Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Film

Jafar: Agrabah’s Atatürk

Today I’d like to turn to an old theme–the tendency for Disney movies to disparage intellectual villains in favor of physical heroes and apologize for economic and social injustice. Previously, I wrote about how The Lion King, rightly interpreted, is really about Scar’s attempt to liberate the hyenas from a racist lion oligarchy. Today I’d like to do something similar with Aladdinreconstructing the plot so as to render Jafar the hero.

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The Self-Esteem Movement

Today I’d like to have a look at what’s often referred to as “the self-esteem movement”, the tendency in recent decades for children’s self-esteem to be prioritized in their upbringing and education. This topic was brought to my attention by a friend of mine, who had me read this piece by Luke Epplin for The Atlantic. In his piece, Epplin, argues that many films geared toward children in recent years have reinforced the centrality of self-esteem, depicting characters who seek to break out of conventional, functionary roles to do extraordinary things. He criticizes this theme, claiming that the success of characters in films like Turbo, Planes, Kung Fu Panda, Ratatouille, Wreck-It Ralph, and Monsters University is unrealistic. The characters in these films really are not physically, intellectually, or otherwise suited to the social roles they wish to take. It’s not possible to just will one’s way from being a crop dusting airplane to being a racing plane–racing planes are built to race, crop dusting planes are built to crop dust. I’d like to explore the implications of Epplin’s argument more widely, taking it outside of film and applying it on a larger scale.

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Scar: The Lion Martin Luther King

Disney has made a lot of beloved animated films. All over the developed world, kids grow up with them. There is something that has long bothered me about them, however–they have long presented children with morally uncomplicated, black and white, hero versus villain narratives. In this way, these movies contribute to our moral socialization as children, normalizing deontological moral beliefs–the notion that actions are right or wrong in themselves, regardless of the outcomes they produce. There is also an anti-intellectual thread running through many of these films–the villain is typically a clever schemer, while the hero is typically an every-man who happens to have unusual physical abilities. Today I’d like to highlight this issue in our culture by taking the plot of the beloved film The Lion King and morally reconstructing it so as to make Scar sympathetic.

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The Ender’s Game Boycott

There’s a new film coming out soon by the name of Ender’s Game. It’s based on the book by the same name written by Orson Scott Card. I haven’t seen the movie yet, and I can’t tell you whether or not it’s a good adaptation, but when I was in 8th grade (I believe I was 14), we read the book in my English class. Out of all of the books I read in all of the various English classes I took when I was growing up, Ender’s Game was my favorite. I had the long-standing male complaint that too many of the books we read in class were too full of symbolism and metaphor. The characters in them were too often defined not by decisions or deeds, but by what I considered unnecessary narrative description. I still find today that the books I most enjoy are books in which characters show who they are with actions. But I digress–the reason I bring it up today is that Orson Scott Card is extremely opposed to homosexuality, and as a result many are planning to choose to boycott the new film.

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Tarantino Aesthetics

Yesterday I found myself rewatching Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s latest film. This morning, I found myself watching a few interviews with Tarantino and was reminded of one of his running traits–he really hates it when people attempt to connect violence in movies to violence in real life. It goes beyond mere point of disagreement; he views the very notion that his movies could have any affect at all on the real world behaviour of people as beyond ridiculous. It suggests a fundamental different in aesthetic philosophy between Tarantino and his critics, and I think I have managed to put my finger on precisely what that difference is.

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