Disney’s “Zootopia,” and the Urban Zeitgeist in American Political Discourse

Want a primer on intersectional politics? Go see Disney’s “Zootopia,” a tale of a tenacious country bunny rabbit with aspirations of being an urban cop in Zootopia where the majority of residents are prey and the minority, predators. If you, like I, thought that seeing a kid’s movie would be a nice break from watching primary-election coverage, think again. Evertything is politics, including Disney movies.

“Zootopia,” the movie, presents an animal world eerily reflective of the detritus of American domestic policy. Still pondering what effect 1990s-era crime legislation has had on American society? Note that in the Zootopian metropolis something appears to be affecting a minority of the predators’ behavior leading to moral panic and irrational quality-of-life-mediating decisions by some of the prey-majority. In the introduction, audiences receive a primer on the entire ecosystem of Zootopia and the outlier-communities. The predator class, sly foxes, family-loving otters, courageous-lions, live under suspicion of wilding-out to the detriment of the mellow bunnies, meek sheep, and other prey.

An aesthetically stunning film, “Zootopia” provides a way to reflect upon the current divisive rhetoric of the American presidential primary campaigns. How do political science professors, social studies teachers, and parents go about having conversations with children about politics, today? When one presidential candidate offers to pay the legal bills of audience-member thugs who lash out at disruptors, can there be hope?  Campaign politics aside, America appears to be a nation constantly at the verge of reconciling, or attempting to reconcile, the trauma of centruries of colonialist ptractice.

“Zootopia” audiences see echoes of a ’90s-era rhetoric of “super-predators” and restrictions on the freedom of suspect predators. Rodney King’s message about getting along, takes on new meaning (Zootopia is an urban space much like Los Angeles). With forays into alternative cultures, gender inequality, underground economies, and mixed relationships, “Zootopia” comments on the precarity of identity and the diversity of the American experience. A cute bunny cop and her enlisted partner, a fox (surprise!) navigate an emotional tightrope in order to maintain their fragile relationship and solve an incredible mystery related to the politics of identity.

 

 

It Takes an Army of Two to Fill the Space In My Heart Formerly Filled by Joaquin — At Least for Now

Greetings comrades. What is all the fuss about? I am talking about the Seth Rogen movie starring James Franco that has the United States on edge, so to speak. Joaquin Phoenix Is who I usually think of when absurdist movie humor passed off as “real” enters my consciousness. After this Christmas, no more. Sorry, Joaquin. Citizens of North Korea, if you ever get the opportunity to see this controversial movie, “The Interview,” please know that the Christmas 2014 movie satirizing your nation is one of several Hollywood movies released during the holiday season. So, you might also want to watch “Selma” as an alternative.

Also, you may read this article in The New York Times about North Korea. I do not know if it sheds any more light on the controversy, or confuses the matter, even more. In addition, this article in The Financial Times, also details the new relationship between South Korea, Japan, and the United States. It is safe to say that not many ordinary people in the United States have knowledge about the country of North Korea. Although the movie, “The Interview,” represents a genre called satire, there are also elements of propaganda at work in this film.

Review

So. If you have not yet seen the latest Rogen-Franco movie “The Interview,” then you may be missing out on what may be the biggest public relations campaign, or hoax, since the H.G. Wells saga The War of the Worlds. I first heard the Wells radio play when I was a public-radio listening youngster growing up in the Appalachians — a region of the United States not known for alien invasions. (No way are aliens gonna find a place to land in our state — no flat land! Nice job, though, Mr. Wells.) I loved the radio play, and could not get over the fact that this genius had made it seem as though Martians were going to take over the world. (Ahhh!)

Fast forward to Christmas 2014. The media would have us believe that an independent movie about a head of state who is also a cultural icon, of sorts, for his hair and his enthusiasm for basketball, would be so offended as to wage war against the U.S. showing this movie. Flash forward to the last Presidential press conference of the year … Even President Obama fields questions at his end of the year press conference on the topic of censorship and freedom related to the movie The Interview. First, the media enthralled us with stories of a wild hacking incident at Sony pictures by #thegop — The Guardians of Peace.

Brilliant.

Then, there is the plot line of the movie itself: a journalist and his producer fly to China and then to Pyongyang to interview the head of state — a wildly iconic present-day figure in his own right — Kim Jong-un. Meanwhile, the United States’ F.B.I. named North Korea as the likely suspect behind the Sony hack. What? I know, right? Crazy, crazy, and awesome marketing, non? So, of course I knew I had to watch this movie, even though I feared it might be stupid. Then, I realized that I had never even seen a Rogen-Franco movie, and that all I know about them is that the duo spoofed Kim Kardashian and Kanye West in the video “Bound 2”. I only stomached the original video by the married dynamic duo once, but I watched the spoof more than once. Therefore, I felt confident that watching “The Interview” on Christmas-day with my dad and my friend from China would yield at least a moderate laugh.

I should also note that I tried to download the movie on Christmas Eve, but got a peculiar message which you can see in the photo-collage below. However, this error could have been due to the fact that I tried downloading the movie from a Mac. The next night, I tried a PC and I ba-boom!

My overall assessment of this movie?

Juvenile.

But the movie features show-stealer Diana Bang as Kim-family liaison “Sook”. So, I am happy to have only paid 5.99 to rent this movie for a total of 48-hours through YouTube. There you have it!

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Return of the (Un)Sympathetic Heroine – Charlize Theron’s “Young Adult” (2011)

The phrase, “larger-than-life,” as applied to cinema may conjure images of masculine heroes who save the day with a gesture of of chivalry or forceful bravado,  but probably not a middle-aged heroine with baggage and an unrealistic desire to destabilize the heteropatriarchal familial structure. Enter Charlize Theron. Theron may be an actor who will be seen as larger-than-life, largely due to the attention she received from her acclaimed performance in Monster (2003). In her latest film, a dramedy called Young Adult (2011), Jason Reitman, director, Theron portrays a writer of teen fiction who lives in a big Midwestern city. She decides to leave the bright lights for a trip to her small town, a place she has not seen in years, in order to reconnect with an old boyfriend. The situation that unfolds is a study in vulnerability as Theron’s character, Mavis Gary, re-enters the life of old-flame, Buddy Slade, played by Patrick Wilson. It is when she also has a chance encounter with a former classmate, Matt Freehauf, played by Patton Oswalt, that her life begins to change.

Matt is suffering wounds from the past incurred while he was in high school. Mavis, immune to his story for much of their initial encounter, seems oblivious to the kind of suffering she is about to experience as she chases her fantasy man, who is also a new father, and who is blissfully married to an earnest special-needs teacher whose alternate ego is drummer for an all-girl grunge band. Unfortunately for Mavis, there is nothing she can throw down that can turn Buddy Slade’s head. Everyone in the town knows this – except Mavis. Her singularity of pursuit is the very means by which she later attains her self-reflexive awareness, but not until a series of blunders culminating in an unexpected cry for help, occur. Theron’s heroine is thoroughly unlikeable with her indeterminacy, identity confusion, and out-of-control ego. And yet, she is larger-than-life, largely due to her plight which is exacerbated by her work which seems to have hit a plateau, as has her life.

Mavis Gary needs help. The movie hinges on her character not only coming to this realization, but taking action to save herself from her demons. Her suffering is mirrored by Matt Freehauf’s physical and mental scars inured by teenage cruelty, which Mavis’ adult self is forced to confront so that she, and Matt, may no longer live in the past. Not even the fastidiousness of Mavis’ maquillage ritual, nor her shopping quest to Macy’s for the perfect Marc Jacobs fashion armour to wear for the baby’s naming ceremony can prevent her downward slide into alcohol, anger, and numbness. If fact, no resolution seems plausible cementing this film in the category of (un)romantic drama/comedy.

How the situation is resolved (if it is) involves one pivotal scene starring Elizabeth Reasor as Buddy Slade’s wife, Beth. Yet, this scene is also the one in which the audience is left wanting Reasor’s character to contribute more words. Later in the film, Theron’s character makes the bold move of asking for help from Matt’s sister, who appears to be dressed in a nurse’s uniform. It is left to the audience to determine whether her character has changed into a more self-reflexive soul, but the situation itself is reflective of the role context plays in constituting character. For an interesting take on the subject of situational determination, check out this article by Maria Popova that I found on my Twitter feed.

In conclusion, the script, by Diablo Cody, a graduate of the University of Iowa media studies program, presents the situation of a blond, bold and beautiful heroine, aware of her privilege, perhaps a little too aware, but who has lost recognition of herself as not immune to the loneliness of adulthood. This film is dark. It is messy, and at times, sparse in content, yet, the issue of raw vulnerability, persists enough to want to discuss the topic of the numbing of affect further.

Controversial Cinema Screened at CGU

We invite you to attend

Controversial Cinema: Transdisciplinary Perspectives

Featuring screenings of some of the world’s most controversial films and videos.

Sponsored by the Hillcrest Transdisciplinary Studies Award of Claremont Graduate University.

To learn more about the screening times and location of the screenings contact: jonathan.dickstein@cgu.edu

Light refreshments will be served.

The dates of the screenings are as follows:

February 15
February 22
March 1
March 8
March 22
April 5