I’m still not finished yet, but on track to be finished this week. I am intentionally not building it in one sitting to give it some time to sink in.
This one too about an hour to build. This phase gives the castle the first set of walls and the main door. Not too much to see here.
This one also took about an hour to build. This phase is a little more exciting than Phase Three, in that there is a lot more detail than we saw in the previous sections.
This one has a movie reference:
There’s Merida’s arrow, quiver, and the target from Brave. The best part? Those little tan circles represent the three cakes that her mother and brothers eat to turn into bears!
Main entrance chandelier:
A Grandfather clock:
As an interesting bit of trivia, all of the clocks in the castle are set for 11:55, locking the castle in the last exciting few minutes before midnight.
A vase of flowers:
While not technically a movie reference, I can’t help but imagine Bedknobs and Broomsticks when I look at the suits of armor.
And all together:
This phase only took about 40 minutes. Minnie joins Mickey:
And the castle gets some walls:
This one took an hour-twenty (I’m tracking the time, because I’m curious how long the total project takes).
A reference to Aladdin (the carpet and lamp):
Just under an hour at 50 minutes. The front is coming together now:
This one took an hour. I constructed both Phase Seven and Phase Eight during the third presidential debate. Building Legos made the show of the debate much easier to deal with. And perhaps with a bit of irony (given that I was watching the debate), Donald Duck joins the castle cast:
And the walls start growing towers:
And then I took a couple days off to get ready for a conference this weekend. This phase took almost an hour, and the towers got flags:
For my upcoming birthday, I decided to get myself the Lego Disney Castle. This is an exclusive set that contains more than 4,000 pieces. I have a profound love of Lego, and it seems that they increasingly turn their sights toward developing model kits, not just free form bricks. That makes my previous posts about why Lego instructions are useful all the more relevant. I don’t often spend my time or money on Lego products any more. For a while, I was obsessively buying the Star Wars models, only to burn out of Star Wars. I’ve sold or gotten rid of most of those sets by now, but I still have my Millennium Falcon, which, until this castle, is my Lego pride and joy.
So I got the castle:
When the castle was released in September, it boasted being the set with the most pieces Lego has ever released. The forthcoming Death Star (!) might actually have a bit more. The price tag is also daunting–a whopping $350 (retail)! Before you scoff at the idea of a box of plastic (by the way, the box itself is as big as my daughter), this set has far more custom parts than I have ever seen in a Lego kit. I can forgive the price and exclusivity. I really can’t imagine Lego mass manufacturing plastic mouse ears…
So last night I started the build. The instruction book is 450 pages, and is a hefty chunk of pages. I’ve noticed a couple new features about Lego kits (I also recently bought a newer set for my daughter’s birthday): one is that the instruction books include an inventory of the pieces that are included in the book, including how many and their part number. This is helpful in case one ever needs to get just a single piece (remember when a kit was ruined forever when it was missing one single key piece?). The other is that the pieces are divided into phases, and numbered accordingly. Given that this castle has 14 phases spread across 30 or so bags, I’m grateful for not having to hunt and peck through all 30 bags. I’m also grateful for not having to have all bags open at once.
There’s another piece that Lego has since designed:
It’s a Brick Separator! I’m convinced that my entire childhood would have been different had I had one of these. One of my complaints with my old bucket of bricks was that certain pieces were IMPOSSIBLE to separate, so I stopped piecing them together. I’m convinced that this tool would have encouraged me to free form build more. (Imagine the possibilities!)
Last night, I started building Phase One and Phase Two. Because I can, I thought I’d share the process. I have a conference next week and I haven’t finished my paper yet, so I think it’s going to take me a little bit to get the whole castle built.
I started Phase One last night at 8:49. This stage included building the foundation for the castle. There’s a lot of detail involved in Phase One; the foundation is 3 layers thick, and it feels like one of the most solid modular foundations (as opposed to a single baseplate) that I’ve ever built on. About halfway through, I found the first film reference:
Yes, those are little Lego frogs. Tiana and Naveen. On lily pads! The castle boasts 14 film references, mostly Princess and Fantasyland films, but it adds a layer of detail that makes this castle even more magical.
I finished Phase One at 10:21, so roughly an hour and a half later, and here’s what I accomplished:
It doesn’t seem like much, but, like I said, it’s a really strong foundation. I’m confident that it’s not going anywhere. Since the final product is over 2 feet tall, a strong base is important.
I began Phase Two at 10:23 with the building of this little guy:
Mickey is one five minifigs that comes in the set. When Disney released the minifig mystery bags over the summer, I got a few of them (I wish I had tried to get more, but I didn’t realize they were a temporary thing…like everything else Disney). I didn’t take a picture of his back, but part of building Mickey includes a little cloth tuxedo tail.
I finished 40ish minutes later at 11:09, and it doesn’t look like much progress:
With any luck, I’ll build a bit more tonight. There’s something truly thrilling about building Legos, and it’s a similar something to knitting a sweater or building IKEA furniture. I enjoy the exercise of taking two dimensional instructions and making the three dimensional product manifest, come to life, and become a tangible object for me to enjoy. So, more to come. Stay tuned!
So, I decided to move in the direction of writing a Second Book, and the idea manifested to also write a Third Book as well. Second Book is going to be an exploration with fellow Disney Doctors, Dori Koehler (author of the forthcoming exegesis of Disneyland and ritual) and Amy Davis (author of such notable classics as Good Girls and Wicked Witches and Handsome Heroes and Vile Villains), exploring Disney Princesses from a few different angles, including the princess as a kore, her role as an archetypal image of American culture, and the evolution of the princess over the history of the films. This is still in the nascent stage, but now that I’ve announced it, that makes it real.
The Third Book is an edited volume for Intellect Books’ Fan Phenomena series. This is a really cool series that looks at fandoms, the culture impact of fandoms, the psychological meaning of fandoms, and how fans connect with their fandoms. Each volume in this series is themed around a specific fandom, and volumes in the series include: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, Star Wars, The Big Lebowski, Twin Peaks, Mermaids… So I’ve proposed a volume to add to the series, one focusing specifically on Disney. From Princesses and Pirates to MousePlanet and Lou Mongello’s WDW tours to the D23 and MMC, this volume plans to explore the delicate intersection between Disney’s consumerist machine versus the organic way that fans connect with Disney.
The aim of this project is academic and focused specifically on the fans, not analyses of the movies etc. The focus is specifically on Disney, not Star Wars or Marvel, because they’re already included in other volumes in the series.
Deadline for proposals isn’t until April, but why not get a head start?
I made the mistake earlier this week of watching the first presidential debate. This debate affected me more emotionally than previous debates ever have, and no amount of very yummy Shiner Oktoberfest could drown my sorrows. Ever since the 2000 election (the first presidential election I was old enough to vote in), I’ve followed politics and media more closely than my happiness would prefer. My interest comes not simply because of political interest, because my liberal arts education actually accomplished what it was supposed to do.
When I was an undergraduate at the University of Houston, two classes had the greatest impact on my view of the world:
In Fall 2000, I took Fascism and German Cinema with Sandy Frieden. On the first day of class, she introduced herself as “a liberal, a feminist, a democrat, and a Jew.” This rather frank introduction gave her an air of authenticity that kept me hanging on every. single. word she said throughout the class. Plus, the sheer exposure to Nazi propaganda and reviewing it through a critical lens exposed me to the power of media that I hadn’t considered up until that point.
In Fall 2002, I took Propaganda and Mass Communication with Garth Jowett. He had us looking more critically at American media and how propaganda techniques are used in both political media and in entertainment to influence cultural perceptions. I remember the fondly when he came in lecturing about then-president George W. Bush. He pointed out that one needs to worry about a world leader who would actually say in a press interview, “After all, this is the guy who tried to kill my daddy.” I later heard that soundbite thanks to Michael Moore, and was even more horrified by the context of that line.
Anyway, in the middle of all this was, obviously, 9/11. It’s hard to go through such a transformative educational experience and not turn a critical eye toward how we, as a country, responded to 9/11 and the aftermath that ensued. This is a difficult perspective to have, and I question whether or not the skepticism that it’s given me is actually healthy…
So it’s even harder to watch political debates like the recent one between Hillary and Trump without massive discomfort. Regardless of one’s political leanings, the debate was a Propaganda Peep Show. All of Trump’s oratory techniques and Hillary’s composure during the entire event was all carefully orchestrated to convince members of either party, and I think it was successful. Liberals are more disgusted by Trump than ever, and I’m going to assume (my Republican friends don’t speak up much around me) that the opinion is mutual on the other side. What really got me, though, as a liberal, feminist, socialist, was that I found myself actually thinking “Yeah! I could vote for Hillary!” I was persuaded. That’s how propaganda works. It’s some external force persuading you to think a certain way, and without you even knowing that it’s happening. That’s what made Nazi propaganda both horrific and successful. It’s what makes me so frightened of Pro-American nationalist rhetoric. It also concerns me that we’re setting up a cultural vibe where the voices of rationalism and reason just can’t be louder than the voices of irrationalism.
As a mother, this election bothers me more than the previous elections. While Mitt Romney wasn’t my first choice for a president, I felt that his politics were far more balanced than several of his fellow Republicans. I was more frightened, since I lived in Texas at the time, about the local elections that were very clearly making an effort to systemically restrict women’s access to healthcare and equal rights for the state’s constituents clearly not in bed with Big Gas and Oil.
This election has me in a panic. It’s not just my daughter’s future on the line, but Just About Everything That Makes America Great is on the line. Our immigration policy, so poetically etched into the base of the Statue of Liberty, is being challenged. Healthcare and student loan reform–my two primary issues–will be thrown back onto the table. And nevermind all of the other stuff that politicians have to deal with. Queue shameless plug for my book for further insights into my thoughts about What Makes America Great. Perhaps it’s a little Mickey Mouse (okay, a LOT, since that’s, you know, kind of the thesis), but I do think that Disneyland perfectly exemplifies American Utopianism and has, in turn, shaped our expectations for cultural constructs.
This is a major turning point for our country. The decisions in November (President, Congress, and Senate) will be game changers, but of what sort depends on the outcome of the elections. Meanwhile, we have to listen closely to the rhetoric. Hillary’s recent campaign about “Is this the president we want for our daughters?” asks a valid question, and it’s the question that will ultimately determine how I vote in November.
Over this past summer, I watched Mad Men. While the series did end on a far more optimistic note than the 1960s did themselves, the show is ultimately a tragedy in the Aristotelian sense. we are moved toward pity for the characters, especially Don Draper, and through this, we can experience a catharsis.
In particular, I resonated with the female characters. Joan Harris showed me a professional woman’s path full of sexual harassment…something I’ve been protected from by industry standards and Equal Rights laws (and perhaps also my Throne of Privilege). Peggy Olson showed me a woman who was willing to overcome social norms and pursue her authentic self. Betty Draper gave me cause to look in the mirror of my own relationship to my mother, thus prompting all this recent work on Demeter and Persephone, a myth that has underscored so much of my identify formation.
***Some spoilers about Mad Men are ahead.***
At the end of the series, we find out that Betty is dying of advanced lung cancer. Her daughter, Sally, has to carry the burden of this looming death in the special way that only a daughter can. But it’s even more upsetting that she’s a teenager when it comes to light. My own mother died from complications with COPD, also a decaying lung disease, when I was 16. She was 54. Really, this is my primary reference for what aging looks like. She spent her “middle age” growing progressively sicker, and I spent my youth struggling with the constant battle between my innate daughterly-duty of taking care of her and rebelling against the whole thing. I’ve had to find Demeter entirely as a Persephone, alone and without the veiled mother longing for my return.
Being the same age that Betty was in the show, her character provides a helpful lens for dissecting the Demeter-Persephone balance that I’m missing. It’s difficult for me to read the books of the women who came before, because they frame their experiences and myths according to a narrative that doesn’t align with my Millennial upbringing. I’ve been fed a narrative that women as they age should do everything they can to maintain their beauty and youth until they no longer can deny the inevitability of their age. In other words, I’m supposed to go from young to old overnight without the journey in between. That narrative is missing. Betty’s narrative helps provide some context, except for the fact that she dies young.
Betty Draper doesn’t fully become an emotional mother until the opportunity presents itself for her to impart her wisdom on her daughter, but Betty and Sally’s relationship struggles underneath the weight of Betty’s own challenging relationship with her dead mother, one that also struggled to nurture and develop a healthy space for daughter to develop her identity. As Sally exerts her identity, Betty struggles with her rebellion and independence, blaming Don for not being a stronger authoritative figure for Sally. There’s a childishness in Betty’s mothering technique that isn’t resolved until she finally embraces her role as a mother.
The reason I’ve been offline for awhile is, perhaps not coincidentally, the same thing that I’m working on now: motherhood. My daughter’s birthday, marking her early mid-single digit years, isn’t too far away. Meanwhile, I’ve felt compelled to work on a couple research projects that explore motherhood from a mythic perspective. I’ve done the rumination about motherhood from a cultural perspective, and it really isn’t helping. My experience has led me to conclude that American culture, for the most part, fundamentally hates mothers and children. We’ve turned pregnancy and birth into a medical condition. We no longer provide a reliable, affordable system that allows mothers to stay at home with their tiny children. For those fortunate enough to stay at home for the first years before school, we make it impossible for her to either find self-family balance and/or to return to the workforce. And think of it: how many of our celebrated pop culture warrior she-roes aren’t actually mothers. (Someday I’ll share my thoughts on why revering Wonder Woman is actually not helping).
Neil Gaiman mentioned in his piece, “What the [Very Bad Swearword] is a Children’s Book, Anyway?” (included in his excellent collection, View from the Cheap Seats, which I highly recommend to anyone who calls herself a writer), that a well-written kids book will reveal more (especially about sex) as the reader ages and becomes more experienced. I’ve long identified with Persephone, but it wasn’t until I started relating to Demeter that I was better able to recognize that additional layer of the story that Gaiman describes. I also read Ovid’s version for the first time immediately after the Homeric Hymn, reinforcing that this story is definitely more complex than I’d realized.
So here’s what I’m working on: I’ve taken a fascination recently in the moment that a girl shifts from embodying the archetypal energies of Persephone into a woman embracing those of Demeter. It’s not a matter of biology, as Joseph Campbell would have be believe–I don’t have the citation handy, but he once mentioned that girls enter womanhood as a matter of biology. Just because a woman has a baby, doesn’t make her a mother. Some women remain stunted as Persephone mothers, and I blame this perspective on a culture that refuses to allow a woman to age. Rather, a culture that refuses to allow women to have an archetypal container through middle age.
I’m a little late to my own party (such is the life of an adjunct teaching new curriculum during the summer), but remember that dissertation thingy I wrote? I made it into a book and it’s available for your purchasing pleasure!
No public events are currently scheduled, but I’ll make sure I post something should they appear. I don’t necessarily have the resources to travel far and wide, but I’m open to any suggestions and invitations.
Here’s the blurb from the back:
The “Happiest Place on Earth” opened in 1955 during a trying time in American life–the Cold War. Disneyland was envisioned as a utopian resort where families could play together and escape the tension of the “real world.” Since its construction, the park has continually been updated to reflect changing American culture.
The park’s themed features are based on familiar Disney stories and American history and folklore. They reflect the hopes of a society trying to understand itself in the wake of World War II. This book takes a fresh look at the park, analyzing its cultural narrative by looking beyond consumerism and corporate marketing to how Disney helped America cope during the Cold War and beyond.
I did want to take a moment to comment on the writing process, since that’s what this blog has been mostly about for some time, right? I admire those people who can seemingly *just write a book.* With the academic research process being what it is, I’m amazed at people who seem to publish a new book every year or two. I started my dissertation in Fall 2010, and it only became book-worthy at the end of 2014, and that was with the benefit of taking a couple summers off from teaching. More interestingly, the final push to turn the dissertation into a book involved adding some new content. At the time I was writing this new content, most of my books were in storage, so I had to swim those waters with unfamiliar tools. But somehow I did it, and I gave my dissertation-child to the world.
So, here it is, dear public. The culmination of everything this blog has been about for the last 5 years. I have a few Next Projects in mind, all Disney myth related. I even have them outlined. Stay tuned, all two of you who still follow this blog. More to come!
My Facebook is a-twitter (see what I did there?) with articles and responses to 50 Shades of Grey. While I did once read the Twilight series (and have since come to my senses about it), I refuse to read 50 Shades. One of my friends, posted this article, which perfectly captures why. But reading the article, and commenting on his post, has left me feeling something. The such of something that’s preventing me from grading student responses, or reading my book while I wait for a training meeting. I can only identify this feeling as anger? frustration? gas? So, I’m turning to the blogosphere to hash this one out, so this post may be kind of stream-of-consciousnessy. Here’s the reply I posted:
This is so much of why I just can’t condone 50 Shades. Now, I’m not one to blame society’s ills on a single piece of pop culture (I am a Disney Defender after all), and I see 50 Shades as an extreme example of so many wrong things in our society. What concerns me more is that there aren’t counter-myths being played on the same stage. Sure, there are stories about love and romance, but they aren’t on the same viral level of 50 Shades and Twilight. And it concerns me that people see these as good… But looking at it from an Aristotelian perspective, these series have helped bring the conversation about women’s roles to the national, mainstream conversation. They have raised awareness through their warped attempt at catharsis. From a mythic perspective, I would hope this would help usher a new era, but my fear for the media-saturated generations is that their complacency will lead to our downfall–Hellenistic America, perhaps.
Like I said, I’m not one to blame the ills of society on one piece of popular culture. I’ve posted here a few times about why I can’t blame Disney Princesses for America’s warped relationship with itself. They are one cog in a larger problem, a problem that manifests in all areas of media. We *want* a media-savvy society that equally respects all of the various differences people have, but we don’t want to *live* that equal society. For example, if Disney constructs a utopian, populist kingdom that celebrates people for playing to their strengths, they aren’t being diverse enough in their portrayal (and when they are diverse, they do it wrong. Can’t have it both ways, people!). Similarly, the waves of feminism over the last several years have advocated for a certain image of Woman in media, which is all well and good…until the new generations decide they want to be a different kind of woman. We’re in a phase of feminism that seems to want to strike a balance between perfect women who can be both June Cleaver AND Hillary Clinton at the same time, which is causing massive amounts of burn-out among young women. We’re in a phase of hyper-media in which users have developed a disconnect between the permanence of technology and the fleeting moment of “Feels.”
As I become ever more a “Fuddy-Duddy,” I find myself looking down my nose at young women. Don’t they know that pictures last forever on the Internet, so keep your boobs in your shirt? Don’t they know that Edward Cullen and Christian Grey are exemplars of the kind of boyfriend you DON’T want?
The greater problem I see with this current generational divide is that there is SO MUCH media to sift through. How can we expect any one to grow up media-savvy? What means “media-savvy” anyway? Sounds kind of like an adultism–something the “grups” would say–to me.
It occurs to me that stories like Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey are epic tragedies. They are epics because of the extent to which they communicate cultural norms setting a larger-than-life character against a mere mortal, reminding us of our place as lesser-beings. They are tragedies, because they certainly aren’t comedies. They focus on the bringing down of the female protagonist, not on her elevation.
So, here’s a thought. Are these stories more shocking because they are written from the perspective of the submissee as opposed to the dominant character?
A friend of mine posted THIS post on her blog, and I fully agree. I wrote about Twilight and “Cupid and Psyche” while I was at Pacifica, I am fascinated by the seductive power of the Demon Lover. What is it about us today that we even need a Demon Lover? What is so unfulfilled about us that we are trying to find thrilling experience from stories that promote the wholesale mistreatment of women? There’s some serious shadow stuff being worked through in this culture. I wish I could offer solution, but maybe the best solution is to ride it out? To teach our children the counter-myths to the stories that us Fuddy-Duddies think shouldn’t have been made in the first place.
It’s timely, then, that my friends just published the book based on her dissertation, in which she challenges the accepted model for the Heroine’s Journey (you can get her book HERE).
Several years ago, as a fresh graduate student at Pacifica Graduate Institute, I wrote a paper about Persephone, interpreting her story less as a mother’s loss for an abducted child, and more as a teenager’s rebellion for the sake of identity formation. My thinking hinges on the very tiny detail that if Persephone really wanted to leave the Underworld and return to her mother, then why did she capitulate and eat pomegranate seeds? Sure, you could say it was because she was hungry, but determined women are rarely bothered by minor inconveniences as hunger. I think that Hades made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. Notice, after all, that the story is written from Demeter’s perspective. The only perspective we get of Persephone’s experience is when she is crying to her mother. Do we really think that she’s telling her mother the whole truth? She didn’t even want to reveal that she ate the pomegranate. Let’s pretend that Persephone donned a leather jacket and jumped onto the back of Hades’ motorcycle early one morning. Of course, her mother would see it as an abduction. The little snot didn’t even say goodbye.
Anyway, the other day I was watching Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I work from home, and don’t have daycare, so my daughter and I watch a LOT of Disney Junior (far more than I’d like). When they broadcast a movie that gives me some relief from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Doc MacStuffins that takes me to my Laughing Place, then I’m all for it.
Perhaps it’s because this time I watched the movie as a mother, or perhaps it’s because I’ve been recently giving new consideration to the Princess phenomenon, but I just happened to see Persephone in Ariel, only in reverse–Ariel wants to leave the Underworld for the human world, not the other way around. She wanted to shed her goddess powers (as a mermaid) so she could walk and dance. She, too, made a defiant departure from her father. She felt restricted and confined. He wouldn’t even allow her to dream about the human world. So she left. And got a pair of legs.
The story is far more complex, with a sea witch and losing her voice and such. But the point of any mythic story is that we put our own spin on the details, but the basic structure carries from version to version. Stories such as The Little Mermaid help answer the question of Persephone’s story–just what was her experience while she was gone? Disney’s version tells this story to a modern audience, with Ariel experiencing many of the same growing pains as the American teenager. Even 25 years after its initial release, The Little Mermaid continues to tell the story of the American teenager who is trying to separate herself from parental control and become her own woman. (I’ll save the Eric bit, and the leaving home for a boy bit, for another conversation.)
True Love’s Kiss is today’s pomegranate. It’s a literary symbol that symbolizes union with someone or something else other than a parent, the divine marriage, a key step in the Individuation process. Regardless of what one things about love in the real world, the symbolic marriage in literature and myth speaks on a psychological level, helps elevate the inner reaches of psyche to a conscious level, leading to wholeness.
I contend that Persephone, and Ariel, had to leave. Without the departure, a daughter can’t become her own woman. Disney’s Rapunzel and Pixar’s Brave both illustrate the problems of an over-bearing mother on a girl’s identity formation. Sometimes, it comes with sacrifice, like trading fins for legs, but often, as The Little Mermaid II demonstrates, it doesn’t mean forever.
When was the last time you read The Instructions? Let’s back up a second–what are The Instructions?
Perhaps I’m a little biased in a particular direction, but my answer to that question lies in myth. I take that very broad Campbellian definition of myth that myths are the stories and guides that define people as a culture or as individuals. But I don’t consider these stories as just “stories.” A story can be, literally, a story. It can be a novel, a film, a comic, a play, etc etc etc. But a story could also be a football game, a business journal, a textbook. It could be a dance party, a furniture store, or a 3-course dinner. In other words, anything can be storied if we ascribe any special meaning to it.
There is no universal rule to what can become storied. Each of us find our myths in different things. Jung’s now-legendary story is that he once asked what his myth was, then remembered how much he enjoyed building with blocks as a child–so he built himself Bollengen tower.
As it happens, I’m attracted to the literary form of stories, so I have the tendency to talk about myth from the perspective of an armchair-Lit major. So for that reason, books, films, and media are, for me, The Instructions.
So, when was the last time you read The Instructions? For most of you, my dear readers, you probably read some form of Instructions recently. Perhaps you read a religious text, or a scholarly text. Perhaps you read a Cookbook, or a comic book. But did you actually read them? Absorb them? Take them to heart? Allow yourself to be changed by them? Or did you read The Instructions with the sole intent of not following them?