Superheroes and Monsters: The Truth in Today’s Blockbusters
Like Superman. Batman. Iron Man. The Avengers. Spider-man.
We’ve been inundated with superheroes at the box office for the last several years. We eat them up, based on box office ticket sales. But why?
Filmmaker Peter Webber tweeted,
Glut of superhero movies is because of 2 things
1. We sense impending eco-catastrophe
2. We seem unable to alter course to save ourselves
There’s something to this if we look at the history of the oldest superheroes recently reprised. Superman was “born” in 1933 and Batman in 1939, during the Great Depression. The public latched onto the escapist fantasy that some incredibly powerful force would rescue them when most needed.
Perhaps there’s something to the nature of these two superheroes in terms of timing: Superman originated earlier in the Depression, when any outside force with supreme powers for good might be welcomed eagerly. Batman originated later in the Depression; his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, heir to wealthy industrialists, was willing to wield his fortune to save Gotham as both collective identity and individuals. By the late Depression with recovery underway and a new world war looming, the public may have wanted a more realistic, human hero rather than an outsider, though both Superman and Batman remained popular figures.
Today we see the reverse order, Batman reprised first by Christopher Nolan in his Dark Knight trilogy of increasingly crypto-fascist persuasion, and Superman renewed most recently as Man of Steel after Batman has “died.” In the last Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises, collectivism for the common good is completely upended and perverted so that its leader, Bane, is the villain. The public can blame the ills befalling their municipality on the masked man with the strange voice, “the other” who makes himself out to be the defender of the people:
“…We take Gotham from the corrupt! The rich! The oppressors of generations who have kept you down with myths of opportunity, and we give it back to you… the people. Gotham is yours. …”
How is this not a corruption of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s mission?
Superman’s latest iteration as Man of Steel redeems the iconic common man, though, with a serious departure from the original canon Clark Kent-as-journalist. In the most recent version, Kent is presented first to the audience not a college educated smartie in a suit but an itinerant worker of midwestern farm roots, willing to brave what appear to be mortal threats to save others. We’ve come back around from the rich industrialist’s hobbyist rescuer to the alien-man from the former Dust Bowl — now drought-blighted Kansas — as savior.
Because right now, we can’t rely on the rich guy, or the distorted collectivist. Our ills are so great, we’re so very desperate we need a “super man” to save us.
In this respect, Peter Webber is spot on; we don’t appear to be able to change our course and are now betting on outside forces as salvation.
Where one might take issue with Peter’s premise is eco-catastrophe. It’s huge, of that there is no doubt. The problem of climate change is so very massive and ugly that the American public has been unwilling to wrap their heads around it, too eager to lap up the propaganda offered by petrochemical companies like Koch Industries and Exxon Mobil.
In this is the real problem, the reason why we cannot effectively tackle the eco-catastrophe we can see looming behind us in the rear view mirror. It is the ongoing assault on our sensibilities by corporate forces, demanding we continue our rampant consumerism, that keeps us from saving ourselves. We remain addicted to petrochemicals in spite of what they do to our environment and to our world in terms of the political price we must pay to maintain our supply, tethered mortally to our corporatist dealers and pimps.We know the scale of the problem, even if we are unable to come to grips yet with its true roots. We see the scope reflected in the other genre of films recently emerging — the monsters.
Witness Warm Bodies’ and World War Z’s zombies; Prometheus’ xenomorph; Beasts of the Southern Wild’s aurochs; Pacific Rim’s kaiju, as well as the impending Godzilla kaiju variant (release date 14-MAY-2014).
The threats posed by these creatures are so large either in their spread or physical presence they require responses at national and global scale, and/or ultimate sacrifices on the part of individuals to save the planet. We’re eating up movies about these epic monsters because they temporarily appear to dwarf real life threats — like our flagging economy and long-term unemployment, failed democracy and its corporatist overlords, and the massive menace that is our reliance on carbon fuels and climate change.
In each case, the monstrous threat is eventually thwarted by knowledge and will, individual and collective in nature. Beasts of the Southern Wild pointedly attributes the rise of aurochs to climate change, with the tiny protagonist staring the monsters into submission once she has acquired awareness.
Pacific Rim mentions climate change as a form of terraforming that prepared earth for alien kaiju invasion. A religious group within the movie attributes the rise of the kaiju threat as a sign that the gods are unhappy with humans’ treatment of earth. Only a globally-funded, militarized collaborative effort supporting extremely diverse teams required to literally work together as one mind will resolve the kaiju threat.
Zombies and xenomorphs present similar challenges, though they may arise from different sources. The ultimate questions posed regardless of monster are existential: are we aware of the threat, and are we willing to work individually and together to save ourselves and our planet?
One might say that the film industry is propagandizing through film. Having rubbed shoulders with authors, screenwriters, and filmmakers, I don’t believe so, though they have personal perspectives and ideologies just as journalists do, just as other media do, just as we all do.
When so many of our fellow citizens here on earth present us with similar visions — problems so monstrous they beg for response bigger than any man can offer alone — we should snap out of our torpor.
When so many of us pay good money to watch these superheroes and monsters, we need to see this collective choice for what it is: we are beginning to recognize the monster, and we are looking for the superhero and the solutions in ourselves.
And while I wrote this post it looks like Warner Brothers confirmed at San Diego Comic-Con that the next superhero film will be a tie-up of Batman and Superman.
I guess the studio looked in to their crystal ball and determined we would still need super role models two years out from now.
I’ll say this – at the risk of derision for amateur (amo, amare, amateur… ?) criticism – the character of Batman amuses the snot out of me. Maybe it’s tht I wind up watching reruns of the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman (Saturdays, 7-8 pm METv) for laughs, but the message of Batman remains pretty much the same regardless of the iteration:
It’s obvious, to me, anyway, why Batman came to popularity when it did. It was 1939 and, yes, the next war was looming if not already underway. But the New Deal had moved the momentum of society if not succeeded outright. FDR, recall, was widely chastised then and for decades to come as a “traitor to his Class” for the very New Deal programs which, arguably, saved his class from the very real possibility in 1933 that some flavor of communism/fascism/socialism-lacking-a-human-face would have gained the upper hand and taken from the members of his class blood instead of a little treasure. By 1939, the possibility of a Bad End from domestic sources for the members of FDR’s class – the top portion of the 1% – had receded. It was now time for the members of that class to reassert their primacy.
I don’t know whether that was the intention of Batman’s creators, but the character sold, along with his message and subtext. And it’s gotten only more extreme since culminating, as noted in the main post, with the last anti-Occupy flick and the snarling, anti-common-man Batman in it. How dare anyone, let alone someone moderately articulate, impugn the Natural Right of the plutocracy to Rule, eternally?
Not that such rule does any good for anyone save the members of that elite, of course.
I do concur with the main post that Society, as a whole, senses the coming eco-catastrophe and the dithering, feckless response of those who have been placed in the positions of responsibility. That would be “dithering” and “feckless” at least as viewed by anyone interested in the well-being of the great middle of average people. As to the 1%, the actions and inactions of those in positions of responsibility have been consistent and directed at one end – preservation of the 1 % and their nepots to and through the coming disaster, fuck the rest of you, thank you very much.
Want an example? Where do all the best botanists – plant scientists and developers now work? I’m talking this generation’s Luther Burbanks and Green Revolution pioneers. In prior generations they would be, by and large, working on food crops.
Now, they work in two places: Monsanto, making industrial crops that need Roundup to survive. For those not willing or able to work doing that, they’re developing newer and more potent varieties of marijuana.
The latter is a product of the immense wealth which can accrue in that business, a direct result of stupid policies that keep it illegal. Similarly, the folks making GMO’s dependent upon industrial farming and herbicides, are there because their employers have effected large-scale regulatory capture to make their form of economy the one which won out. University scientists do the research that brings in the money – it ain’t for stuff which can’t be patented and exploited by the funders.
Neither of those would have obtained had it not been in the interests of plutocrats – the folks who run or profit from industrial-scale prisons and the pols who create them, and the industrial farming folks.
So, instead of someone who sets things right for the vast majority of people, we get someone who is of, and is devoted to preserving, the status quo where his class rules. Poison for food, poison for antidote.
@scribe: Hard to argue with any of that. ;-)
You’ll enjoy chewing on this commentary by Slavoj Žižek, The Politics of Batman.
Marcy will likely maintain Žižek would laugh at any one taking him seriously, but court jesters were the only ones who could get away with telling the truth, Ex. The Daily Show.
@Rayne: I forgot one thing in my paragraph about what the plutocrat can do:
“And he can do it looking fabulous in a purple-grey-blue bodysuit and cape and strange S&M-esque headgear [while no one questions his sexuality].”
Just walk in anywhere wearing that – art gallery, nightclub, board meeting – and no one blinks an eye.
I recently saw an episode of the old Jack Webb/Harry Morgan Dragnet (the story is true, the names have been changed…) in which the perp was doing a superhero thing while doing breaking and entering (something Batman gets away with routinely) and taking stuff (ditto), even a little wall-climbing to get in (yup – a real trope in the West/Ward Batman). At the end, where the show tells you the disposition of the case after Webb and Morgan have solved the case, it was “two years probation and extensive psychiatric treatment”.
But he was a pleb and had been the bullied fat kid in school, too. Not a plutocrat = don’t get away with it.
My brother is one of those university scientists. He’s working on things like more drought-tolerant plants, and also phytoremediation (using plants to reclaim and rehab land).
@scribe: Batman can also be an extremely cold customer when it comes to women. Comparing Batman and Superman can be pretty enlightening, although the entire comic industry until only very, very recently was misogynistic to its core.
I have to thank Peter Webber for the term “crypto-fascist.” He’d used the label coined by Gore Vidal to describe last Dark Knight movie; I could see the fascist element given the Wayne family’s roots in the military-industrial complex, but didn’t have a succinct name for what it was I could see director/writer Nolan had served up in TDKR. Granted, Nolan only built upon the existing Batman canon, but the pairing of the inverted collectivism and the hyper-fascism in masks was handily covered by crypto-fascism.
I’ve read articles before about why we like certain kinds of heroes or monsters at particular times in our history, and there were (at one time) plenty of psychological hypotheses about Cold War “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”-type analogies.
So this was a pretty cool post!
Mostly, though, it just reminded me how much I dislike the path Christopher Nolan is going down in his art. Even in “Inception,” we have a plot that is really about ensuring successful white collar crime. The day that Nolan and Frank Miller hook up is going to be a great day for… somebody.
@Katy Anders: Thanks, Katy. Yeah, there were many more alien occupation-type monsters during Cold War, whether the aliens landed on the planet or took up residence in a host. In some respects it was another form of “othering” like that in the 1880s when vampire stories became popular; at that time, immigration due to political and economic upheaval increased tensions on local populations. Immigrant “others” were seen unconsciously as drains on resources–bloodsuckers.
And yes, though I loved Inception’s detailed execution, it was just white collar crime. One might look at it as an example of tensions inside the 1% with little regard for the 99%.
Among the recent superhero movies Iron Man, at least, made an effort to move away from the military industrial complex. Not sure how Iron Man will fend off the next world take over, however, now that he’s given up his hidden lair and battery pack.
@pdaly: That was the frustrating part, IMO, about Iron Man; he was pushed back into the MIC by threats. I’ve only seen IM-1 and IM-2, have not yet seen Avengers or IM-3, am assuming he’s been stuck in MIC since IM-1.
Which pretty much mirrors the US response to Eisenhower’s warning about the MIC. Warned decades ago, now stuck in a status quo rut.
I’ve always been a fan of the monster shows. Not sure why. Gojira is my favorite. I occasionally have great monster nightmares.
“Star Trek Enterprise”, the last series, was my favorite on the tube. (The tube? What’s that grandpa?)
I liked “Smallville” a lot.
Read recently that Robert Downey Jr. made 75 million in the past year. Iron Man been very good to him!
You bring up a few of my favorite issues, even if you are long winded on it, and most of your commenters are too.
Jeesus, maybe you people should take a course in Poetry writ’n or use some word economy!!
You ain’t getting paid by the word, like real BS Journalists do! so’s why not drop down and say it nice and quick?
Oh, about Superman and the likes: Them things are interesting, cause it shows something in the mass psyche and such… Such ass… Miss Corolina!
to fight monsters, we created …
see V2 at #thedemise
@hpschd: I wonder what triggers your dreams of monsters? I’ve had monstrous dreams, too, but the monsters are usually small, dark, fast, and evil, or they’re evil people.
@geoschmidt: This site specializes in details and analysis.
If you’d prefer short content, may I suggest TheWeek.com for news and NANOfiction.org for fiction? I can’t endorse the first, but I do endorse the later.
@particle61: Interesting. Brings to mind Nietzsche’s quote, “…when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”
I’ve seen other, more complete versions of that same quote that fit even better:
“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
Only quibble I have with the art is the timing; there were monsters before those we made. Which monsters truly set our monstrous creativity in motion?
Superman and Batman are corporations, my friend. Beware!
spoiler alert (in case you do plan to see Iron Man-3): The MIC forces Tony Stark to hand over to the government his iron man technology. Also even IM-3 has zombies this time around (high tech genetically altered zombies which, like all zombies, seem pretty angry with humans).
@Rayne: With no disrespect to geoschmidt, it was worth it to me, reading all the way down, to get to the abyss quote. Thanks! I was feeling hopelessly out of it since I am a wuss and don’t like watching monster movies or violence for violence’s sake. Last year a kid I know (my good V buddy) lent me two of his Batman movies, the Michael Keaton-Jack Nicholson one and the one with Heath Ledger. Even though I was curious how the logic and plot details really worked and would have gone back to watch the Heath Ledger one again to try and understand that better, I just couldn’t. Too much senseless pain and senseless violence. (Because… exorcism?) In the face of pain and rage like The Joker’s, the thing that cried out to me to be done first, immediately, was not imprisoning or killing him, but reaching out to him and touching him, doing something to heal him. So I went nowhere in that movie.
Come to think of it, I do have a tiny Batman comic frame on my refrigerator, it’s been there for years (…and years… what goes up on the fridge never comes down) (until now), cut from a book club flyer. I don’t even know what book it’s from but it’s a head shot of Batman in the dark rain and he’s saying: “It doesn’t have to end like that. I don’t know what it was that bent your life out of shape, but who knows? Maybe I’ve been there too. Maybe I can help.” Where did that guy go?
So the whole premise of the Dark Knight logic seems off to me, a terrible, stupid dance to choose. Where’s the human? But abyss-to-abyss wise, if you ever want to talk fairytales, I think I could hold my own with (saw recently) Snow White and the Huntsman. Mirrors and idiocy. I think it fools itself. Coulda shoulda / didn’t wouldn’t.
(Anyone for Iron Giant? “What if a gun had a soul and didn’t want to be a gun?”)
(Anyone for ParaNorman? Now that’s a perfect movie for these times.)
@pdaly: Nuts! Now I kinda wish I’d seen IM-3! Meh, I’m saving my movie money for Elysium next month. I’m a huge fan of Neill Blomkamp’s work in District 9, can’t wait to see what he’s done with Elysium.
@thatvisionthing: Hey, where else are you going to go to get popular culture and philosophy? Of course you would find Batman, Superman, kaiju, Žižek, and Nietzsche here!
I suspect you are highly empathic based on your comments about violence in movies. There are some films I will never see for this reason, though I’ve choked my way through some because the value of seeing them outweighed my discomfort. The Killing Fields is such an example. I’ve struggled with Tarantino’s works because he is so gratuitously violent.
Funny you brought up Snow White and the Huntsman. I spent quite a bit of time analyzing that film as well as the underlying fairy tale. It’s part of women’s mythos, based on the Triple Goddess archetype. On the face of it, it looks like it could be a distorted bildungsroman, but it’s much more than simply showing Snow White coming of age. There’s some really deep unconscious material in that story and film, and like superheroes and monsters it serves a cultural purpose at an important time.
Love Iron Giant, but it doesn’t fit the recent wave of superheroes/monsters. Didn’t see ParaNorman; guess I’ll have to look into that one a bit.
Been thinking about the South African tribe that soon after the European invasion of that area had dreams of their dead demanding that the tribe kill all their cattle and destroy their goods in order to become invulnerable to the invaders, at least that’s my recollection from _Crowds and Power_. Seems to me an interesting way to approach our present zombie consciousness.
@Rayne: “Batman, Superman, kaiju, Žižek, and Nietzsche” – and Swartz… It was funny to see your post go up because the night before I had been thinking of Swartz and Batman. He had written a review that I had read when he died. The thing I was looking for was his take on the scene where Batman basically turns everything into his surveillance source, recognizes that he’s crossing a terrible line, and puts the key in Alfred’s hands to destroy after him. (iirc)
Here http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/batmanbegins leads to here http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/tdkr leads to http://thenewinquiry.com/blogs/zunguzungu/do-not-go-gentle-into-that-dark-knight/ leads to… I read and skimmed lots of stuff, don’t think I ever glommed onto what I was looking for, Swartz’s take on NSA collect it all. But deeply impressed that Batman provoked such erudite commentary. My huge blind spot.
@Rayne: Had to look up Triple Goddess and bildungsroman. How does Triple Goddess apply? What’s your opinion of SWATH? I want to throw pots at it. Good stuff gone to waste. It’s not like they didn’t know what they had. Maybe they just liked shiny sleight of hand better. The director says it at the end on the commentary track, “This isn’t a love story. This is a medieval war film.” Honest to Pete.
as a geek and a writer who works around da biz, i feel like i should be contributing something but oddly can’t come up with anything, except this clip of Loki crashing the Avengers panel at Comic Con, cause it made me laugh:
As good a time as any to point out that Clark Kent is a natural born citizen eligible to serve as President of the United States.
“The following shall be nationals and citizens of the United States at birth… (f) a person of unknown parentage found in the United States while under the age of five years, until shown, prior to his attaining the age of twenty-one years, not to have been born in the United States…”
8 USC 1401
@rosalind: Now THAT is fun.
@gmoke: Wow. Preemptive plowing salt into the earth. They must have felt suicidal en masse. I have to think about this analogy with regard to the zombie model. Thanks for bringing it up.
@thatvisionthing: To be more specific, SWatH is a partial mythic representation of the Triple Goddess arc, though elements of the entire arc are present in several characters.
First, the Triple Goddess (3-G) is the fundamental mythic model or archetype of women’s emergence and maturation. We begin as the maiden, become a mother (or alt-mother), then mature into the senescent crone. Each of these facets represents a phase of 3-G, and every woman who lives a full life cycle must succeed through these states.
Snow White represents the maiden (sister of the people) who must mature into an alt-mother role (mother of the people). The mother is represented in this fairy tale in two forms: the good, healthy mother Queen, and the bad mother/bad crone in the evil step-mother. The movie itself attempts to persuade us that the good maiden/good mother is the life of the earth and the people, where the bad mother is a destructive, life-sucking leech. What appears to be an unconscious message in this movie is the excessive resource consumption that comes with being a bad mother (step-mother).
Why this archetype’s emergence now? Because of the plethora of shitty role models purveyed by corporatist forces at a time when women’s power is temporarily at an ebb. Hello, Kardashians? *barf!*
And yes, agreed, the movie was less than effective. So close, such awesome potential, but a near-miss. I suspect a woman scriptwriter conscious of 3-G might have salvaged it.
@rosalind: LOL! Hiddleston-Loki sure created a buzz-storm in my cultural creatives timeline! Hope somebody’s going to make use of that energy. (BTW, I think I will squirrel away the fact you’re “around da biz” for future use. Helpful to know.)
@beowulf: That sure puts a new spin on immigration reform, doesn’t it? Thanks for that.
Looked up Thor the movie on wikipedia:
Somebody must have seriously tripped out in Ikea in some deep Odinsleep…
Damn well said.
Especially since two Navy Admirals call it the greatest threat to the military:
“America’s top military officer in charge of monitoring hostile actions by North Korea, escalating tensions between China and Japan, and a spike in computer attacks traced to China provides an unexpected answer when asked what is the biggest long-term security threat in the Pacific region: climate change.
Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, in an interview at a Cambridge hotel Friday after he met with scholars at Harvard and Tufts universities, said significant upheaval related to the warming planet “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen … that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’ (All Weather is Local – 4).
The military that the public sees as that super-hero above all others in the real world (Stockholm Syndrome on Steroids – 2).
@Dredd: I’ve written previously about the Defense Department’s perspective on climate change as well as the State Department’s perspective. You’ll find links to the DoD’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Report as well as the DoS’s parallel QDDR at the link I just provided; both DoD and DoS acknowledge climate change as a serious threat to our national security and stability.
We are and have been in an asymmetric global war for energy, with corporate forces compelling us to remain addicted to petrochemicals–in spite of DoD and DoS knowing the addiction is a component of the threat we face.
Ultimately the true bottleneck between us as our own superheroes and the monster we created in the form of climate change is our political will.
@Rayne: Well, I couldn’t localize it to three in the mess that is known as SWATH. They kind of threw the kitchen sink in there, spun it, said smoke and mirrors kaboom, voila. I’d call it a fail because Snow White became the queen, and not in a good way. Apple, sleep, kiss, yes, and – wakes up alone and goes out to lead guys into battle. Kills. All the power she had earlier, thrown away.
Now I understand there’s to be a sequel, so maybe this is like the old Tide commercials, get something really messed up and then clean it up like magic. In which case, so far they have done a great job at making a mess.
(Speaking of. What heaven it would have been in that cold, wet, muddy, dismal movie to have someone cheery clean something up and make a warm hearth! But no.)
Anyway, you could make the eco case for SWATH, easy. But it would fail the way SW fails. When Queen kills King and takes over, nature is upended. Land is blackened, crops fail, butterflies turn fabulously carniverous. Noble, thriving people become grim, starving losers. But Snow White has a power. When she escapes to the forest, she saves the Huntsman by instinctively stepping in as the troll is about to kill him. Wee scrod roars back at the troll, mirrorlike. Troll is surprised. SW looks into his face, something fixes him, she has empathy, he doesn’t quite understand, turns and leaves. Yeah, empathy! Say my name! “Empathy!” Say my name! “Empathy!” Everybody who looks at her, who is around her, feels… better, and wonders. Ailments heal. Birds lead her, fairies come out, great spirit of forest appears and bows to her. People criticize Kristen Stewart for her acting in SW but I’d say she’s great at the portraying empathy part. And you think you’re learning the lesson, you think you’re going there, but no, this is a medieval war film. She falls asleep as soft and caring SW, wakes up as Joan of Arc in a tin suit. (That time of the month?)
Point is made that queen is a consumer. She consumes hearts, souls, all; ruins all; wears death. She’s a prisoner of her mother’s protective spell. You’d think the fail is obvious: When all is dead, what’s left for you? She and SW are weirdly bound at the heart and the mirror, and in the end… SW kills. And becomes queen.
In my view of nature, which is kind of the Ruskin view of nature, it’s all about love and helping each other, all parts nourish all and power grows together, naturally. Yet in SWATH, the guys making the film didn’t want Snow White to need anyone, didn’t want a love story, and didn’t make one. The allegory I pull away is that they’re idiots. Which is great for them, go on. But have they looked at the blackening world lately? I think we all could find power if we tried using our compassion and empathy, but apparently we’re supposed to grimly wait for a GOOD queen to wake us up. Someday our good queen will come. I guess.
@Rayne: pls. squirrel. and sorry didn’t get to see you at NN13.
In both the WoT and ASOIAF series, which started in the early to mid 1990s, climate change is in your face, but none of the foreground heroic figures can do anything to stop it. The Bowl of the Winds is Sea Folk property and the Sea Folk are in charge of using it from the moment it is found.
@4jkb4ia: Whoa. Dude. Hardcore there. Need a glossary for the non-fans of fantasy genre.
WoT = The Wheel of Time book series by Robert Jordan
ASOIAF = A Song of Ice and Fire, book series by George R. R. Martin on which cable series Game of Thrones is based.
@thatvisionthing: I have another huge comment in response to yours, but I’m struggling to find a reference. I’ll reply here in the next 24 hours once I find it.
@rosalind: Squirreled, and yes, I’m sorry I missed you at NN13, too! Maybe next year, though I might have to drag a teen with me to Detroit (not difficult since it’ll be in my backyard, so to speak).
@geoschmidt: Yes, I see you trolling around in other threads.
You want succinct? Here you go:
That goes for anyone who thinks they should tell contributors and long-time well-respected commenters how to write.
@thatvisionthing: Ugh, I can’t find the exact quote I want, wish this book was in e-book format so I could do a word search. Anyhow, another important excerpt from same book and author serves nearly as well:
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype
SWatH also deals with a second triad, the Life/Death/Life cycle. Life cannot emerge without death. We see the good mother die, not unlike Persephone going under ground to live with Hades during the winter. In yielding she allows the next season in the form of Snow White to emerge and take her place.
The quote I was looking for says, more or less, a good mother knows when to bring death. The creative power is not only life-giving but death-bringing in that it must clear the way for life. If memory serves the example was that of a she-wolf who kills her mortally wounded pup; in doing so she grants mercy from suffering while preventing her other pups from being put at risk because of the sick pup. In SWatH, Snow White brings death to that which is already mortally ill — the evil stepmother has been past her shelf-life for a very long time and puts others at risk with her life-leeching consumption.
There are numerous symbols in SWatH; I wonder how many were actively selected for what they communicate, or if they were unconsciously chosen. The three drops of red blood, for example, are symbolic of the blood shed during birth (ex. “bloody show”); they appear at the point where the maiden will be born, and again when the maiden “gives birth” through the stepmother’s death to the “people’s mother.” Another powerful symbol is the milk bath, when the stepmother becomes completely enrobed in white. This is another symbol of the evil queen’s dead nature, white being a traditional color of mourning in many cultures. She is a dead thing; Snow White only ensures her transition to the other world.
Recalled just now a quote from movie Prometheus, which mirrored the Mesopotamian epic, Gilgamesh: “A king has his reign and then he dies. It’s inevitable. That’s the natural order of things.” It is the stepmother’s disruption of this natural order which is evil; Snow White is charged with restoring order so that she may bring life. (Coincidentally, Charlize Theron as Vickers delivers this line in Prometheus.)
SWatH really was pretty meaty with symbolic content. It’s just a shame it appeared to play loosely with such powerful material.
Rayne, your right, and this is a very interesting post and great informative thread, I should turn off the keyboard at night!
Thanks for the links to.
@Rayne: Hi Rayne, this is fun. Gotta think.
Thing is, I don’t think they made that movie. I don’t think SW kindly motherly dispatched the queen to death. I don’t think the kiss awakened SW to sexuality/motherhood. I can’t say it wiped out her empathy because when she woke up and was burning with inspiration (in Loki’s words “burdened with glorious purpose” :-) and she gives the speech to rouse the men to follow her into battle, she says, “I have seen what she sees. I know what she knows. I can kill her.”
DVD box even says it: “This is no fairy tale” http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/913DnXPsNwL._SL1423_.jpg
Not saying it has to be. But within its own universe it just made a nonsense hash out of all its symbols and premises. It couldn’t even keep the big thing that it itself introduced straight: The queen consumes hearts. She needed Snow White’s heart to become immortal. Right? First conversation we hear Kristen Stewart have is with queen’s brother who’s come to fetch her from her cell to the queen, the day the mirror said Snow White was fairer. “What does she want from me?” “Your beating heart.” I think there’s even another quote where it’s more explicit (IMDB fails me), that the Queen has to do the heart consuming thing that we’ve seen her do, to fulfill the spell, but both times when she goes to kill Snow White, how does she go to do it? Stab her with a knife! WTF?!! Plus, Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman is wonderful. Really, really wonderful. You believe that his grief and his tear and his kiss could wake SW up. So when she does wake up and doesn’t go to kiss him back? W. T. F.
Okay, it’s a mess, which pisses me off particularly because I like messes and seeing what grows out when things knock together in weird ways. In my universe, messes are creative, fertile, not sterile. Messes have gifts! Don’t trash them! They did. But I kind of like their kitchen sink centrifuge, throwing the symbols dice together, see what comes up. Something could have. To bring this back to Batman and Comic Con, my Joker problem and the big announcement that the next film will pair Batman and Superman – eh – I’m having fun thinking, what if this (pre-kiss) Snow White had wandered into that Dark Knight? Her empathy to The Joker’s pain. Then what? Bambi meets Godzilla? Maybe not? Man, I would have paid to see that film.
There’s a Pixar artist who started his own project of drawing a new superhero a day for a year. Maybe he could figure Snow White’s powers out. Maybe he already has. They’re pretty fun to scan through, but I haven’t looked at them all.
@thatvisionthing: The canonical story of Snow White itself (or Rose Red, other various names) contains much of the Triple Goddess and Life/Death/Life triadic content, before this screenwriter/director combo got to it. They added further messaging. The challenge, though, is the unconscious; we can say they “didn’t set out to make that movie,” but their unconscious might have. AND the problems with the movie could well be based in conflict between what they consciously though they were making, and what their unconscious demanded.
I guess I could see enough content in it to give it a 6.5/10. A better director would have earned an 8.5/10 with the resources.
Ruskin, from Brooks, Ruskin and Jefferson:
Not Rupert Sanders’ Snow White. Disney’s. Terrible corruption.
Edit: Was exploring Snow White’s powers, but sans bolding could be reply to @41
Plus, can anyone tell me how the unmarried son of a duke is a prince?
Plus, just saying.
– Disney Snow White 1937
– Wizard of Oz 1939 (Dorothy always had the power to wake up/go home, she just didn’t realize it)
Plus the ones I keep waiting to come back around, same idea @42, common parts help each other, are the superhero/savior we need when rich is destroyer:
– Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 1939
– Mr. Deeds Goes to Town 1936
– Meet John Doe 1941
– My Man Godfrey 1936
And I don’t know where to put ’30s phenomenon Fred and Ginger, because I don’t think they’ll ever come around again, except in the great centrifuge of fluke: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYJPCymbNDA (through Disney portal!) Now that’s a gift looking for Angela Lansbury.
What did they call that little snotty little ponce kid in France (1770’s ) who got took out of the safe place? (the Dophine…?).
Isn’t it true that, A Prince or a Princess are merely potential ascendants to the throne. They might not get there automatic… (like the estimal Prince Philip/Charles/ and so on. And don’t forget the onliest reason they ever do “marry” is for… all the “Right Reasons”… hence: The real meaning of Tina Turners great tune: What’s Love got to do… got to do with it!?…”
Sometimes brevity is a great way to hide from an incomplete knowledge base, agreed, I plead stupid.
Visionthang, you make lot’s of sence in your superior comments.
Plus, can anyone tell me how the unmarried son of a duke is a prince? – See more at: http://www.emptywheel.net/2013/07/20/superheroes-and-monsters/#comments
It’s a trick question! son of Duke shouldn’t be any higher than a son of _______, Oh maybe it is: a prince should be the son of a… legitimate monarch and a ligitamate prospect.
Dukes are a dime a dozen… son of Duke is about as high and mighty as a “Son of a Sea Cook”!
@thatvisionthing: Easy to answer, pointing to a contemporary example: Prince William and Catherine, Princess William, are also Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Their recently-born son will be Prince [insert given name] of Cambridge.
The father/Duke in question is likely a Prince as well, just as Prince Andrew (Prince Charles’ brother) is; Prince Andrew is also Duke of York, and his daughters are Princesses Beatrix and Eugenie of York.
@geoschmidt: The prince I was wondering about was Snow White’s childhood friend and adult rescuer-wannabe, Prince William, son of Duke Hammond, who has a castle and an army and opposes the queen. Destiny? It’s a war film, who cares. Everybody: You lose. And I often miss the brevity boat because I’m like Pigpen in Charlie Brown, wandering in a cloud of mess, as you see. Thank you so much for your kind comment.
@Rayne: Thanks. (But how do you know which title to use? And why isn’t Catherine a princess?)