A Dangerous Method

In short, this is a film about psychologist C.G. Jung. Jung is underrepresented in American culture, even with all the publicity he gets in the academic circles. This is one of the first films I’m aware of that portrays Jung at all, beyond documentaries of course.

The story concentrates on Jung and his patient Sabina Spielrein. Without knowing too much about my history of Jung – I haven’t read a biography, I stay away from discussions such as The Aryan Christ because I believe all thinkers are the product of their times and environments, and I haven’t read Memories, Dreams, Reflections all the way through because I was frustrated by Jung’s arrogance – Spielrein is portrayed as Jung’s first psychoanalytic patient and the “guinea pig” for him to solidify his theories. Her analysis inspires Jung to meet Sigmund Freud, who was already published in the field of psychoanalysis, and their relationship becomes one of mentoring father to curious son and is one that fueled the fire for the psychoanalytic revolution of the last century. Jung makes the mistake of falling for Spielrien and launches into a sexual relationship with her after sending her to university at the prompting of a patient Freud sends to Jung. At this point, the story begins to follow two storylines. One is Jung’s relationship to Spielrein and the other his his relationship to Freud. Through Spielrein, Jung finds release, freedom, and an outlet for his growing theories. And in Freud, he finds a friendly face in a burgeoning field. The tensions between Freud and Jung are made evident from their first meeting. Some are economic – Jung is nonchalant about his wealth, which annoys Freud, who struggles with his status – and some are a matter of transference. Freud makes it clear that he sees Jung as his intellectual heir, while Jung doesn’t return the sentiments. It is in this last point that I feel the movie advertisements are misleading. The movie shows Spielrein as a catalyst for the separation between Freud and Jung, but not as the sole cause as the ads inform us: “Sabina Spielrein, the beautiful but disturbed young woman who comes between them.” What comes between the two thinkers is Jung’s willingness to embrace unscientific approaches in his psychology, whereas Freud held firm that only proven science was acceptable. I suspect that Freud’s adherence to science is the product of his Jewish heritage and a constant life-battle to be accepted.

Had this film, directed by David Cronenberg, not been about historical figures, based on historical facts, it could easily have fallen into cliché. But because this figures are so important, it adds a dimension to the film that only films “based on true events” can.

A little about the actors: As someone who is not a Freudian, I appreciated Viggo Mortenson’s portrayal of Freud. He made him human. Authentic. Kiera Knightly offered one of her best portrayals, and I would be disappointed if she didn’t get some nod from the award circuit. Occasionally “Kiera Knightly” leaked through her characterization, but she was able to bring Spielrein to life. Spielrien, it should be noted, was sent to university by Jung as part of her treatment. In an era when women were discouraged from going to school, she wanted to be a doctor and became a contributor to psychoanalysis in her own right. I can only imagine that if she had survived World War II, her contributions to the field would have greatly influenced psychology. And there’s Michael Fassbender as Jung. I’m not too familiar with Fassbender as an actor, but I did enjoy his performance in Jane Eyre. His portrayal of Jung captures Jung’s introverted awkwardness, his curiosity, and his internal struggles with his theories and his passions. In short, he came across less like the arrogant jerk I interpreted him to be in MDR, and more human.

This film is based on a play, “The Talking Cure” and a book, A Most Dangerous Game. It is interesting to note that in the acknowledgments at the end of the film, the Freud archives are thanked, but nothing with Jung.

I think that this film is a valuable contribution to the study of Jung. It makes the suggestion that Spielrein influenced his theories, especially the animus/anima, which I understand may not be wholly accurate, but we can forgive a little Hollywood license. The film is reverential in nature, not critical, but it does allow you, the viewer, to be the judge. There is some S&M sex in there, but it is portrayed discreetly. From the advertisements about S&M, I was half expecting this film to be comparable to Eyes Wide Shut. Jung and psychology are the focus, not the sex. We are even given hints that the sex is what fueled Jung’s theories to go in directions away from Freud and his sexual theories.

One last note, the film ends on the eve of World War I. In the obligatory “what happened next” notes at the end of the film, we are informed that Freud died from cancer after being forced out of Austria by the Nazis. Spielrein worked as a psychologist for Communist Russia, but died a widow, assassinated by Nazis in the war (she was Jewish). Jung lived a full life, died peacefully, outliving his wife, Emma Jung, and mistress, Toni Wolff. The note makes reference to his nervous breakdown in World War I, which is hinted by the end of the movie. This nervous breakdown, we know, sparked Jung’s theories into new directions.

Re-Visioning the Mother and Father with the Help of Harry Potter

James and Lily Potter represent for their orphaned son, Harry, the ideal Father and Mother. They died in a surprise attack protecting Harry from Lord Voldemort when he was only one year old. Throughout J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Harry learns about his parents, facts that threaten to abolish his ideal, while having to learn to identify the Mother and Father as archetypes in his life. In her book, The Wisdom of the Psyche, Ginette Paris recounts a need to reconnect with the Mother and Father archetypes. Separation from these archetypes manifest on a social level as problems that threaten order, such as a generation of eternal youth tormented by housing, fuel, and food crises that threaten a way of life and basic survival needs. Like Harry, a reconnection with the traditional images that embody these archetypes is in order, due in part to a mythic paradigm shift that has challenged and upturned traditional beliefs and behaviors. Instead, what is needed is a re-visioning or re-imagining of the Mother and Father archetypes. The model provided in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series suggests not only that the new images can be found in unlikely people or places, but also that the archetype can have many faces.

To best understand how this can be accomplished, an understanding of an archetypal approach is necessary to lay the foundations of an archetypal reading of Harry Potter. In his treatise on soul making through archetypal psychology, James Hillman in Re-Visioning Psychology offers methods of seeing and applying archetypes to one’s life. He suggests that archetypes are "the deepest patterns of psychic functioning, the roots of the soul governing the perspectives we have of ourselves and the world" (xix, emphasis original). By this model, archetypes are held to be any universal pattern, regardless of the degree of sacred quality it possesses. They are symbolic metaphors that point beyond the normal framework of the ego-consciousness, and they affect the individual on a deeply personal, emotional level. Hillman goes so far as to compare an archetype with a god in a generic, sacred sense (xix). While Harry Potter does not resemble a god of any tradition, the series is nevertheless full of archetypal characters who influence the reader to behave in comparable fashions, from the hero, Harry, to the Wise Old Man, Albus Dumbledore, and can lead the reader on his or her own fruitful, rewarding journey. Hillman presents four categories of archetypal re-visioning: personifying, pathologizing, de-humanizing, and psychologizing. Some of these categories are more relevant to the reader than to the series’ characters, but an understanding of them makes the reading experience richer.

Personifying “implies a human being who creates Gods in human likeness much as an author creates characters out of his own personality” and is the process of naming the archetype (Hillman 12). Hillman relates this to the naming of experiences and feelings, to giving them a capitalized name. In the world of Harry Potter, archetypal evil is characterized by Voldemort, a power-hungry, dark wizard who utilizes all avenues needed to accomplish his goals. Harry is one of the few in the Wizarding World who is not afraid to speak Voldemort’s name, but he is surrounded by people who cringe at its utterance. Albus Dumbledore, the school’s headmaster, teaches Harry and the reader that the fear of using the name incites fear of the thing. In fearing to use the name, to personify the archetype, the individual is essentially avoiding the archetype itself creating a barrier of fear around it. This is applicable to all archetypes, both positive and negative. Giving the archetype a name and an image brings it to a level with which the individual can identify with by making it represent the observable universe.

Pathologizing is the psyche’s reaction to an experience or behavior that manifests as an “illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering” (Hillman 57). It follows a religions and/or medical model of cause and effect: because of "a," then "b”: “We suffer, it has been customary to say, because we are either sick or sinful, and the cure of our suffering calls for either science or faith” to explain what is ailing the individual, to give it a simple, straightforward explanation with a simple, straightforward cure (Hillman 57). Both of these models “imply that pathologizing is wrong” (ibid.). The discovery of this correlation between archetypal unrest and physical malady is the socio-psychological bridge between the onset of the problem and the path to a new enlightenment and archetypal connection.

The physicality of pathologizing is less relevant to Harry Potter than the tradition that shuns it. Hillman argues that pathologizing is the model for why monotheism is dangerous to the psyche, because, like science, it does not attend to the complex needs of the psyche through its simple, straightforward explanation. Monotheism places a very thick, limited frame around archetypes and their ability to influence the psyche. In his world, Harry, as the archetypal hero, challenges the assumptions held by the Ministry of Magic regarding Voldemort and the nature of evil. The Ministry, tied to the steadfast monotheistic point of view that Voldemort was defeated the night Harry’s parents died, ignore all of the signs of his return. This piece of plot demonstrates the potential damage that can come from a closed mind, or a limited point of view. Like Hillman, Harry challenges the monotheistic mentality embedded in the Western tradition. The Harry Potter Alliance, a social activism organization inspired by the themes of Harry Potter, calls this the “muggle mindset,” using Rowling’s term for non-magical people. To combat the “muggle mindset” means to see the people of the world as equal with equal rights, regardless of religious creed, race, gender or culture. In other words, to break out of the monotheism that limits perspectives towards global and psychological affairs.

Furthermore, Hillman calls for a return to a polytheistic mindset, idealized by the Greeks and their pantheon of gods that describe various behaviors, emotions, experiences, and anything else that could not be explained by immediate observation. The monotheistic mindset has birthed the modern approaches to science that strive to identify the explanation behind everything, reducing the need to accomplish the same explanation through imaginal practices. Science overshadows the imagination, evidenced in the works of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung and their students declaring myth, mythic thinking and mythic imagination to be either missing or dead. In reading Hillman’s work, it seems to me more like a call to return to the Greek pantheon altogether. I am critical of that approach because the Greek pantheon fulfilled the needs of a specific group of people at a specific time. Studying the myths assists in identifying their psychic power, but the modern mind needs an entirely new approach, one not reliant upon an alterable history. The archetypes Hillman is identifying are idealized within Greek mythology, but also manifest in various places throughout popular culture. In Harry Potter the parallels to the Greek pantheon are non-existent; however, the archetypes manifest in other ways relevant to the modern mind. Time will tell what future generations think about the books and whether they still hold the archetypal significance they hold now.

Because Harry holds his parents in such high regard, especially since they died protecting him, de-humanizing their ideal is crucial for him to accomplish his task. As he gets older, he learns more about them, especially about his father, who was not the pristine hero Harry thought he was. Eventually, he realizes he loves his parents despite all their faults. The lesson for the reader is that the idea of the parents is the archetype projected onto the actual people, and it is important to learn to separate the parents from the projection. As soon as Harry learns this, he is able to use his own voice and act beyond the expectations his parents’ memory forces on him, and, thus, he is able to individuate and say goodbye.

Psychologizing is particularly helpful for the readers of Harry Potter who get caught in the throes of mythopoetic arrest, the "a-ha" feeling in the books. Some readers need to create in response to this feeling, and this has given birth to the "fandom." Fans are linked not only by their love for the books, but also by fan fiction, podcasts, Wizard Rock (or "Wrock"), arts and crafts, group meetings, and many other things. What is missing, in my opinion, is the use of creative energy to create new myths, to live out one’s personal myth as inspired by the archetypes in Harry Potter rather than through those archetypes. Hillman describes psychologizng as mythologizing or as "seeing through," “a process of deliteralizng and a search for the imaginal in the heart of things by means of ideas” (Hillman 136). There is plenty of discussion in the fandom of the "whats" of Harry Potter, but the dialogue falters at the "hows" and "whys". By "hows" and "whys", I am referring to the reasons behind the significance of the series and its popularity. Whether it is through the methods of archetypal psychology, comparative mythology, or any other approach, the "seeing through" of the myth is the most crucial to is continuation, which is essential for a story to be labeled as a myth and not just a really popular story. It is very simple for a myth to be discarded before it passes into subsequent generations. The modern Western mentality of a disposable culture constantly bounces from myth to myth, object to object, person to person. There is little room for mythic blooming in an age of too much information. A recent example is the fever and failure of the Star Wars phenomenon. The original trilogy touched an archetypal need that was otherwise lacking in the culture at the time. Twenty years later, George Lucas re-released the original trilogy, edited and updated, not in response to cultural needs, but because of technological advances. He then proceeded to release a "prequel" trilogy that, to some extent, alienated the original fans that found the new movies void of the mythic qualities they loved in the first trilogy. Because George Lucas has continued to revisit the myth for his own reasons, they have lost their mythic qualities.

Because Harry is constantly forced to revisit the archetypes versus the actual people, Harry Potter acts as a model for the process of reconnecting to and re-identifying the Mother and Father archetypes. The lack of these particular archetypes, or, rather, their weak presence in this country, has created several problems unique to the modern era, ranging from a breakdown of community and communication, an overload of information and net-based globalization, to various "crises" that upset the flow of society, such as the rapid increase in fuel costs to the mortgage fall-out and the resulting banking crisis. The severity of these crises depends wholly on one’s vantage point. Younger people, such as myself, with their lives still ahead have different perspectives of these events than those in the end of their lives, seeing them more as a threat to their overall well-being. Each generation gets progressively "younger," holding onto the myth of eternal youth and dependency, “caught betwixt and between the Child and the Adult, and the consequences of their failure is tragic for them as for the rest of society” (Paris 114). All they are craving is for the love and care of Mother and Father, whom are missing.

Without a stable parental structure, onto whom does one have to project these archetypes? Part of this comes from the need to redefine the general appearance of what Mother and Father. No longer do they resemble "Ozzy and Harriet," the Cleavers, or other iconic couples from early television. Father is not necessarily the male of the house who goes out to earn money to take care of the family. Mother is not necessarily a female who is home all day, baking cookies and waiting for her children to return from school. In some cases, no one is at home at all, dinner is take out, and the only quality time the family spends together is watching TV or driving to school. This is shifting, but not quickly enough to make a smooth, clear transition. It is up to the individual to find someone onto which they can project. Harry has two Father figures: his headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, and his godfather, Sirius Black, both representing an authoritative, loving role model. His friends’ mother, Molly Wesley, most closely resembles a mother for Harry, but he does not identify her with Mother. Instead, Mother is represented by Hogwarts, the magic school he attends. This Mother nurtures and loves him. His ongoing battle with Lord Voldemort is driven mostly to protect the school and the people he loves whom she houses.

Because Harry is forced to separate his parents with their corresponding archetype, he helps readers see archetypal possibilities beyond traditional stereotypes. Perhaps Harry Potter is not meant to survive as a myth beyond the present era. But his story functions at this time as a transition from a traditional mythology to a new, developing mythos.

Works cited

  • Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: HarperPerennial, 1992.
  • Paris, Ginette. Wisdom of the Psyche: Depth Psychology after Neuroscience. London: Routledge, 2007.

Psyche, Nature and the Magic Kingdom

There is nothing natural about Disneyland. In fact, I would say that it is one of the most unnatural places in the United States. From the second one drives onto the Resort or steps off the tram, one is inundated with images, music, and a highly controlled environment designed for the purpose of eliciting a good time. Granted, it can be observed that several people, especially parents and their children, look unhappy, but this is more due to exhaustion and sensory overload than actual unhappiness, which is not allowed by design. Disneyland is not simply a popular place for family vacations, but it is the one place, a kind of Mecca, for people to engage with the imaginal worlds of their childhood. In short, it is the hot spot for the projections of the American imagination. Of the five Disney parks, I will concentrate on only the park in Anaheim, California, because it is the one with which I am most familiar. What it is about the park that tickles our collective imagination is a vast topic, but I will explore it with concentration on a few key aspects of the park – those that relate to nature and the ecology of the psyche. In being such an unnatural environment, it becomes the most natural for psyche’s playground.

Tamara Andrews suggests a new perspective of  nature mythology that is especially apropos to a discussion of psyche and nature as they play out at Disneyland: “Most people are familiar with the phenomenon of the mirage, an illusion that appears where images are displaced or distorted under specific atmospheric conditions. The mind’s eye takes over. Perhaps such vision is what is necessary to understand nature mythology from a modern perspective” (xiii). The Disney park is not itself an illusion, but that design of the park at play with the senses is. Through the efforts of the Imagineers, Disney’s design engineers, it sometimes appears as though magic really does happen, that birds can talk and sing, or that a little fairy dust can make one fly to Never Land. It is, thus, necessary to read Disneyland as a fairy tale, with all of its psychological implications, not just as an abomination of nature, as critics are wont to proclaim. Disneyland may embody capitalism, but the park is a playground for the imagination. It allows people to interact with the stories and characters they love, and thus embody the closest thing to a mythological canon American has to offer, á la fairy tales and the Western frontier.

Walt Disney envisioned Disneyland while taking his young children to the park. The legendary story is that he wanted to create a place where the adults could share the activity with the children and have just as much fun. His thoughts on the subject “meandered along many paths before arriving at a park with the types of activities families could share in the location that we know today. His plans started out relatively small, but like all of Walt’s ideas, they grew and grew and grew…” (Imagineers 16). He set out to create an experience; one that he believed would never be finished as long as “there is imagination left in the world” (qtd. in Imagineers 20).

Perhaps one of the most essential aspects of Disneyland is that it allows a person to fully embody and be submerged into fantasy fairy tale such that the stories not only become a three-dimensional reality, but the Guest actually becomes a part of the story. This experience of embodiment is what David Abram claims as a missing element in modern American society (8-10). We have culturally become so removed from nature that our behaviors do not readily support any degree of return. We recognize the body as a well-oiled machine and technology as a means of enhancing that machine. As we become more and more reliant upon technology in the modern era, we value nature less and less. Similarly, fairy tale has been likewise distanced from us. As J.R.R. Tolkien describes it, fairy tale has been “relegated to the ‘nursery’ as shabby or old-fashioned furniture is relegated to the play-room … adults do not want it, and do not mind if it is misused” (34). In a similar vein, depth psychologists, such as Marie-Louise von Franz, recognize that fairy tale is essential to connect with the collective unconscious, because it is the most fundamental manifestation of unconscious material, even over mythology. While the face of fairy tale has changed since von Franz began lecturing on it, bridging the gap between anonymous short story and epic-proportioned mythology, it nonetheless continues to bear the essential element Tolkien describes as the Faërie, a magical “other world” where animals talk, magicians roam, and the laws of natural science are ignored, which is precisely what Disneyland tries to achieve. If fairy tale is fundamental to the unconscious and nature is an essential part of the human experience, it stands to reason that by revisioning the natural experience, Disneyland is essentially feeding a myth-hungry unconscious.

Each land is designed to accomplish a specific atmosphere that conveys the stories in an environment closely related to their themes. Disney’s vision was that each Guest could step into another time or place during their visit to the park. He charged the Imagineers with creating each of these lands to each be an imaginal microcosm. Guests are supposed to be unaware of the other lands while being fully focused on the one they are in, while also not feeling too cramped, crowded, and, ideally, overwhelmed by the experience. Looking at each of the lands, we can place them into three categories:

  • Imaginary Ecosystem: Adventureland
  • American Mythos: Main Street USA, Frontierland, and New Orleans Square
  • Imaginary Times: Fantasyland and Tomorrowland

I am overlooking two lands, Critter Country and Mickey’s Toon Town, because they are designed more as merchandising tie-ins to Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse, and hold little genuine psychological connection with Guests beyond getting to meet one’s favorite character.

Imaginary Ecosystem

“Adventureland re-creates the eras and locales of great adventure stories. To Walt, it was a ‘wonder land of nature’s own design.’ Here you’ll navigate the tropical rivers of the world, explore Indian temple ruins, and climb into the tree canopy in the deepest jungles of Africa. Adventureland is for the young at heart and brave of spirit.” (Imagineers 33)

The rides in Adventureland were inspired by a series of adventure-themed films produced by Disney during the 1950s, and they represent a conscious opposition to what Theodore Roszak calls “urban-industrialism,” or “the willful withdrawal of our species from the natural habitat in which it evolved” (307). Assuming that archaeological theories are true, and humans evolved in the African savannah, then Adventureland takes us back to that environment, protected by a large landscaping budget from the horrors of global warming. The major point of criticism on this point is that hardly anything in Adventureland is, in fact, real. All of the animals are audio-animatronic, or computer-controlled robots that can mimic actions and mannerisms of humans and animals, because that would ensure the same performance for every Guest. Many of the plants are imported, but are balanced with domestic Southern California foliage, rooting the experience into familiarity, some of which are completely artificial and designed to look real. None of the stone is real, and can never erode. To fully embrace Adventureland, and this is also true of the entire park, one has to look at it through an aesthetic eye: look “at the whole appreciatively, historically, synthetically … as a spectator watches a drama” (Royce qtd. in Roszak 133). Overlooking the unnaturalness, we see in Adventureland a jungle microcosm not found elsewhere in the United States, at the heart of which stands a Disneydendron semperflorens grandis,[1]an anima mundi, one of several throughout the park that connect the park’s environment with the “soul of the sky” (Cobb 124).

American Mythos

“Civilized man … is in danger of losing all contact with the world of instinct – a danger that is still further increased by his living an urban existence in what seems to be a purely manmade environment. This loss of instinct is largely responsible for the pathological condition of contemporary culture.” (Jung qtd. in Sabini 15)

This is precisely what the three lands of the American mythos attempt to remedy. By recreating the frontiers of the American psyche, these three lands remove us from our urban existence and transport us into the psyche. That all three lands are manmade is a testament to how far American culture has evolved from the environments at the foundation of the culture’s collective unconscious in that we have to consciously reconstruct them because the environment no longer exists.

  • Main Street USA – “Main Street, U.S.A., takes you back to a turn-of-the-century small town modeled on Walt’s own memories from his boyhood. It’s a world at the dawn of the age of electricity, but still firmly rooted in a simpler time. Anything can be accomplished, and soon will be. It’s a time and place of boundless possibilities.” (Imagineers 23)

This land is designed to reflect an idealized image of Small Town, USA, modeled on Disney’s childhood home in Marceline, Missouri. This area is forever locked in that transition between a pioneer town and a more industrialized city, and is the first all Guests pass through upon entering the park.

Main Street USA is Walt’s equivalent to Jung’s Bollengen Tower. He built it to reflect something he remembered fondly from his childhood, much like Jung and his building blocks. That he had to build an entire street, excluding the rest of the park, reflects Walt’s and America’s drive for grandiosity that emerged after World War II and has become the mythic stereotype of the 1950s, one that entitles all families to own a house, have at least one car, abundant toys at Christmas, and everyone could get an education. At least, that was the projected ideal, and far from the actuality. This degree of grandiosity emerges as the unconscious works to offset the conscious prospective realities. As the world was recovering from the war and the Great Depression, it became more important for the collective unconscious to compensate for all of the hardships experienced during those events. Disneyland was built during this collective compensation, opening in the summer of 1955.

  • Frontierland – “Frontierland celebrates the American pioneer spirit. It has always been the perfect embodiment of the wonder of – and quest to discover – the unknown, whether it be by land, water, or rail. It’s also a time of endless summers and lazy rivers. Stay awhile, and you’ll see why so many folks choose to call Frontierland ‘home.’” (Imagineers 45)

Frontierland harkens to a mythologized time in American history – the movement west. It glorifies mining towns and the Romantic view of an America only slightly touched by technology and unaffected by the Civil War and tensions with Native Americans and Mexico. The land is in response to the popular culture of the 1940s-1970s of Westerns on television, weekend games of Cowboys and Indians, and the idolization of Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. The search for gold and other ores taint the otherwise unbroken expansiveness of the Western frontier. By projecting its ideal onto empty terrain, the American psyche sees possibility for development of itself through the development of the land, to the point of a “negative interiorization of nature” to the point that nature “becomes sublated in soul, the space of interiority opened up through the application of domination of itself” (Barreto 269). Furthermore, the mines are images of going into the depths of the Earth and extracting pieces of her soul for our own benefit. It is important to note that the human body possesses as “irrevocable kinship to nature” (Barreto 262), and it can be alluded that by mining the earth, we are desperately trying to mine ourselves, and this is more the reason why glorification in Disneyland of the frontier serves as a reminder of the buried treasure within the psyche.

  • New Orleans Square – “New Orleans Square is a captivating ode to the charms of the Crescent City. Here we set sail for parts unknown – on the open seas or in the hereafter. Sit for a spell and sip a sweet, minty cooler as you watch the world go by. The sights and sounds of this remarkable place leave an indelible impression.” (Imagineers 57)

New Orleans Square imagines a more gothic side of the American mythos – the collective shadow as projected onto the port city, New Orleans, Louisiana. Since nature encompasses all archetypes (Sabini 14), then it also encompasses negative archetypes, including the shadow. New Orleans is a good setting for this because the port city brought together traders from the Mississippi, the Caribbean, and Mexico. It has never had a reputation for being a “clean” city. The primary attractions of New Orleans Square feature pirates and Grim-Grinning Ghosts, Disneyfied so as to not frighten younger Guests. Nonetheless, these reflect America’s shadow. The greed and conquest of pirates are a driving force behind capitalism and globalization, and the ghosts represent the fear of death and quest for immortality. The fear of death reflects a psyche “trapped in the desolation of an infinity where it finds no consolation, no remorse, no response to its need for warmth, love, and acceptance” (Roszak 58). The attractions in New Orleans Square place the desolate, trapped psyche into a warmer context, especially when done in conjunction to Fantasyland, which, through its immersion into fairy tale, satisfies psyche’s need for pure imaginal experiences.

Imaginary Times

The Universe “has been reaching forward toward finer orders of complexity, toward realms so subtle and complex that they can be fabricated only out of the delicate dynamics of the human imagination. … It embodies the full potentiality of all that has gone before, realizing it, expressing it. It occupies the frontier of the cosmos.” (Roszak 185)

Fantasyland and Tomorrowland reflect time out of time. Fantasyland is not tied to any particular era, but the façades suggest imaginary pre-industrial European villages that have become the iconic settings for fairy tales: an imaginary past. Tomorrowland, conversely, imagines the technology of the future.

  • Fantasyland – “Fantasyland is a gateway to the world of make-believe. Faraway kingdoms and adventures in imaginary realms lie around every corner. You can live out your daydreams and look into the windows of your childhood. It’s a place where you can dream like a child no matter your age.” (Imagineers 78)

This land is most designed with children in mind and has more attractions than any other land. Visiting Fantasyland is about having an experience, rather than just a thrill. This experience helps people feel happiness and is identified with the essential experience that makes us human. The land offers a stronger flow experience, to use Csikezentmihaly’s phrase, creating an exceptional moment in life in which what Guests feel, wish and think are in harmony. One can do a literary analysis of each of the rides, breaking them down into their fundamental elements, but this would detract from the experience of the land. This experience is indicative of the life-world described by David Abram as “the world of our immediately lived experience, as we live it, prior to all our thoughts about it” (40). Guests do not necessarily pay detailed attention to the details of the rides – there is a lot to take in during a short period – but they all recognize that an experience nonetheless occurs. Because of the nature of Disneyland, Guests are permitted the inability to coherently describe the attraction. This is especially strong in the Fantasyland dark rides, which are gentle rides (i.e. not roller coasters) that transport the Guest in a ride-themed car through the story. There are five of these rides in Fantasyland: Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Peter Pan’s Flight, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and Alice in Wonderland. All but Pinocchio have been open since the early days of the park.

Focusing on Peter Pan’s Flight, by way of example, the car is a pirate ship suspended from a track in the ceiling meant to stimulate flight. The ride starts when Peter Pan is taking Wendy Darling and her brothers to Never Land. The first couple rooms show London getting progressively smaller. Then, in Never Land, the ride takes us through Peter’s adventures: rescuing Tigerlilly from the cave and battling Captain Hook. The Guest is given a simulation of what the Darling children experienced in the story, and from this build their own phenomenological experience derived from the sensory stimulation of the entire ride – a total subjective experience that keeps Guests coming back to ride it again.

  • Tomorrowland – “Tomorrowland is your glimpse into the Future. Or at least the Future as we’d like to believe it will turn out to be. Catch a passing rocket ship to the next galaxy over or grab a bite to eat with your favorite alien friends. It’s your best chance to have tomorrow’s fun … today!” (Imagineers 109)

Tomorrowland has always showcased possible technologies of the future, and is constantly updated to reflect technological trends. One of the lasting trends is the possibilities of Outer Space, the new frontier now that the West has, essentially, been fully claimed. One possible future in store of us shows more reliance on machines than not. Carl Jung prophesied that modern, Western civilization will either destroy itself or be destroyed by its over-reliance on machines (Sabini 11). Indeed, Glen Slater supports this claim in his article, “Cyborgian Drift: Resistance is Not Futile,” in which he describes the growing (and problematic) trend of the West’s gradual overreliance on machines, and how this further and further removes us from nature. It would seem from both of these that there is little positive about machinery. Walt Disney, like Carl Jung, was a visionary, but one who embraced technology rather than feared it. He envisioned Tomorrowland to be at the top of attraction technology, including advances in three-dimensional video incorporated with ride-vehicles, the first indoor roller coaster, which stimulates flying through Outer Space, and the first fully-operational monorail. The park shows the positive use of technology for the purposes of having a powerful experience.

In his Disney-published series of young adult novels, Kingdom Keepers, Ridley Pearson describes what happens when one spends too much time in one aspect of the psyche qua magic: If one believes in something strong enough, then it can come to life through fantasy and fairy tale, and sometimes in reality. In those fairy tales Disney brings to life, what happens to the evil characters after the protagonists live happily ever after? Pearson speculates that they roman the park after hours, and calls them Overtakers. The Overtakers threaten to engulf the park in their dark magic. The shadow side of Disney’s magic. This demonstrates that for every positive thing, there must be some negative aspect, and the two must be kept in balance otherwise the outcome will not be good. In the situation of psyche and nature, the fear is that we, as a society, have already crossed a sort of tipping point that has severed us from nature. Global warming, cyborgs, urban communities. In Disneyland, one can escape from these issues and spend some time in psyche’s playground. In order to create this experience, Walt Disney fabricated an environment completely removed from pure nature, but one built to satisfy the needs of the entire country. If Jung built his Bollengen Tower to return to his conception of nature, then it can be argued that Walt built the Bollengen Tower of the entire American collective unconscious in Sleeping Beauty Castle and the park as a whole.

Works Cited

  • Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Vintage Books, 1996. Print.
  • Andrews, Tamra. A Dictionary of Nature Myths. Oxford: Oxford U P, 1998. Print.
  • Barreto, Marco Heleno. "On the Death of Nature." Spring, A Journal of Archetype and Culture 75 (2006): 257-273. Print.
  • Birnbaum, Stephen, ed. Birnbaum’s Disneyland Resort: Expert Advice from the Inside Source. New York: Disney Editions, 2005. Print.
  • Cobb, Noel. "The Soul of the Sky." Spring, A Journal of Archetype and Culture 75 (2006): 121-138. Print.
  • Imagineers, The. The Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland: An Imagineer’s-Eye Tour. New York: Disney Editions, 2008. Print.
  • Pearson, Ridley. The Kingdom Keepers. New York: Disney Editions, 2005. Print.
  • Roszak, Theodore. The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Phanes P, 2001. Print.
  • Sabini, Meredith, ed. The Earth Has a Soul: C.G. Jung on Nature, Technology, and Modern Life. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2002. Print.
  • Slater, Glen. "Cyborgian Drift: Resistance is Not Futile." Spring, A Journal of Archetype and Culture 75 (2006): 171-195. Print.
  • Strodder, Chris. The Disneyland Encyclopedia: The Unofficial, Unauthorized, and Unprecedented History of Every Land, Attraction, restaurant, Shop, and Event in the Original Magic Kingdom. Santa Monica: Santa Monica P, 2008. Print.
  • Tolkien, J.R.R. "On Fairy-Stories." The Tolkien Reader. New York: Ballantine, 1996. 3-84. Print.
  • von Franz, Marie-Louise. The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Boston: Shambhala, 1996. Print.

[1] A “large, ever-blooming Disney tree” (Birnbaum 65).

Mickey and Friends: Psyche’s Formula?

Working my way through the Disney cartoon canon, it’s interesting to note how the Disney characters don’t only work in concert to entertain us, but they seem to function as components of myth/psyche (depending on how you want to approach this). Furthermore, at any given time, any one of them can function as a hero (especially Mickey, Donald and Goofy) or a group of heroes (especially Mickey, Donald and Goofy). At different times in Disney’s history, some characters have been more popular than others, but because each character has his/her own distinct personality, they can be used to represent different things. I hesitate to make a simple chart of comparison (Mickey is ego, Donald is shadow, etc.), but they each bring a different component to to the Everyman archetype that is dominant to the Disney Doctrine.

Mickey is everyman. He’s the gentle character of good middle American values. He’s a natural leader because he’s so well-put together. As Mickey evolved into a symbol for the Disney Corporation, it became more important that he behave as an upstanding citizen, which lead to the creation of others. Mickey holds it all together, which is where Walt’s reminder rings true: it all started with a Mouse.

Donald is a perfect foil to Mickey, often stealing the scene from the mouse. He is temperamental, mischievous (sometimes malicious), and prone to devilish vices. Because his character was created this way, he was allowed to get away with more questionable behavior than Mickey. As Leonard Maltin(?) says somewhere on the Walt Disney Treasures discs, if Mickey was the star of the 1930s (and thus the Depression), the 1940s (and the war) belonged to Donald. Donald gets drafted and we share his struggles through basic training and interactions with authority figures. This is provided an outlet for some pent-up frustrations culturally, especially toward limitations on the home front because of the war.

Goofy. Well, the name really just says it all doesn’t it?

Pluto seems to be the dog that belongs to everyone. He is the one Disney animal that was created to be an animal, and is so spot-on as a dog, it’s sometimes hard to forget that he’s just a cartoon character. He represents animalistic behavior, but I think he really is more about simplicity, nature, and romanticism. Perhaps we could say that Pluto is Disney’s Green Man?

Minnie/Daisy seem to be the same character and they both are the aspect of the feminine, however you want to read it. They are the balance factors.

There are many different characters to explore, but these are the main ones. In a way, they form the Disney pantheon, which is really just a fancy way of describing psyche.

Pirate Week: Pirates Day–Trilogies vs. Quarternities

it’s here! It’s here! Huzzah! Huzzah!

So yesterday, the fabulous Roger Ebert posted on his Twitter feed, his review of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. He begins by saying, “Before seeing ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,’ I had already reached my capacity for ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies, and with this fourth installment, my cup runneth over.” Indeed, the franchise started losing steam after the second installment, Dead Man’s Chest, and came to a nice and tidy completion after the third, At World’s End. But the ending of the third movie, left open the possibility of a fourth movie, giving us the hint that – should it happen – it would involve the hunt for the Fountain of Youth. So I’m seeing the movie tonight, meaning that tomorrow I’ll write my review. I’m very ready for the franchise to come to an end, but nonetheless very excited that they gave me one more installment.

In good proper Jungian terms, the franchise should end with this movie. Trilogies are nice containers for mythic stories. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Just look at the original Star Wars trilogy or the Lord of the Rings. No one would ever think of making a fourth version of those movies. Indeed, Pirates also was a nice trilogy, if you follow it from the Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann subplot. Reading these movies thusly, it becomes quickly apparent that a) Jack Sparrow is a charismatic minor character and b) the ENTIRE point of the series is for both of these characters to realize who they are, who they want to be, and how they intend to do that together. In other words, the point is for Will and Elizabeth to individuate and then conjugate. The first movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, established this trajectory: Will had to come to terms with the fact that he’s a pirate’s son, and Elizabeth, in all of her spirit and spunk, could not be confined to the life of a New World aristocrat. Both characters turn to the seas, the classic symbol of the unconscious, to go find themselves. Dead Man’s Chest shows Will embracing more of his pirateness as he works through some daddy issues, while Elizabeth, in the mean time, moves from being helpless maiden to an independent woman. These two journeys nearly tear their relationship apart, but it is more essential that they sort these things out before they’re married, methinks.

Then At World’s End, they travel to the ends of the world, to Davy Jones’ Locker, to bring Jack Sparrow back from the dead. Notice that at the end of the second movie, Elizabeth killed Jack. Jack, for her, represents something, and I’m not going to call it Animus. Jack Sparrow, as pirate, is more of a figurehead of the total abandon of structure. Elizabeth went from an extremely controlled structure with her father to a complete lack of structure with Jack. So she kills him. But he’s an important part of her, or maybe she’s an important part of him, because she, though claiming she is not sorry for killing him, feels profound remorse for doing so. She believes that bringing Jack back will make everything better. But that’s only half of it: Jack is chaos. The East India Trading company and the Royal Navy is control. Elizabeth needs both sides to to balance her out. Yet, in the process of rescuing Jack and heading toward the Brethren Court, she is betrayed by Will and loses her father and Norrington, her socially-acceptable fiancé. Again, by siding with Jack, she loses all sense of control.

Will ultimately embraces his pirateness by becoming captain of the Flying Dutchman (I’ll spare the spoilers), which comes with a price: he has to ferry the dead to the Locker, and can only come ashore once every 10 years to be with his loved one. So, while Will turns into a symbol of chaos (Pirate), he comes with a controlled structure (a very specific schedule), and this makes him the perfect balance to Elizabeth. She still has the chaos of piracy, but she has the control over her own destiny.

A beginning, a middle, and an end, with a lot of growth and development involved. A recurring theme in the series is the idea that the treasure for which one is seeking is only found when one is good and lost.

So now we have a fourth installment, that does not bring Elizabeth and Will back into the fold. This one is entirely Jack’s story, and is necessary because they left Jack’s story hanging. Rumor has it that there is a Pirates 5 floating around, and if the movie on the Lego Pirates of the Caribbean video game is any indication, I can see where it would go. But, for all my love of the franchise, I don’t want to see it happen. 4 is the number of completion. it is the unit that rounds out the trilogy. 5, on the other hand, is the quintessence: the transcendence or the number of discord. Plus, they are looking for the Fountain of Youth. We assume they find it, based on the reviews, and we assume Jack does something heroic with its waters, based on the Lego game. However, if the franchise drinks from the proverbial Fountain, and makes more movies, it will live on forever, but eventually it will lose its flavor, as Barbossa learned when he was cursed by Aztec gold. And, as I tell my Humanities students, art that does not have any staying power is not good art. This is not something I wish for the franchise because it is among my favorites.

I love Pirates because it tickles my psyche, but it is also good escapism. I don’t go to those movies to think, but I wind up thinking anyway, which is why I like them.

Pirate Week: The Shadow and Jack Sparrow

Fairy tales are fine, but my psyche is ready to delve into the shadow for a little while, and this was the case even before it dawned on me that Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens this week, or even before I remembered that the Lego Pirates of the Caribbean video game was about to drop. Like I said, fairy tales are fine, but my psyche – probably to prepare itself for the movie – decided a couple weeks ago that it was ready to move into the shadow. I just haven’t gotten there yet because I was waiting for the official start of Dissertation Summer. Anyway, enough about me

Jung describes the shadow as the “’negative’ side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious” (CW 7, par. 103n). It is the easiest of the unconscious archetypes (which include anima and animus) for us to encounter, and is frequently among the first archetypes encountered during therapy. He further says:

The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. this act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance. Indeed, self-knowledge as a psychotherapeutic measure frequently requires much painstaking work extending over a long period. (CW 9ii, par. 14).

So what then do we make of the cultural shadow? It’s not exactly as though we can place our entire country down on the therapist’s couch, hand them a sand tray and a dream journal, and bring up the shadow. That’s what myths are for, and what better place to look for American myths than in cinema. Throughout Hollywood’s history, there have been countless shadow figures expressed in films, usually calling our attention to some dark aspect: of our individual psyche’s, of our culture’s psyche, of our culture’s history.

Hands down, Jack Sparrow is by far one of the most endearing shadow characters of the past decade. He is cunning and intelligent, but you wouldn’t get that from his completely mad exterior. His name evokes an archetypal everyman (Jack) who is springy, flighty, not-down-to-earth (Sparrow). His most common tool is a magical compass which shows the holder whatever they most desire. For Jack, this usually entails his ship (a pirate’s floating home – his reunion with the Black Pearl recalls Odysseus’ reunion with Penelope) or treasure (a pirate’s MO – bringing a mystical unconscious element to the surface is the shadow’s job). The only time when it did not lead him was when he was unsure himself of what he was looking for. This loss of direction can occur when the shadow is at the helm (so to speak), because it means that the unconscious has taken over, and it’s not exactly interested in telling us where we’re going.

However, The success of this pirate coincides with a trend of loving the shadow. Pirates, vampires, zombies, and Skellingtons are all shadow figures. They represent deeply embedded nightmarish figures. They do things that we would normally abhor (pillage/plunder, drink blood, eat brains, kidnap Sandy Claws), but they learn in the process something about them that endears them to us. They learn from their ways, but not necessarily to change them; rather, to use them as building blocks to become a more sustainable hero. These heroes help us, as a culture, navigate in and out of the collective/cultural unconscious, and they help us therapeutically by providing us with some necessary catharsis. (By the way, this trend isn’t anything new. As far as my own growth and development is concerned, Edward Sissorhands and Jack Skellington were both introduced to us in the early 1990s, along with the revival of the Addams Family. In a few years either direction from these films, we have the Batman film franchise and our first encounter with a cinematic Lestat.)

The trend of Johnny Depp’s successful characters and their ties to the shadow is not lost on me. Not many actors can navigate the shadow realm while also succeeding in bringing depth to their characters: Edward Sissorhands, Raoul Duke (Hunter S. Thompson), Ichabod Crane, Dean Corso, John Dillinger, Willy Wonka, the Mad Hatter, and of course Jack Sparrow, to name a few (not to mention some delightfully romantic characters, and many more that I haven’t seen yet).

The Three Temptations of Snow White

Last night, I gave a talk for the Jung Society of Austin as a practice for both next week’s PCA/ACA conference presentation and the whole dissertation business. To underscore my argument about why Disneyification of fairy tales isn’t a bad thing (which I contend it isn’t), I decided to look closely at Snow White. As a Disney movie, this was the first of the animated features, and it is one of the stories that was further Disneyfied into theme park attractions. I’ll skip over my cultural analysis of the Disneyification process for now (and my excitement about having my research validated).

In order to prepare for this talk (and PCA paper), I re-read the Grimm Brothers’ tale, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” This is the story that Disney gives credit for inspiring the film, and indeed the stories have a lot in common. One thing that Disney altered is the three temptations of Snow White. In fairy tales, it is not uncommon for the hero to undergo three tasks before they can achieve “happily ever after.” Three is the realm of the masculine, however one wishes to interpret it, while four is the realm of the feminine, again, however one wishes to interpret it. That most fairy tales have the hero undergo three tasks suggests that they operate in the realm of the masculine, or that the idea is that one has to go through the masculine to get to the feminine, but that isn’t up for discussion here. (3 + 4 = 7 Dwarfs. I’m sure that’s not a happy accident.)

The three temptations/trials of Snow White a la Grimm are the lace, the comb and the apple. All three of which point quite nicely to an interpretation pointing to budding womanhood. The lace is essentially a corset, which the Queen disguised as the old woman laces so tightly that Snow White passes out as though dead. No young girl likes the initial confinement of her first bra, so Snow White’s reaction really isn’t that surprising. The 7 dwarfs find her and cut her out of the corset, bringing her back to life. The corset here symbolizes the restrictions that come with womanhood that limit a girl’s freedom to her duties as a woman. It is also a symbol of perceived beauty; a corset having the ability to shape a woman’s torso in an attractive way to grown men.

The comb is poisoned, and is placed in Snow White’s hair by the Queen and causes her to pass out as though dead. Young girls in the era of the Grimms wore their hair long and free, but women were expected to pull their hair back and cover it upon marriage. The comb is another example of the confinement of womanhood. In many cultures, hair is sensual. Confining her hair hides her sexuality behind sexual mores. The comb is also a symbol of perceived beauty.

The apple, on the other hand, is a little more tricky. In the Grimm tale, the apple is only half poisoned. Originally it is a white apple, but the Queen poisons half of it, which turns it into an alluring red. When feeding the apple to Snow White, she keeps the white half for herself and gives the red half to Snow White. Red and women becomes a symbolism of mensuration, the physical transition into womanhood. But the apple also holds other loaded symbolism: Apple of Eden, Apple of Discord. So one way or another, the apple is supposed to represent Snow White’s loss of innocence, something else that occurs with the transition into womanhood.

So, in short, for all the bruhaha (mostly on the part of Campbell) about there not being any myths for women and their transition into womanhood, here’s a really good one handed to us on a golden platter. Or perhaps a golden pie crust? Hmm.. apple pie….

Mythic Thinking, or: e-mail flow about Disney, nostalgia, and lots of other good stuff

It’s very rare that I run into someone who shares many of the same questions and wonder that I do, at least who lives in my physical community. His name is Adam, his blog can be found at blatner.com/adam/blog/, and he’s my dissertation’s external reader, which means that he’s not part of my school’s immediate community. Back in December 2010, we had a fun e-mail exchange and decided to post them to our respective blogs so the purposes to preserving/expanding the conversation. Feel free to comment in either place. Or not, as the case may be.

Dec 16, AB:  Hi Priscilla, just saw Disney’s Tangled… thinking of Disney Mythos…

I had written to you about the nostalgia of rolling coins for the bank, to cash in little packages for paper money—before change machines made these obsolete.   But to your email question: re missing rolling coins: You wrote: > It seems that the grief that comes from no longer rolling coins comes from a type of nostalgia for a little nugget of humanity that has been greatly overshadowed by other nuggets. So I’m curious, what is the fine line that separates “aesthetic indulgence” from nostalgia?
AB: Good question: In the realm of mind, things are fuzzy. What weight shall we give to certain memory-emotions? Shall we savor them as sweet? But if they are painful, perhaps re-framing them as unnecessary suffering, to be seen through as indulgence.
As I warm up I mean by that term that part of me wants everything and wants to pay nothing. The world seemed to offer that in one universe, the universe of pre-paying-for-your-own-candy 4 year-old-ness.
Much attaches to the sheer sweetness of routine, much that is regressive. Much is okay to savor ritual, for that is what’s happening, and no one is the worse for wear.
Many conflicts arise when new traditions, new generations, wanting to do the Mass in non-Latin, or with contemporary liturgy!
Or turning it sideways, when is nostalgia kind of nice to have and when does it get to be a bother?
What if a little bit overlaps with poignancy, the bitter-sweet element in grief? Without it perhaps we are not human enough.
Do you know of my theory of optimal ranges? http://blatner.com/adam/consctransf/controlsurrender.html
or    http://blatner.com/adam/psyntbk/littlebit.htm ?

– – –

P   December 18, 2010 Re: nostalgia, aesthetic indulgence, balance

Wasn’t Tangled fabulous?

AB: I’m not sure it was that great; my son thought it was. I thought it was sort of ordinary, but it does carry forward a gentle theme of re-empowering women that we saw not only recently, but through the emergence of thoughtful and empowered women in Mulan (Chinese), Pocahontas, etc. A number of women have had more fire since the more traditional and wussy qualities of Snow White or Cinderella.

PH: I think what made it fabulous is that Disney owned up to the fact that they were taking a plunge and doing a hefty rewrite of the story and in so doing, made a coming-of-age journey not only for the princess but also for the thief. It has multiple readings because it has multiple heroes.

PH2  On nostalgia: It seems to me that nostalgia becomes a bother when it becomes a neurosis. For example, I think it’s okay periodically to indulge one’s inner 4-year-old self and reminisce on those pre-paying-for-your-own-candy days because those kinds of memories arise when they do for a reason, either something in the unconscious has remained unresolved (and the best way to communicate the need for some resolution is through the exploration of said memory) or maybe something in the current timeline parallels the memory thus bringing it to the surface.

AB: The stimulating point you make is the idea that things can be “resolved.” I want to challenge that, to some extent. I think our mental tensions can be relieved in many ways:

— the perplexity that emerges when a situation doesn’t make sense, and then the connections are made, resulting in a light catharsis, aha, insight,

— the connection of past and present, the naming of the feelings

— the re-owning of a thought, idea, or feeling that had been disowned, often a sense of vulnerability, perhaps also the degrees of resentment or rage, whatever is repressed..

…but, for other things, and sometimes including the aforementioned but on a different level, there is no resolution, and the goal of resolution is misleading. It implies the ah, that’s-taken-care-of feeling.

PH: “Resolve” and “Resolution” are two words with fairly loaded meanings. They suggest a finality, which is — unfortunately — expressed in the models of psychology and to an extent mythology and the Hero’s Journey. In my own visualization, I imagine the circular Hero’s Journey  (and it’s many different uses) as being more spiral shaped: at the end of every cycle is a new one that builds upon the other. Some doors have to be closed to make the climb to the next stage, but those same doors provide the foundations for every single experience to follow. If there’s something that’s not allowed to become that support, then the possibility exists that the spiral will be instable. For example, if there was a particular trauma during one cycle that is carried through to the next cycle, then the first cycle is missing a key element that makes it a stable foundation. Like the game of Jenga.

AB: There are negative thoughts, temptations to negative or primitive or immature desires, such as having-it-all, or obliterating-the-past, that just cannot in reality be resolved. They must instead be contained. Some negativity is contained by turning away from it, focusing energy, attention, value to the “light” rather than the “dark side.” Jesus said, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” He didn’t say, “Let’s work this out.” There’s a place for just dropping it, turning away from it, refusing it—which is not repression. It’s more suppression, a conscious act, a decision from a higher point of consciousness.

PH: Perhaps Jesus’s “Get thee behind me” was what was appropriate for the time and place, in a world with more daily evils facing each and every person. Perhaps Jesus was suggesting a repression of the evil in order to give people the strength to move forward. With the evils we face today being more or less imaginary (with exceptions, many of the more heinous evils are reduced to news bits broadcast to most of the population who can only take the news companies at their word), the relationship to those negativities have also changed, but our psyche still wants to believe in the “black or white” model. For example, when the time came, Darth Vader protected his son from the Emperor and his son, in turn, rescued him from the Death Star and gave him a proper burial. This wasn’t just an act of “redemption,” but the graying of the black and white. Even in Harry Potter’s world, the dark wizards have compassion for their own families. The ones who didn’t, didn’t survive the story.

PH2  However, there are a number of people who seem “hung up” on a particular memory that they keep trying to relive it daily to the point that they forget to live in the here and now.

AB: Yes, repetition compulsion replaces “get a life, already!”

PH Now, I’m supportive of dreamers — I think I made it through high school on daydreams rather than hours upon hours of studying — but there’s a point where the dreaming poses a disconnect from the conscious world.

AB: You made it through high school because you were so smart that you didn’t need those extra hours to study. Those with less brain power find that their daydreams generate F marks. So the question is whether or not you can multi-task effectively. In your case, yes. It’s one of your charms. In most folks’ case, no.

PH: I caught an NPR headline this morning reporting on a study that says that playing video games helps develop the multi-tasking ability. What are video games but today’s dreams?

PH For example, are you familiar with the film Napoleon Dynamite? There is a character in that film who keeps reliving his 1985 high school football season, hoping to one day get the chance to make up for a failed season (I can’t recall if he just missed an important play or if he somehow was injured). He couldn’t connect with Napoleon in that he couldn’t understand how the times have changed..

AB: The first part I addressed before, about daydreams and repetition compulsion.

PH. Similarly, this nostalgic neurosis plays out in the fear of the past. I think this is especially the case when critics contemplate over the Disneyization of this or that, from “Snow White” to Times Square. Nostalgia is perceived as a hindrance to progress, as opposed to a small step back as one prepares for the gigantic leap forward.

AB: I see it as a necessary struggle between Senex and Puer, between the forces of Puer’s “Wow, what a great, new, shiny idea!” and Senex’s “Whoa, now, there, lil’ buddy, there are prices to pay, downsides, trade-offs, and that idea will need some amendments!”

I see the best of Senex in the best of Conservativism; the best of Puer in the best of Liberalism. Unfortunately, a significant part of those political leanings includes those who reflect the worst, not the best, of those two complexes:

Excess Puer: Let’s use liberal doctrine to fulfill our dependency gratification, to get taken care of, to make loopholes that poor people like us can take advantage of.

Excess Senex: Let’s use conservative doctrine to justify our holding on to power, to oppress, to make loopholes that rich people like us can take advantage of!

PH: Which is why there’s an entire chapter of my dissertation devoted to this duality. As the Baby Boomers inherit the country, it seems that we are passing it over to the Puer. Of course, the latent Senex is manifesting through the conservative backlash, which has resulted in — yet again — a severe black and white dichotomy in our country. However, the Puer is still dominating with each generation and the Senex has lost its container. The dichotomy happening in our country today is ridiculous, if not completely absurd, because our society is slowly unlearning how to handle the Senex.

PH We’re in a very interesting time right now. Everyone is just skeptical of everything.

AB: Not everyone, dear friend. Most people. But then again, most people are not particularly reflective; and most of those but not all have retreated into complacency, or, if oppressed, into the passivity of the slave mentality, and most of those have allowed themselves to be seduced into their complacency and oppression by a plentiful supply of the “bread and circuses” spoken of by the Roman power elite—i.e., the incredible distraction machine of television and other media.

PH: Bread and circuses has been replaced by fast food and reality tv…

PH It seems that more and more people are finding ways of retreating into Other Worlds, rather than face the reality of yesterday, today or tomorrow.

AB: Yes and no. Yes, but some people are finding ways—media creators, producers, inventors, engineers who make video games, screenwriters who come up with scripts, it’s a whole bunch of whole industries finding ways… and there is some but not that much initiative from people themselves in creating their own games and escapist activities. Indeed, seeking re-creation, generating your own music, singing, dancing, and lay participation, is inevitable, not all that escapist. My focus is on the ratio of how much escapism is generated by Industry and how much generated by one’s own participation.

But who does what is secondary: Yes, distraction is a problem as it has undermined civil discourse and genuine social action.

PH: I would even dare to suggest that the realms of social media and iphone apps designed to aid in the recreation are in themselves other worlds. Granted, these aren’t other worlds in the Tolkien sense, but they are nonetheless other worlds not part of the present. There is a need to connect with something, which fuels the need for creation or distraction. But for some reason, that something isn’t part of our every day experience. Perhaps this is the result of the Puer taking over the country and letting us all play without Senex being allowed to tell us when to put it away and go to bed.

PH  In those essays you sent, you suggest that this can be helped with surrender. yet, somehow it seems (to me at least) that the surrender many are reacting with is a surrender to the extreme.

AB: Yes, we must take responsibility to choose what we surrender to and when. I have more thoughts on this elsewhere. Surrender itself can be childish, an abdication of responsibility. Or it can be the wiser road, especially when it is well balanced with taking responsibility for that which we can control, and recognizing fairly accurately, as Reinhold Niebuhr suggested in his Serenity Prayer, what we cannot control.

PH  We’re not a culture whose psyche is programmed for balance, yet we seem able to grock the idea that we need it.

AB: No culture, no psyche, no parts of the cosmos is programmed for balance. It’s all exploratory, over-reach, feedback, adjustment. Sometimes that dialectical process involves in the creation of an unstable star that explodes. Sometimes the tectonic shift generates imbalance that in turn generates geo-cataclysms of earthquake, tsunamis, volcanoes. In music, it gets too loud and pulls back, too soft and pulls back…  It’s not just our culture, but existence itself which operates as a dynamic process, lurching around and getting battered back into enantiodromia.. the pendulum swing of currents of psyche…

PH: Doesn’t the fact that we can imagine balance suggest that it is out there somewhere in the cosmos? Or even that the attraction to Eastern philosophies lies in the fact that they teach balance at the outset?

PH This time of year is an excellent time for bringing out the nostalgia in us all, don’t you think? Something about the holidays and all that comes with it: fires, hot cocoa, Christmas trees and gifts, Santa Claus… It’s a recipe of nostalgia for everyone’s 4 year old self! Well, maybe 8 year old self. That’s the magic age for a lot of the really super “cool” toys.

AB: Yes, why can’t it be like the “golden days of yore” ?  Of course, 94% of that yore was alternately boring or over-stressed, but that part is forgotten. We remember such a small portion, and take away the burning memories of occasions for shame or guilt—which may represent half of our memory—and cling—that’s the key word and dynamic—cling to those bits of memory as golden dreams—and idealize, amplify, expand… and ask in all innocence, “Gee, it used to be so great in the olden days.. why can’t it be like that now?”   Idealization is the psychological dynamic: Attributing virtue or excess virtue to certain things not in evidence based on the memory of certain other associations that were perhaps more true.

PH: Our culture holds onto a golden image of those “days of yore,” but that image is slowly losing its potency as it fades further and further into history. Those of my generation could be clinging to memories of childhood, but the society is constantly rereleasing our childhood on dvd.

And here’s a closing thought:

 

Using the Mask to Confront the Shadow: A Look at MirrorMask

MirrorMask, a story by Neil Gaiman and film directed in 2005 by Dave McKean, is a graphic fairytale of how a young girl, Helena, is forced to cope with her mother’s illness, which she does by retreating into her world of fantasy. One night, she wanders through a door and is stuck in a world where everyone believes she is the daughter of the Black Queen and responsible for the White Queen’s illness. When given the opportunity to glimpse into her own world through windows, she sees this Princess, named Anti-Helena in the credits, destroying her world. These glimpses help Helena realize many things about herself. In order to return home,Helena must face her shadow by finding the MirrorMask and facing the Princess with it. This raises the question of why one would wear a mask, specifically a mirrored mask, to confront the shadow. This film demonstrates that the mirrored mask, literally and figuratively, acts as a portal between the conscious and unconscious and as a tool for owning the shadow.

The shadow refers to aspects of oneself that are hidden in the unconscious during the course of persona development. On occasion, these aspects can boil to the surface and cause a temporary uncharacteristic outburst, or can cause long term personality shifts. According to Carl Jung, the shadow is a “moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscous of it involves recognizing dark aspects of the personality as pruent and real” (Jung 8). The contrast between Helena and the Princess illustrates this stark contrast: for every aspect of Helena that is light, it is dark within the Princess. Helena hones her creativity through art, whereas the Princess is destructive. The film highlights the relationship between the conscious and the shadow by emphasizing the striking ressemblance between Helena and the Princess: “Yes, you look like her, but you’re not her are you?” asks the White Queen’s Minister. Helena’s moral challenge is one we all face in our lives, that of owning the shadow and being conscious of how it affects decisions and relations between people. Before Helena enters her shadow world, she argues with her mother, who falls ill with an uncertain outcome. She blames herself for her mother’s illness, having allowed her shadow to temporarily control the situation.

 

The processes of “owning the shadow” and not allowing it to get out of control involves recognizing and honoring it. The confrontation between the conscious and the shadow is not a battle between hero and boon guardian, though it can manifest as such, but rather more of a truce. The conscious agrees to honor the shadow, and the shadow promises to behave itself. In the coming-of-age story, the hero does not fully defeat the shadow figure, but does come to an understanding.

 

Helena’s journey through her shadow world, which she created in her drawings and hung on her bedroom wall, forces her to confront the world she not only created in her drawings, but also within her unconscious. This world consists of neighboring Light & Dark kingdoms. The mythology within this world talks of a young girl who sat down one day and began drawing. When she ran out of room, she flipped the paper over and continued on the other side, thus creating the two kingdoms. Helena’s mission is to restore peace between the two kingdoms by finding the charm that will awaken the White Queen (her manifest desire to cure her mother). The Kingdom of Light knows that Princess Anti-Helena came for a visit and then the queen fell ill (her unconscious self-blame for her mother’s illness). The Kingdom of Dark accusses the Light of kidnapping. The Charm, as Helena discovers, is the MirrorMask, and by finding the mask she an awaken the queen, restore the delicate balance between the two worlds, and go home.

In stories and in mythic ritual, masks are often used to alter the appearance of an individual, either for a disguise or in imitation of a specific figure. In either case, this represents a supression of the individual ego in favor of an adopted persona. Masks help shield one’s identity, temporarily pushing traits below the surface. Whether the mask is temporary, permanent, or permanent but constantly changing, it provides a metaphor for the process of individuation as one pursues one’s own hero’s journey.

Masks play a large role in Helena’s life. Her father runs a circus, and both she and her mother perform alongside clowns, acrobats, and other performers. Helena’s teenage crisis extends from her desire to have a “real life,” meaning one in which she is valued for herself not valued as a circus performer, a stable life with friends with real faces. When she enters her shadow world, she finds that she is the odd one for not wearing a mask. Her friend, Valentine, criticizes her for not having a proper face, and the White Queen’s guards comment upon her changeable expression as they carry her to the palace. Valantine asks, “How do you know if you’re happy or sad without a mask?” Although masks are commonly used to hide one’s feelings, they become the means to understanding expression within Helena’s shadow world. This characterizes not only the opposite nature of the shadow world, but also the importance of masks in Helena’s psyche. Her life is marked by masks, always having to put on an alternate face for circus goers.

 

Because masks act as the keys to true expression between this world, a mirrored mask melds the expressions of both the mask’s wearer and of the outside person facing the mask, bringing them into each other. The MirrorMask also acts as a portal between the shadow and the conscious worlds. Its reflective properties force the shadow and the ego to look upon each other, forcing them to unite, before crossing between boundaries. When the ego wears the MirrorMask, the shadow is kept within the shadow world, but the opposite is true when the shadow wears the mask, allowing it to enter the conscious realm. Allowing the shadow to gain control, as Anti-Helena did, can lead to dischord in the consciousness and imbalance in the unconsciousness. Such dissonance distracts the hero, ourselves, from the archetypal journey, and one will have to spend time cleaning up the mess, in addition to atoning for mistakes.

A film like MirrorMask serves as a reminder that one’s worst enemy is often within oneself, and that Self must be confronted at some point during life’s journey. This does not mean that Helena has conquored all of her dragons and has become unified with the Self, but she at least now possesses an awareness. This insight gives one the ability to navigate the remaining mysteries of the unconscious. The journey is never complete, especially not after one task, but every success adds experience and wisdom to interpreting one’s life.

Works cited:

Jung, Carl Gustav. “The Shadow.” Trans. R.F.C. Hull. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Vol. 9, part 2. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1959.

MirrorMask. Dir. Dave McKean. Perf. Stephanie Leonidas, Jason Barry, Rob Brydon. Jim Henson Productions, 2005.