Thursday, July 14, 2016

Carrot Politics: Zootopia & Language & Deconstruction

Zootopia is very much a traditional buddy-cop genre film, so why revive it when so many other possibilities were open to the film makers? The buddy-cop genre had something to say to the film makers, that they wanted to say to everyone. What? How about that cops matter. The liberals have been so successful in painting law enforcement in a negative light that seeing a positive representation of the men and women in blue is a welcomed relief and, given the current administration's obvious dislike of law enforcement and the military, it's a political statement as well. Films about "the law" are rather fascinating because they are not about police policing themselves--either enforcing the laws or breaking the laws--they are about us and how we police ourselves in our own lives, how our culture views policing and keeping the law at a given time in our collective history. Ultimately, the film is about someone at the bottom of the food chain--the sheep Bellweather--destroying those at the top of the food chain--the predators. When Mayor Lionheart calls "Bellweather" "Smellweather," it's a coded message that he knows she is up to no good: the changing weather in Zootopia for predators smells rotten, and it's not because of the carcasses of dead animals left by predators, but the rotten smell of fear suffocating the city.
WHY IS ZOOTOPIA FULL OF ANIMALS? This imperative question illuminates the larger battles taking place in our culture today. "Humans never existed," but the animals dress, eat, act and inter-act just like humans,... because socialists believe we are animals. In evolutionary theory, "humans don't exist," we are still apes, so what the film makers have done is to meet the socialists on "their level" and say, "Okay, there are no humans, then that makes the miracle of us getting along so well even greater because of our animal instincts!" Perhaps the best film to which we can compare Zootopia is The Legend Of Tarzan; why? At the end of the film, Tarzan and Jane are naked in Africa with their new-born baby, so it's like a new Garden of Eden without God (Jane's father was a professor so she grew up not believing in spirits, like the Holy Spirit, and they go out of their way to destroy the Christianity and we have numerous shots of the mansion back in England that is abandoned now by Tarzan and Jane). Tarzan is about humans trying to re-integrate into nature, the "progressive" agenda where we abandon the comforts of civilization and go back into the wild because that's where we really belong, whereas Zootopia wants to draw our attention to the hypocrisy of such a claim: you claim we are still apes, so we are still animals, then the cities we have built have been built by animals and there is no reason to abandon them because this is how animals live now. Case dismissed. 
First of all, please accept my DEEPEST and SINCEREST apology for dissing this film: from the trailers, it genuinely, truly looked like socialist propaganda, and I could not have deduced anything differently from the footage released, BUT I am genuinely, really sorry that I dropped the ball on Zooptopia because this is ONE AWESOME FILM!!!! How do we know this is a pro-capitalist film and not socialist propaganda? For one thing, the heroine, rabbit Judy Hopps, invokes reality, and as we all know, reality is a socialist's worst nightmare. For another reason, Zootopia isn't a utopia, but it's trying, and it makes us realize how truly great and wonderful it is to live in flourishing Western civilization, and all we have overcome to make it what it is,... and what we risk if we lose it. The message is clear: capitalism offers the closet possibility of a utopia, but the "trouble-makers" in government trying to frame others is ruining it for us all.
Realistically, she's at t he bottom of the food chain., but she's our heroine. It's no accident that heroine Judy Hopps is a cop: this post is going up the day the five Dallas police officers are being buried after being ambushed and killed by a black gunman on behalf of "Black Lives Matter." What can we say about Judy? She is more concerned about the welfare of others than her own safety, and that is heroic. She's at the bottom of the food chain, she is prey, but she wants to protect prey and predators alike, and just because she has limitations, she isn't going to stop; not because she's a feminist, but because it's her calling in life. Judy was born to be a cop, and she's going to do what she was born to do, for her own good and the good of society. The dominant color of Judy's fur is brown; why? Brown is the sign of the earth and therefore a sign of humility (which we see fully both when she resigns because of the fear spreading throughout the city and when she apologizes to Nick for having been afraid of him). Judy's eyes are violet, a shade of purple; why? Purple is the color of kings and emperors (it was so expensive to produce purple-dyed fabrics that only royalty could afford them) and because of this, purple is also linked to suffering (the King of Kings, Jesus, suffered and died on the Cross for us). The eyes, as we know, are the windows of the soul, so when Judy sees someone suffering, she takes it upon herself to help them and enforce justice (kings are the judges of their land and the ones who give out justice and protect their people) like when Gideon the Fox stole the ride tickets from the other animals and Judy stood up for them: she wasn't a cop then, but she believed in the law, in right and wrong, and because she has policed herself, she has earned the right to police others. Lastly, Judy's uniform is two shades of blue: blue signifies both suffering and wisdom, because it's through suffering that we gain wisdom, and it was through her suffering of her parents trying to dissuade her from becoming a cop, and her difficult training, then her assignment as a meter maid that Judy has the wisdom to understand justice and the law (like using the law to get Nick to help her so he won't be prosecuted for his tax evasion). 
If you are one of the few who have not seen this billion-dollar film, the gist is that 90% of the prey (rabbits, sheep, wildebeest, etc.) in the bustling metropolis of Zootopia are suddenly in danger by the 10% of the predators who live there (lions, foxes, jaguars, etc.) even though they have evolved and lived together peacefully for thousands of years. It turns out, a sheep, the Assistant Mayor Bellweather has intentionally employed a dangerous hallucinogenic drug (derived from toxic flowers called "Night Howlers") to intentionally target predators and--with the drugs's influence--turn them into violent and savage beasts,.. sound familiar? There are a number of levels upon which we should explore for this, for example,...
To be certain, all of us have a bunny in us, a part of us that is vulnerable, and all of us have a fox in us, that part that is cunning and sly and can figure out a way to get what we want or need. Nick is an excellent example of the entrepreneur, given that he has been working since the age of 12 years old, and has grossed over a million dollars merely by hustling; but what does Nick have to show for it? He doesn't even have a vehicle of his own, and this helps us understand his character: the green shirt, with a bit of blue in it, and the navy color with red stripes that doesn't go at all with the shirt describes Nick's precarious psychological state. Green, as we know, denotes either hope and rebirth, or that something is rotten; Nick is on the verge of either/or the entire time, until the last scene of the film; why? The blue design on the shirt reveals that the suffering Nick has gone through in life has led him to nearly being rotten (like not wanting to help Judy find Emmit) but the wisdom he gains from his suffering (the trials he endures helping Judy solve her case) is the impetus he needs for his re-birth, his hope that he can be something better than what he's merely become in order to survive. We've seen this character in Napoleon Solo (The Man From UNCLE, Guy Ritchie) with the CIA offering Solo a second chance and Solo becoming the best agent. That's why it's important for his development that Nick wears the plastic sticker officer badge: it's gold (it's difficult to see in this image, but it's just above his left arm). Gold is the color of kings because gold is the only gift fit to give a king, and so it's a touch of dignity that Nick needs, to raise him and elevate him above a mere street hustler to someone who matters and can make a difference in the lives of others. Now, what about Nick's tie? The blue tells us Nick is depressed, or he's carrying around his sadness (which is validated by the sad story he tells Judy of being thrown out of the scouts when he was little because he was a fox) and the red stripes in the blue tie suggest the anger he's holding back; like the green of the shirt he wears, his tie can either mean that his sadness in life, and the anger that created, will guide him into becoming a rotten fox who fulfills the stereotype, or the experience of sadness will give him wisdom and love for others who have also been wrongly accused of being dangerous and this will lead Nick to becoming a source of help and inspiration for the entire community. While we know Judy graduated at the top of her class, we know Nick has the "street smarts" and these valuable skills are embraced by the ZPD when he is hired. When we see Nick come out in his officer's uniform, wearing all blue, we know that he has taken his sadness and turned it into wisdom, and that he will continue to grow, for his own benefit and that of Zootopia's. 
The animal population in nature reflects the human population in capitalism, with those who are the top earners, and those who are not. This is most likely the reason why such a story-line was chosen: the Occupy Wall Street movement complains about how unfair the earnings discrepancy is, just as Assistant Mayor Bellweather complains about how overworked and underappreciated she is. Like Bellweather, liberals are perfectly happy to falsify information and "set up" those who haven't done anything, but using fear as a political weapon.
Why is this pop star singer Gazelle such a big part of the film? There are at least two reasons. First, she's famous, and we have seen plenty of famous people lately (especially in the movies) abuse their fame by spreading liberal policies that are tearing this country apart; Gazelle doesn't do that. Second, there is an app in the film. In being famous, she (or her producers) have to be always designing new things to keep her ahead (like the light show in this concert she gives in the image above) and think of new ways in which fans can interact with her music, like seeing themselves dancing with her in the app that appears in the film. These factors are important because of the last scene in the film, when we see all the characters at her concert: music brings people together, art brings people together, because there is a shared message, value and custom involved, it reminds us of what we have in common in spite of our differences. So we could say Gazelle is a teacher for stars today to use their talents and gifts to bring us together, not to drive us further apart. The song she sings, Try Anything, is particularly inspiring, as we could say, it summarizes perfectly the creed of Americans: that we have to keep trying, as a country and individuals, on the individual paths we are on, and the path we are on together as one people.
When the film opens, we are part of the audience of a play Judy has put on about the evolution of animals away from their biological instincts of predator-prey; why? So we would understand ourselves better. Instead of waging war on one another, trade has brought us together peacefully so we can all increase the standards of living and security; recognizing those benefits, we get along; when we don't, there is the law. As Officer Judy Hopps says in the closing, it's not perfect, it gets messy, and we don't all get along all of the time, but that doesn't mean we don't keep trying,... unless the government is trying to use us against each other to bring itself down, and then, the government better watch out.  What about Judy's carrot she uses throughout the film?
Why the dramatic reference to The Godfather? Yes, it's about organized crime and this is a cop and crime story, but something happens when the audience sees Mr. Big and hears him talking: we share in a joke. This is the perfect example, like Gazelle's music, of how art--in this case, film--brings people together: those who have seen The Godfather recognize the speech, the daughter's wedding, the kissing of the ring, and then, something is proven: we aren't animals. Animals don't create art. They might scribble, they might throw paint, but they don't make art, they don't create narratives or songs, they can't interact with art (like the audience watching the scene with Mr. Big and the references to The Godfather, or later, when Mr. Big references Judy as "the godmother" to his grand-daughter). We do these things, and making and interacting with art is even necessary to us, be it film, music, photography, reading, etc., we try to make our living and work places more beautiful and discover ourselves with art, which seriously separates us from the animals. Why is he called "Mr. Big?" Because he does everything in a "big" way: he gets revenge big, he shows gratitude big, and he demonstrates that gratitude is its own form of currency that no society should be without.
Judy has a carrot pen; her parents grow carrots, Nick calls her "carrots" and Judy eats carrots (the depressing carrots for one meal she heats up the first night in her apartment). This is an excellent example of deconstruction: there are so many different "carrots" in the film, which is the real carrot? We tend to think of language as being stable, even concrete, but when language becomes destabilized--that is, there isn't just one carrot in the film, there are plenty of carrots--then it means everything has become de-stabilized. "Night howlers," in the word play that comes into effect, is also destabilized: there are the wolves who howl at night, but there is also the toxic flower called "Night howlers," and then the same flower also has another, technical name (that I could never possibly remember). And don't forget, when Judy first stopped the weasel who had stolen the moldy onions, the chief called them moldy onions, and Judy called them by their proper, botanical designation, and what did we do? We swept it "to the margins" of the narrative experience: because we didn't see any point in remembering the detail, we disregarded it, which is what happens in the theory of margins (for more explanation on the importance of this act, please see Margins Of Power: Ant-Man). So, why are these devices important?
The parents of Officer Judy, and minor villains. Yes, they are minor villains in the sense that they really don't want Judy to achieve her dream, rather settle for a simple life selling carrots. There is a rationale for not following one's dream, but seeing the rabbits intentionally trying to dissuade Judy from doing what she wants to do, reminds all Americans of who we are and what we believe; even if it hasn't happened in our own personal lives, one of  the cultural values that unites us is the drive to achieve our personal dreams and supporting others to do the same.
In terms of Zootopia, Zootopia (the city) itself has been made "de-stable" because there is the Zootopia which exists where the animals get along, then there is the Zootopia where predators free will and genetic instincts are being manipulated via drugs by Bellweather to create a different Zootopia. Gazelle tells an interviewer as fear spreads across the city, "This is not the Zootopia I know," and she is right, it's a different Zootopia, even though it looks the same, it's been made different, it's been destabilized. So, when we see a multiplication of something, in this case, the carrots, deconstruction is taking place.
So, why bother with all this?
Reporting for her first day of duty, Judy goes to the main desk and sees a cheetah who tells her what a cute bunny she is, to which Judy replies, "A bunny can tell another bunny they're cute, but another animal,..." and she doesn't finish, because then the cheetah replies, "Oh, how wrong of me, I am always being the stereotype of the doughnut-eating cop" and then he has a doughnut stuck in his neck roll. Another good example is when Nick is touching Bellweather's wooly fluff on top of her hair and he mentions that sheep never let foxes get that close to them, and Judy whispers to Nick that "You can't touch a sheep's wool!" Why not? We see this in reality, for example: a black person can call a white person a "cracker," but a white person cannot call a black person a "nigger," but a black person can call another black person a "nigger." Why? Control and fear. Some people "own" certain words, and others are forever disenfranchised from them, but no one talks about the "selling off of language," do we? Zootopia wants us to realize when and how our modern capitalist utopia started slipping from our hands, when we let others start telling us what we could and couldn't say. In the conversation above with the cheetah, Judy doesn't finish what she was going to say: what is it when another animal tells a bunny they are cute? Impolite? Politically incorrect? Condescending? The point is, Judy doesn't have to finish her sentence because we all ready know and we can fill in the blank ourselves because we "police" ourselves every day and in every conversation in the same situations. We don't need laws to keep us from saying certain things, we have fear, and the fear of consequences should we say certain things controls us, our behavior and our thoughts.
The Unspeakable.
"Fear" is introduced when predators begin lashing out at prey in Zootopia, but there is a far more deadly form of fear present in the most common form of exchange: language. The example in the caption above, between the cheetah and rabbit, illustrates "Those Of Whom We Cannot Speak," that is to say, that which is, but no one is allowed to say,... who doesn't allow us to say it, and when did it become not acceptable to say some things? We are protected by the 1st Amendment protecting freedom of speech, so why can't we say certain things? We are going to offend someone or some group,... As we all know, because we are ALL VICTIMS OF DOUBLETHINK (from George Orwell's novel Nineteen-Eighty Four). We believe we have freedom of speech, and yet I know there are things I am not allowed to say, so I hold these two contradictory thoughts simultaneously. So Zootopia highlights the fear of us turning on one another, but it exposes--as much as we can tolerate--the fear of language crimes which have entrenched themselves within public and private discourse. But be not faint, dear heart, for Zootopia gives us far more to celebrate, and that's what the film is genuinely about.
Who likes to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles? No one! Why not? All the people there move as slowly as sloths! Why can I say this? Because DMV workers are a teenie tiny minority, who don't have any thug groups protecting them or bullying them (think of the flushed pet army in The Secret Life Of Pets, or the alley cats, like groups of feminists or racial groups [I actually had to re-type that description several times to make sure I typed something that wasn't "going to offend anyone" even though people's emotions and feelings are not protected by the Constitution, I am afraid of the consequences even as I am writing about the very act] who will literally attack anyone who doesn't walk the acceptable line that group has decided to use as its public whip against others). Because DMV employees don't have an Al Sharpton working for them, they can be mocked in a film like Zootopia without fear of consequence. There is another point to this scene as well: jokes and humor are largely based on stereotypes, that is, a shared understanding of a person or experience (this is the perfect example of when an animated film is more for adults than children: how many kids understand the frustration of being at the DMV and it taking forever to get the simplest things done?). As we are forbidden from stereotyping people (like the stereotyping problems in Zootopia) we lose knowledge; stereotyping allows us to have a idea of how to handle situations. If I see a rattlesnake, I am going to stereotype rattlesnake behavior and assume that yes, all rattlesnakes are just alike. Animals do not have free will, they have instincts to help keep them alive and that survival instinct is what drives their behavior; humans, on the other hand, have free will, and when we encounter another human, we don't know if we are or are not in a situation that the other person is going to use their free will against us. For example, if a white police officer pulls over a black man in a traffic stop. According to blacks, all white police officers are going to shot the black man to death, regardless of what the black man does or does not do. The cop, on the other hand, has to weigh the situation and the other person's free will: is the man likely or unlikely to try and harm the officer? Then you have to introduce the fear that has intentionally been spread and how that fear is going to enter or not enter into the situation. We have to keep trying to get along with each other, however, when one of those groups insists on not getting along, that's a declaration of war and everyone and everything will suffer for it. 
How incredible is it that a cheetah and rabbit are talking to each other? That a fox and rabbit team up together? That a lion can work all day long with his assistant mayor being a sheep? Yes, absolutely, this is just an animated film where any reality the film makers want to impart is immediately created,...but think of Ferguson and Baltimore, think of 9/11 and the Paris bombings, of World Wars I and II,... those are exceptions, they are not the rules. All over the world, people have learned to live peaceably together. When violence happens, it's news, it's not the norm. That is something miraculous to celebrate. If you're not someone like Dwayne Johnson who could easily defend yourself (or, better, intimidate others so you didn't have to defend yourself to begin with) then you probably wouldn't live long if not for the benefits of modern society: we are all sheep, most of us are defenseless, but the fact that so many of us can and want to get along and prosper together means that the Detective Judy Hopps and Nick Wildes in the world are going to find a way to get through the messes, and correct the mistakes we make, and move on with life in the real, modern world.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
Yax works at a naturalist yoga group. Even though Judy is abhorred to see that all the animals are "naked" and not wearing any clothes, they look natural to us; when we see another person not wearing clothes, however, that is shocking and, mostly, our instinct is to look away just as Judy does. Why? Is this just relative? No, it's not, and that's the point the film makers want to make: if we were really animals, we would be at home in our skin and at home with others being at home in their skin, i.e., comfortable with everyone being naked; we are not. Animals are, because they are animals, but humans are not because we are humans. This isn't cultural, this isn't relative, this isn't a myth of human "evolution," humans have clothed themselves in one way or another since they could, not only for protection, but also out of respect for themselves and others. Animals, on the other hand, feel no need to clothe themselves because they are animals. So, not only are humans separated from animals by our love of art and its creation (discussed with Mr. Big above) we are also separate because of our desire and need to clothe ourselves AND express our individuality through how we dress.