Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mom, Dad, and Mulan

My mother was born 98 years ago, yesterday. She died not quite two years ago, at the age of 96. You might think that the purpose of writing this blog post is to “honor” my mother, but that is an oversimplification. I have come to believe that writing memorials is not the correct way to “honor” our parents. I learned this lesson from my wife Linda and from Disney’s Mulan. “Honor your Father and Mother!” is one of the Ten Commandments. Usually, in western culture, when we honor someone, we “say nice things about them.” But, the Ten Commandments were not given to western culture; they were given to eastern culture. My wife suggested to me, several years ago, that the best way for children to “honor” their parents is to live their lives in ways that their parents would approve. This is precisely the values theme of Disney’s animated film Mulan. The film is set in China, an eastern culture. The song, “You’ll Bring Honor to Us All,” plays while Mulan is being prepared to be an appropriate example of Chinese maidenhood—“washed and dried, primped and polished…a great hairdo… good taste, calm, obedient, work[ing] fast-paced, with good breeding and a tiny waist…soft and pale…balance…beauty… a perfect porcelain doll.” The preparation, though, is unsuccessful. Mulan does not satisfactorily perform as an appropriate Chinese maiden. The implication of the film at this stage is that Mulan does NOT bring honor to her parents.
Meanwhile, the song proclaims: “We all must serve our Emperor who guards us from the Huns--a man by bearing arms--a girl by bearing sons.” China, eventually, goes to war with the Huns. The army is conscripting one member of each household to fight. Since Mulan’s father has no sons, he steps forward to represent his family in the battle. Mulan’s father is old and feeble, even walking with difficulty. Mulan objects to seeing her father simply sacrifice his life by fighting (a situation she considers impossible for him to survive) and argues that her father cannot go to war. Her father responds: “You dishonor me.” Nevertheless, by stealth, Mulan dresses in armor as a man and takes her father’s place, masquerading as his non-existent son Fa Ping. As a warrior, she saves China. Mulan, thereby, DOES bring honor to her parents. Noticeably absent from the “honoring of her parents” is anything honorable that the parents have done. Honoring her parents was accomplished by Mulan doing as my wife had suggested to me: living her life in ways that her parents would approve. My father was a very successful farmer, a role that I admittedly disliked. I was a member of the Future Farmers of America, in high school, but not because I enjoyed farming. It was because FFA taught me leadership skills, such as parliamentary procedure and public speaking. I just happened to be a lousy farmer. My older brothers, on the other hand, were much better than I at farming. Did I dishonor my father by not pursuing agriculture? Before marrying, my mother was the first of her family to attend college. She became a teacher. My younger brother and I followed the teaching entelechy, but focused on teaching at the college level, while my mother had taught grades 1-12. Did my other siblings dishonor our mother by not pursuing teaching careers?
I gathered by observing my parents that there was one value they held above the values of being a good farmer and teacher. Though farming sometimes demanded working seven days/week from dawn to dusk, my father never paid attention to that demand. He never worked on Sunday. Church was more important than farming. Though my mother had an entire room in our house filled to the brim with teaching aids and materials, the vast majority of those teaching aids pertained to teaching Sunday School. Christian Education was the most important subject for my mother, the teacher. It rubbed off. All four of my parents’ sons, one of their daughters, one of their sons-in-law, three of their daughters-in-law, nine of their grandchildren, and four of their great grandchildren attended Christian colleges. My brother Rod and my brother-in-law Dean completed their Master of Divinity degrees and have spent their entire careers in the ministry. My younger brother Dennis holds a D.Theol. from Tűbingen, Germany, and is Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at a Christian university. Every one of my parents’ six children have held leadership roles in the church: Christian ministry, teaching, youth sponsors, etc. Every one of my parent’s six children’s families has had at least one person (the siblings, themselves, or one or more of their children) serving in the ministry. Like Mulan, we did not all follow the specific gender-occupational roles of our parents, but we all seemed to grasp what would bring “honor” to our Mother and Father.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Noah! Whoa!

SPOILER ALERT! In a sense I shouldn’t need to issue a Spoiler Alert for a movie based on the life of Noah. Who on Earth does not know how this story begins, proceeds, and ends? Perhaps, that’s why the makers of the Russell-Crowe-movie-Noah felt it necessary to throw in a few twists. To keep the audience engaged, the makers of the movie took into account what Kenneth Burke calls the Psychology of Information. Burke distinguishes between the attraction of the Psychology of Form and the Psychology of Information. Certain stories, such as Shakespeare’s plays and Disney’s fairy tales are enjoyed over and over and over again by the same audiences. These stories are enjoyed repeatedly by the same audiences, due to the Psychology of Form. We just enjoy repeatedly experiencing certain forms. A great example of this psychology is a hit song. People listen to the same song over and over, simply because they enjoy the form. There are other stories, however, that once they have been enjoyed, are cast aside. We may be engrossed, for example, in a football or basketball game. We may be so tied to the television set, watching the event unfold, that we cannot be torn away, even when an advertisement is shown. We do not want to miss a second of the action. Yet, when the game is over, we do not wish to watch the game again. We cast it aside.
Now, to the story of Noah . . . . There are certainly plenty who view the story of Noah from the perspective of the Psychology of Form. Not only does this group include believers who consider the story a supreme example of God’s interaction with and reaction to human beings, but this group also includes agnostics and non-believers who simply enjoy the story of Noah. Many of these individuals will be greatly disappointed in the Russell Crowe movie.
Enough of the form of the story of Noah is retained, however, that some individuals in this group may be satisfied. Most key characters are retained—Noah, his wife, and their three sons (Ham, Shem, and Japheth). The Ark is built. I personally enjoyed the visual effect of watching the construction of the Ark. Its dimensions, construction, materials (logs and pitch), cubic-rectangular shape, etc. are correct according to Biblical specifications. We are offered what photographers call “scale” by seeing actual animals in the Ark, so we can conceive of the potential for carrying multiple species of various animals. The sources of the Flood (from springs of water as well as heavy rain) are Biblical. The method of gauging the receding of the waters (sending out ravens and doves) is Biblical. From the perspective of the Psychology of Information, the movie-makers added interaction with Methuselah, the oldest person ever to live (and Noah’s grandfather), according to the Bible. While Methuselah is not mentioned in the Flood story, he is calculated, according to the Bible, to have died in the year of the Flood. The movie also adds Tubal-Cain as Noah’s nemesis. Tubal-Cain is a Biblical character who made instruments of iron and bronze, so it is feasible that these instruments were war instruments. Since it doesn’t matter who the antagonist is—the thoughts of all mankind other than Noah’s family were only evil continually--neither of these additions should be particularly grating to the Psychology of Form purists, but Tubal-Cain’s managing to board the Ark would violate the form.
A more egregious violation of form that might ruffle some feathers is the addition of the Watchers, depicted as giant rock creatures that resemble Stone-Age Transformers. Those in the audience less versed in theology might leap quickly to the conclusion that these “rock people” suddenly categorize the entire Noah story as a Fable. This would be a huge violation of what Burke calls Conventional Form for believers. Believers view the Conventional Form as History, not Fable. The movie makers had even gone so far as to offer potential justification for the historicity of a Young Earth theory (Google: “Disneology young earth” and view my blog Disneology #3) by presenting flowers that sprouted up in seconds from a drop of rain, and immense forests that grew in minutes. They even avoided potential conflict in the Creation account of Genesis as Noah rapidly related the “days” of Creation (Google my blog: “Disneology big bang” and view my blog Disneology #6). So, why utterly violate the Conventional Form of the story of Noah with these fictitious “rock people”?
The movie calls these “rock people” not humans, but angels—Fallen Angels. Since I have written a Master’s Thesis at Indiana University (as well as multiple Stan.Point blogs) on the subject of Fallen Angels, allow me to explain what I think the movie makers were attempting. In Genesis 6, right before the story of Noah and the Flood begins, the Bible speaks of “sons of God” marrying “daughters of men.” The movie is presenting these so-called “Sons of God” as Fallen Angels—something that I consider a huge mistake. See my blog on the issue: (Google: “ Genesis 6” and view my blog Angels & Demons 13: Who are the “Sons of God” in Genesis?). Furthermore, even if these Sons of God were Fallen Angels, they do not fit the context of Genesis 6, in which the Sons of God married the Daughters of Men. There is no hint of the “rock people” taking human wives in the Noah movie. Rather, by applying the term “Watchers” to these “Fallen Angels,” the movie is redirecting us to the book of I Enoch, which identifies the Fallen Angels as “Watchers.” Perhaps, the movie makers believe that the non-Biblical book of I Enoch was actually written by Enoch, the father of Methuselah and the grandfather of Noah, but this view of authorship is just silly. (Google: “ I Enoch” and view my blog Angels & Demons 2: The Prometheus Connection). The book of I Enoch is not in the Bible; it is what biblical scholars call Pseudepigrapha, meaning falsified authorship. The Enoch of Genesis did not write the book. Yet, the movie makers want to take later, Hellenistic Age concepts of these “Sons of God” and inject them into the Noah story. When I suggest the Prometheus Connection in my aforementioned blog, I supply most of the story the movie makers have adapted and added to the movie. The Watchers were condemned to an Abyss with Jagged Rocks; hence, the “Stone-Age Transformers” of the movie. The Watchers were banished to the Earth for the same reason that Prometheus of Greek Legend was banished by Zeus: they tried to help bring culture to humans. The character of the God of Genesis is, hence, transformed into a petty version of the god Zeus who is envious of humans and determined to stop their developing culture. Russell Crowe as Noah, hence, is transformed into a fearful-but-obedient agent of this mad god. Sound about right? While these new twists on the story of Noah, borrowed from the book of I Enoch, do provide new “information” for those who are motivated by the Psychology of Information, they are such bizarre twists that they drastically violate the Psychology of Form from the Biblical story of Noah. Perhaps the redeeming quality of having such severe violations of Form will be that it will motivate audiences to re-read the Genesis account to see if they missed something.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hidden Mickeyisms 10: Frozen Female Philadelphia

SPOILER ALERT! Disney films celebrate love: The love between a boy and his dog (Old Yeller), The love between children and monsters (Monsters, Inc.) The love between monsters and monsters (Monsters University) The love between a child and his/her toys (Toy Stories), The love between a craftsman and his creation (Pinocchio), The love between a child and its mother (Bambi), The love between a child and its father (Finding Nemo, Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks), The love between boys and girls of different species (Little Mermaid), and, of course, The love between various princesses and their princes (Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin, Tangled, Beauty and the Beast, etc.).
Nevertheless, until the winter of 2013, there was no specific Disney movie celebrating the love of sisters. The city of Philadelphia was so named because it wanted to be the city of “brotherly love.” The Greek word PHILOS means love. The Greek word ADELPHOS means brother. The Greek word ADELPHE means sister. The word PHILADELPHIA could be translated either as “brotherly love” or as “sisterly love,” depending on whether one assumes the root of the word to be ADELPHOS or ADELPHE. In the case of the movie “Frozen,” I apply the term to ADELPHE. The ending –IA simply refers to a state of being or a process. Philadelphia is simply the process of acting with love towards one’s sister.
The 1954 Bing Crosby movie White Christmas contains elements of such a “female Philadelphia” with its song “Sisters,” but the love between the sisters in the film—played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen—pales in intensity to the sisterly love portrayed in Disney’s “Frozen.” Even the website of Turner Classic Movies (which owns the rights to the White Christmas movie) calls White Christmas “a film that's remembered mostly as a warm, nostalgic holiday movie rather than as one of the all-time great musicals.” Nevertheless, “it was the highest-grossing film of 1954” and it is a perennial favorite for TV viewers during the Christmas season. It was re-released on the big screen for a couple of nights during the 2013 Christmas season, as well. The Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen sisters, however, faced no test as severe as that faced by the Frozen sisters—Elsa and Anna. Elsa, the Snow Queen, possesses magical powers, which she cannot control. Simply put, just as those things (and people) King Midas touches turn to gold, those things (and people) Elsa touches turn to ice. Since an early incident suggests to Elsa that there is a possibility that she will accidentally freeze her sister Anna, if she is too close to her, she intentionally separates herself from her sister—as an act of love. Anna, of course, is kept ignorant of the fact that this fear for Anna’s safety is the reason for her seclusion, but Anna’s love for her sister Elsa never flags. At Elsa’s coronation, it becomes clear that Elsa still cannot control her dangerous gift. She flees to the mountains. Anna pursues her sister to Elsa’s ice palace after Elsa has inadvertently frozen the entire kingdom. Anna is determined to reunite with Elsa. Following several fairy-tale-prescribed difficulties and obstacles, Anna is faced with the ultimate problem—she will die unless she receives an act of “true love.” Disney relies on the misdirection of the formulaic “true love’s kiss” from multiple prior Disney movies to draw the audience into the desire for a kiss from a love-at-first-sight boyfriend of Anna’s. Then, when that boyfriend turns out to be a charlatan, the audience turns to the desire for Anna to be kissed by her reindeer-loving friend Kristoff, who helped her on her quest to find Elsa. The twist occurs as Anna is more consumed with protecting her sister Elsa than she is with romance. The Jesus-love paradigm comes into play as Anna gives her life to save her sister Elsa. “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). The Jesus motif is continued (as it is in many other Disney films) as the one who loves by giving his/her life is resurrected (Pinocchio, Baloo the Bear, the Beast, etc.).
Disney essentially disavows “true love’s kiss” as the truest indicator of “true love” in favor of the Jesus-love model. This is Philadelphia—sisterly love.