An Open Letter to Disney Critics

Yesterday I read (in a feat of supernatural mad reading skills) Team Rodent by Carl Hiaasen. He has no love for Disney, but his explanation for not liking the Corporation seems founded. As a Florida resident who has seen his state change (for good or for bad), I can’t blame him for being miffed at the impact Disney has had on the state culture and economy (and politics). Other Disney critics I’ve read recently include Henry Giroux and Jack Zipes.

But my question is really this: in what ways have you, oh Disney Critic, adjusted your criticism since Eisner stepped down? There are many similarities between the Eisner and the Iger regimes, but there are also some differences, at least from where I sit as a consumer as opposed to an insider. New expansions, cultural sensitivities, environmental awareness, etc.

In the preface to the 2nd edition of The Mouse that Roared, Henry Giroux, or perhaps his new co-author, softened the blow. In the 1st edition, the stance was very anti-Disney, but with the 2nd edition, the authors maintain the stance of awareness of Disney’s practices without the desire to fix “the problem.” Is this change of tone indicative of a change in attitude toward Disney Corp?

If so, where are those sources?

While we’re at it, most of the criticisms I’ve come across that are legit for dissertation research are from the 90s or early 2000s. Anything more recent?

Dances with Smurfs

Every now and then, my students need to talk about something relevant to current events. I find, more than any other time, this occurs at least once during the Religion Unit of my Intro to Humanities I class. I also find that most of the issues they want to address are toward Islam, though Hinduism and Buddhism also bring up some issues of discomfort. Today was no different. Although the topic at hand was Hinduism, questions kept turning back onto Islam. This semester has seen some very interesting turns of events, from uprisings in Islamic countries to various state issues. Other issues include social issues – disbanding unions, rising gas prices, and teacher lay-offs.

At what point did the ideals of the Founding Fathers go by the wayside? And more to the point, at what point did people stop caring to fight back? Clearly, the little marches on the Capitol that keep occurring aren’t making enough of an impact.

Last night, I watched the “Dancing with Smurfs” episode of South Park. It’s a fairly recent episode, and it underscores one thing I see happening: Charismatic public figures are the best propagandists. There is a unified front of such people permeating American news media. The people they target or the people who criticize their charisma just shake their head and hope that by ignoring them, they’ will go away. If History has taught us anything, ignoring them doesn’t work.

I wish we could all be Wendys and tackle the Eric Cartmans in the media and political circles.

From Concept Paper to Chapter 1

The Concept Paper is a proto-chapter 1 that my school requires third year students to write to prove they are ready to start writing the dissertation. It goes through an extensive quarter-long peer review process, and includes an overview of the dissertation (Introduction), a preliminary Lit Review (my bane of existence), and a rough chapter outline. For my dissertation, I succeeded in writing the perfect chapter outline during the concept paper phase, so I have a very healthy container for this whole project. The rest, however, has been a tad annoying.

In the perfect world, to translate the Concept Paper into Chapter 1 entails some editing and perhaps some added material. Chapter 1, of course, lays the foundation for the rest of the dissertation, and it is the only one of my chapters that isn’t themed around a land in Disneyland. Because of this organizational structure, I’ve felt the need to pack as much additional information as I can into the introduction. But that’s not going to work, my chair informs me far more eloquently that I am sharing with you this morning, because my introduction is too long. The introductory statement (i.e., the content that precedes the Lit Review) is typically no longer than 15 pages. Mine is 25 pages. In reality, this is probably a relief, because there are sections that I felt were stretched just to make the chapter seem a bit longer. I am intimidated, by dissertation introductions that are longer than 40 pages—and they seem to be full of content, not lit review…

Ah the Lit Review. How I don’t write odes to thee. My biggest challenge with the Lit Review is that I haven’t read half my sources yet. This is part of my plan: There are sources that are pertinent to the Lit Review and to the overall argument of my dissertation, but I’m waiting to read them until the chapter that heavily focuses on their content. My reasons should be fairly obvious to anyone who suffers from my memory problem: I typically can’t retain information I read for longer than a few months. If I read a passage more than once and quote it often, then it’s likely not so bad. But there are books I read over a year ago (TechGnosis, The Mouse that Roared) that I have a difficult time recalling. In some cases, though not all, I’ve made an extensive list of quotes and commentary; but, the flip side to that is that if I were to make quotes and commentaries for EVERY SINGLE SOURCE, I’d spend my entire dissertation clock quoting and commentating, and not actually working.

So one of the biggest challenges I’ve had to deal with during the course of this Introduction is what to do about Walt Disney’s biography. I’ve wanted to make a statement about it, because it is an essential component to unlocking meaning at Disneyland; however, it really just doesn’t fit anywhere. There’s a lot to comment on in the Main Street, U.S.A., chapter, which is chapter 2 and mostly finished at this point. Perhaps what my real answer is, is that I need to weave the biography into the dissertation when it is necessary and leave it alone otherwise. Treat Walt like just another theorist. Well, not *just*  another theorist.

The other question is whether or not I need to actually introduce the myths under discussion in the dissertation, or whether or not I can just gloss over them and really address them in each chapter. Of course, I was already going to address them in each chapter, especially given that each chapter is also themed around one of them. But do they actually need real estate in the Introduction?

Day-By-Day Dante, or: a book you must read

Dennis Patrick Slattery, one of my professors from Pacifica Graduate Institute and Dante Scholar extraordinaire, just recently published a book about exploring one’s personal myth through Dante’s opus, The Divine Comedy. He took daily selections of The Divine Comedy and mediated on them, exploring how each of the passages serves “as passageways or corridors into understanding many of the shared sufferings and joys of being human, regardless of one’s belief system or religious persuasion.” I have no doubt that this book will help anyone through their own life journey.

For more information, including purchasing information, visit this website.

War Against Teachers?

There’s been a lot in the news recently about teachers: Some outspoken individual has claimed that teachers have a cushy job and are overpaid for the amount of work that they do, which is essentially just baby-sitting, and many states are calling for cuts in teaching positions to help reconcile budgetary shortfalls. Many of the people and media channels I follow on Facebook and Twitter are a-twitter about all of this: in what ways will this devaluing of education impact culture?

This is nothing new – teachers being underappreciated, greatly misunderstood, and teachers being confused with professors who lead college classes and – the lucky ones at least – may have someone else to do the grading for them so they can concentrate on their research. But, there’s been something in the water that I’ve noticed since leading undergraduate, and I encounter more and more people who tell me, with dead seriousness, that education (particularly higher education) is a complete waste of time. I’ve had students or classmates who say that they dropped out of high school and took their GED because high school was a waste of time, and are coming to college to get the piece of paper that entitles them to a better job. (Note, I’m not saying that all non-traditional adult students are in this category; some legitimately aren’t ready or can’t handle the pressures of college.) What makes school a “waste of time?”

So, then I try to think of stories of teachers. All heroes have some sort of sagely teacher, the Wise Old Wo/Man. This figure, one of the top ten archetypal figures of literature, gives the hero the knowledge and advice s/he needs to successfully complete her/his mission. Obviously, no hero can be successful without some kind of mentor/educator.

The next challenge is to think of stories that involve modern classroom settings – 1 teacher to several students. There are plenty of historical examples of this, from Plato and Charlemagne’s medieval universities, to the Renaissance and beyond. But I’m struggling to come up with a myth other than Harry Potter, so let’s work with that.

There are three types of Potter teachers: the McGonagalls, who are dedicated to student success; the Snapes, who openly play favorites and make education difficult for those they don’t necessarily like; and the Trelawneys, who are quite out there. This covers a fair spectrum of modern teachers (and professors, to be sure). Were these teachers accountable to the American Education System, all of them would have earned their position, because of the importance we place on Teacher’s Certification for primary and secondary schools (graduate level degrees for higher learning). Yet, at the end of HBP, Harry drops out of school, claiming that he has learned all that he can and needs to fulfill his mission to defeat Voldemort. Apparently, to Harry, school has become a complete “waste of time.”

There is something to be said about practical education versus book learning. In regards to defeating Voldemort, yes, Harry had learned all that he would learn from books (assuming that he even read any), and felt that it was time for some practical education. This makes sense in the context of Harry’s adventures. Perhaps this also makes sense in the “real world.” But, with the exception of Snape and, to an extent, Trelawney, Harry doesn’t blame his teachers for dropping out of school. He doesn’t blame them for not giving him the practical education he needs. He makes this decision for himself.

So why is there a recent push to blame teachers for everything that is wrong? Teachers hands are tied by so many different policies and learning objectives, such that the only thing they can be accused of doing “wrong” is following the rules. Perhaps rather than firing teachers, or chopping their salaries, Education Reform should revisit rules and regulations, and untie some parental hands. Or, better yet, maybe it’s time to rewrite the myth that education is an institution, which is such a loaded term, and return to the idea that education is part of the hero’s story?

Red Riding Hood

The following trailer was brought to my attention today:

I should first say, in the case of full and honest disclosure, that anything that celebrates the fact that it is made by the same director as Twilight always makes me apprehensive (because, let’s face it, Twilight just isn’t a good movie). But let’s get beyond my own prejudices…

The story of Little Red Riding Hood was one of my favorites growing up. Little Red is told to go visit some (sick) relative and take some kind of present. Along the way, she is pursued by a wolf, who finds her rather tasty. He chats with her and learns she is on her way to her relative’s house. He rushes ahead, disposes of said relative, and disguises himself to fool Little Red when she finally arrives. Little Red shows up and remarks about the relative’s big eyes, hands, nose, and finally teeth – “The better to eat you up, deary” – and either has to flee the wolf, who meets a grim demise, or get eaten, and later rescued by a passing woodsman. There are many different versions, and many different details, but I think this captures the heart of the commonly accepted version(s) today.

Most interpretations of the symbolism of Little Red suggest that this is a metaphor for women and coming-of-age. The red (which is not always red in all of the versions) evokes blood; the eaten relative is the passing of the old generation; and the wolf is the seducer who can corrupt Little Red during her nubile fertility. Or perhaps, Little Red symbolizes a good will envoy, delayed by a terrorist from successfully achieving the mission. Or maybe, Little Red is the budding New World ideology having to combat itself against Old World traditions. The greatest thing about traditional fairy tales is that they can be interpreted many different ways, depending on the frame of reference by the interpreter. The second greatest thing about fairy tales is that they can be revisioned and retold to maintain cultural relevancy. Fairy tales benefit both the culture and the individual, reaffirming our norms, values, mores, so on and so forth.

So then, there’s this movie. Little Red is a beautiful blonde who wears a hood that is clearly not little. And the Wolf is now a warewolf who terrorizes Little Red’s little country village. The trailer implies that Little Red is likely in love with the wolf. And there are some clips that suggest that this is definitely not an innocent metaphor for coming-of-age. What stands out is that:

a) Little Red is now a savior, somehow, though it isn’t clear from the trailer. Since the trailer is leading us to believe that she is in love with the Wolf, her role as savior is likely going to include some kind of sacrifice – she will have to choose between either her lover or her community. This particular theme keeps coming up throughout literature. If the hero chooses love, many people will die and that will weigh on the hero’s conscious. However, if the hero chooses community, the lover dies and likely the hero will never love again, or, at least, not as passionately. Americans favor the individual’s right to individualism and loving whom one chooses, but only if that love does not destroy the entire community, seen as a metaphor for society at large.

b) The Wolf is now a warewolf. In the original fairy tale, yes, it is true that the wolf dons the clothes of the grandmother, but the wolf never once loses his wolfness. The warewolf does change form. Shape-shifting is not a new theme, but it is one that is met in American literature as something to be genuinely afraid of, because a shape-shifter can at any point resemble the person standing next to you, thus making it almost impossible to tell who to trust. Trust is the backbone of community, and once trust is violated, the community breaks down.

So while I strongly believe that this movie is likely going to suck on grounds of technical matters, this does sound like a new myth for community. Now, why are we so concerned with community all of a sudden? If what *they* say is true about the breakdown of community and about the fundamental necessity for community (perhaps a conversation further impacted by the housing crisis and the number of neighborhoods that have emptied because of foreclosures), then movies such as this suggest that our mythology is going into “survival mode” with regards to the community. The myth always precedes the history, so maybe we’ll see new shifts in community and housing in the next few years.