repeatedly is the idea that TV and film are media forms which are in the hands of a small number of producer/creators, and which are consumed by a massive audience and we really need to make it so more people have access to the means of production, er, yeah, I'm pretty sure that's what they said. The collection was published in 1995. I suspect YouTube and blogging would make these people fairly happy. I would certainly hope so.

Big problems in this book:

Zipes in "Breaking the Disney Spell" describes the history of "fairy tales" from oral tradition, through a series of literary versions, to film. Of the first literary fairy tales he says, "the texts created a new realm of pleasurable reading that allowed for greater reflection on the part of the reader than could an oral performance of a tale". Ignoring the lack of a reader in the oral performance as a technical failure of presentation, this is unbelievably ridiculous! Far greater reflection is possible in an oral context where there is guaranteed to be more than one person present, and therefore the possibility of dialogue which is conspiculously absent in private reading. Only a scholar completely lacking in social skills could make this error. Or someone who prejudices academic work above all others. I'm betting on (b) or all of the above.

Lest you think I am overinterpreting a lone passage in one essay to paint all the contributors with the brush of narcissism, check this out, in Giroux' "Memory and Pedagogy in the "Wonderful World of Disney"":

"issues of textuality, meaning and identity cannot be limited to the academy or subordinated to the alleged more "serious" single issues related to low pay, poverty, child care, and other material concerns."

If he'd stopped with "limited to the academy", I'd have praised him to the skies. But as strongly as I feel about the errors of identity politics, and as happy as I am to find someone who agrees with me, I'm utterly unwilling to accept the idea that this essay or the ideas it covers merit discussion at a level with material issues such as low pay, etc. Those quotes he put around "serious" are offensive in the extreme. You try deciding whether to pay for your kid's asthma meds, buying food, or heating the house some month. I'm pretty sure that's a lot more serious.

Card's analysis of Collodi's Pinocchio vs. Disney's was bizarre in the extreme. Her mother had been a fan of Collodi, but raised her on Disney. As an adult, she didn't respect this choice. I have not read Collodi, but I've read enough about that Pinocchio to recognize that it presents the children-are-inherently-evil theory of childrearing, and indeed, Card includes enough so that even if I _hadn't_ known that ahead of time, I'd have noticed it in the analysis. Yet Card herself seemed oblivious when she wrote the meat of this essay in the late '70s. In a postscript written later (1992), she describes Maurice Sendak's commentary for a re-release of the Disney version of Pinoccio in book form saying more or less what I said about Collodi (children are born bad) with a little more (Collodi's solution is that children must be forced to obey). In the Disney version, Pinocchio isn't evil, he's just looking for a good time and, predictably, showing juvenile bad judgment along the way. Sendak presents this as Disney correcting a horrible wrong in the original story.

Card is clearly shaken by the combination of how reasonable this all is, and how utterly opposite it is to her own analysis. She then tries to weasel around it by suggesting that Pinocchio really is bad, and loving a child as young as Pinocchio isn't about loving them for who they are so much as who they might become.

I feel for any of Card's kids. I hope if she had any, she did better by them in practice than in theory. That just makes me shudder. I also have huge issues with her ideas about empathy, cruelty, effectiveness, blah, blah, blah, but it's all rather minor compared to what I've already mentioned.

What does Card like about Collodi? I think she liked it as an adolescent/post-adolescent: she liked the violence, the disillusionment with others, the depiction as "reasonable" of really quite vindictive behavior on the part of caretakers to those in their power.

I quite liked the essay about "Billy Bathgate". Dunno what the fuck Disney was thinking, but it was a great essay.

Racism, stages of women's lives/sexuality and colonialism are all available for discussion in Disney films, and various essays do a reasonable job on them. I'm about halfway through the book and expect I will finish it. It is thought provoking. Like a lot of criticism, I got the distinct feeling that the writers were way more impressed with themselves than I feel is justified BUT when they get down to the details of analyzing a small number of particular works, they are unbelievably talented and insightful (with the conspicuous exception of that essay on Pinocchio). Some of what I perceive as pompous is just an artifact of academic craft (and I'm guilty of it often enough myself!). I'm hoping some of the other books are better, tho.

The most consistent problem in these essays is a failure to perceive the real improvements in childrearing that are embedded in the Disney version. Sure, he's a colonizing, racist, gender-role believer who makes a lot of bad jokes and insists that you do not think about alternative ways of organizing our society. But he's not an abusive Bible-thumper who believes you need to scare the kiddies with threats of hellfire and actual beatings to keep their souls from being permanently scorched. The Disney version definitely co-opts youth culture and turns it into something twisted and wrong, but the goal (connect with the juvenile delinquents and set them on a path to being contributing members of society) is basically what adult cultures do, albeit more effectively than many. Yes, he took a lot of pre-existing art/stories/literature/narration and did something to it arguably more heinous than Bowdler -- but a lot of that art was pretty heinous in _its_ message.

Do I think the pedagogy embedded in Disney's work is "good" or anything I would model my parenting on? Fuck no! But if my choice were limited to that or what my parents did to my sisters and I, I'd sure take the Disney approach instead.

I said I wanted to preserve both views of Disney (wow, fun AND ooooh, creepy) when I went to D-land. Buying these books and reading them is an effort to give me more material for this double-vision. It's working. It's working really, really well.

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