Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Guest Post: You're Mufasa's Boy

Today's guest post comes from Julia Reed, Harvard PhD student in theology and women, gender, and sexuality (aka Sex and God) and my friend since 1st grade. You've already enjoyed her wisdom on the topic of old people having sex, and today she will regale you with an insightful deconstruction of The Lion King. Read my review of mine and Julia's recent viewing of The Lion King here.

My first year in graduate school I stuffed my schedule with courses in philosophy of religion and gender and queer theory; the material in those courses not only became central to my own work and teaching, but burned the circuitry of my psychic life. The lion’s share of my emotional vocabularies, coping structures, and understandings of self and love and loss comes from the texts and pedagogies of those baptismal months. And with all due respect to the years of work behind and ahead of me, maybe the best way to tell you about the relationships between Freud and Augustine and Judith Butler and Jesus and me might be to say that most of it I learned many years earlier from a scene in The Lion King.

Full disclosure, however: despite my, like, amniotic love for the The Lion King, there are aspects of the film that make me uncomfortable and angry, even though I know they are perhaps the only politically viable stories to tell in a Disney film. Scar is what queer readers might call a "deadly sissy"-- a malignant threat to a heterosexual dynasty, infuriated by his impotence, marked by physical weakness and leanness, resentful, malicious effeminacy, treachery, and association with other outcast deviants (the hyenas). Mufasa and Simba, on the other hand, are manly, monogamous tanks. Once Scar deposes the reigning heterosexual family, the circle of life is broken--the landscape literally becomes a black, bleak, lifeless boneyard---until Simba's triumphal life-ejaculating roar re-colors the savanna. (NB: Lion prides are not dynastic, and young males usually leave between 2 and 3 years old to take over other prides, kill the resident cubs, bone each lioness, and nap. Though I remain unconvinced that the cubs don't ride around on ostrich asses, because, please.)

The scene I'm talking about, however, is during Simba's exile. Rafiki, having caught Simba's "scent" in the air--the scent of the promise of life, restoration, latency, unclaimed birthright--has followed him to his No Worries Hakuna Matata land of plenty and anomie. Taunting Simba with nonsense, he finally whispers, "You're Mufasa's boy," prompting Simba to run after him. "You knew my father?" Rafiki responds, "Correction, I know your father." The scene's pulse quickens, the music becomes martial and insistent when Simba sighs that his father died long ago. Rafiki jumps up excitedly: "He's alive. I'll show him to you. I know the way." What follows is a masterful dreamlike pursuit sequence through the bases and roots of knotted trees. We don't know if we're above or underground; Simba, the brick-house big cat, crawls slowly, clumsily, desperately curious. I remember watching this scene the first time and feeling electrified at the possibility, the hope, that Simba would in fact meet his resurrected father in the open beyond the gnarled gauntlet. Rafiki stops Simba, parts a sheet of tall grass, and whispers, "Look down there." Simba peers down into a perfectly clear shining pool and sees himself. Deflated, he looks away: that's not my father, that's just me. Rafiki: "look… harder. He lives in you." But Mufasa is not Aslan. Unlike Bambi's mother, we have seen his dead body. (Like a reverse doubting Thomas, I could not quite believe it.) He appears as a specter in the sky to say, "Mark me. Remember me"--the words of Hamlet's father's ghost.

"Remember me"; "remember who you are"--I heard these exhortations, and still hear them, not as reminders of Simba's divine right of kingship, but in a literal, physical sense of the words themselves. Re-member yourself. Re-member your members. Put back together the parts that make you up--what in Freud's German literally translates to "investments" or "the places you've set yourself in." Which is only to say that the loss of these loves, these parts, would transform you and will transform you. Which is to say, says the father's ghost, you do not remember me because you have not grieved me; you have not re-membered yourself. Make my death a part of your life and your living. Not because you have rejoiced in it, but because it is a loss that brakes and builds you.

For me this does not mean that you will take your father’s place, that you will fully re-member yourself through your identification with him, and that he has therefore been successfully mourned as an honored legacy continued in and by you. (For Bible breathers: “Seeing you have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, that is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Colossians 3:10)). It does not mean that we become the fully re-membered, resurrected bodies of our fathers, mothers, formative loves and teachers. We are never fully re-membered in memory and resurrection (Mufasa, the father) by those who re-member us and thus re-member themselves (Simba, the son, who becomes a father in the end) because losses and absences are real and cannot be undone, even by love and helpful meerkats. After his famous conversion in the Milanese garden—“Pick up and read, and put on the new man, Jesus Christ”—Augustine in his Confessions gives us one of the most beautiful passages in theological literature on memory and desire, continually pursuing the God whom he loves, who is in him and eludes him. “Late have I loved you […] late have I loved you. […] You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours” (Book X.27.38). Augustine has converted, but there is no consummation; though he seeks God in the “vast fields and palaces of memory,” again God retreats. “If I find you outside my memory, I am not mindful of you. And how shall I find you if I am not mindful of you?” (Book X.17.26) We’re not talking about a dead God here, but a God that is always greater than we can remember. So Augustine’s love beckons him to the perpetually unfinished re-membering of himself and God.

Full disclosure, encore: J. Christ is not in my wardrobe. But Augustine’s ongoing re-membering—both of his spiritual body “after” conversion and of his God in his memory—takes place between the presence and absence of the beloved, the old man and the new one, the realities of loss and the possibilities of remembering. It’s about the fog of desire, memory, and the parts of us that are made up of our love for the living and the dead. It’s about what we say to the dead to keep them alive: “Wait. Don’t go. Don’t leave me,” as Simba says to the sky.

Thanks go to this tumblr for this and all of the incredible gifs in this post.

Discussion Question:
What important life lessons have you learned from children's movies?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Everything the light touches is our kingdom

When The Lion King came out in the summer of 1994, I was 11 years old and about to start middle school--probably a smidge too old to nerd out on a Disney movie.

But nobody told me and my best buddy Julia that. We saw The Lion King together one sweltering Tennessee afternoon and declared that we wanted to see it again. And then again. And then again. We saw it over a dozen times in the theater that summer, and our enthusiasm never waned.

I was a child obsessed. When I wasn't begging my parents to take me to the umpteenth matinee of The Lion King at the Carmike Cinemas, I was making up dances to the soundtrack, or combing the Bellevue Mall for Simba paraphernalia, or just wishing the internet existed so I could write The Lion King fanfic the livelong June. I clipped every article I could find that mentioned the movie and collected them in a file folder, like I was Simba's senile old relative.

I had all the Burger King toys and the bedding and even the coveted trading cards, which I begged my parents to buy me approximately every five minutes. There was a Lion King Trading Cards Swap Night down at Bellevue Mall one special night. I spoke of nothing else for weeks leading up to the event. Mama took me but I was too territorial over my collection to let the other children even LOOK to see if they wanted to trade. That is...not a strong negotiation tactic.

Not my bedroom but close enough

In the 17 years since the film was originally released, I have Hakuna Matata'ed my way into adulthood and eventually stopped clipping The Lion King articles. And, much in the way Simba and Nala joyfully and unexpectedly reunited, I have rekindled my friendship with dear Julia, who is now working on a PhD at Harvard but still shares my predilection for musicals and eating gummy bears.

So when we found out The Lion King was being rereleased, we knew what we had to do.


We chose Fresh Pond Theater for our Sunday afternoon viewing--it seemed fitting to go to a theater that clearly hasn't been renovated since the original release of The Lion King.

We walked into the theater and we were the only ones there.

Julia, always resourceful, had smuggled in a bottle of wine, and I had a near-endless bag of gummy bears. We had our favorite movie and an empty theater.

I let out a barbaric yawp of joy.

We sang each of the songs at the top of our lungs. We ran up and down the aisles dancing with joyful jazz hands for "Hakuna Matata" and with soulful lyrical interpretation for "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." Julia stood on the armrests to sing "Just Can't Wait To Be King." The wine was gone by the time Nala and Simba reunited.

We sobbed when Mufasa died but we wailed when Simba met up with Rafiki and decided to go back to Pride Rock. By the time Rafiki intones, "He lives in you!" we were holding hands and letting the tears roll down our faces without wiping them away.

We knew we'd love seeing The Lion King again but I don't think either of us were prepared for how grown-up the movie really is. This movie is positively Homeric in its scope--you deal with love, death, family, power, and a whole passel of other themes in the course of this 90-minute children's movie. We couldn't get over how unexpectedly sexy it is--Simba's weirdly anthropomorphic and masculine body. The whole "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" scene. Look at Nala's come-hither stare!

That was the night Simba became a man. Er...lion.

On our drive home, emotionally exhausted in the extreme, I asked Julia if she'd write a few words for me about the experience of seeing the movie again all these years later, now that she's armed with all kinds of information about how to interpret texts. Tomorrow I'll be sharing Julia's ridiculously insightful essay about The Lion King, so don't forget to tune in!

I leave you with this. Everyone likes to try to sing the opening of The Lion King, which goes something like NAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASIBANYA BABADEEZIBABA. Here I present to you opening lyrics of "The Circle of Life" translated from Zulu into English:

Here comes a lion, Father
Yes, it's a lion
We're going to conquer
A lion and a leopard come to this open place

The stirring opening notes of this song are basically HEYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY A LIONNNNNNNNNNNNNNN IT'S A LION OVER THERE! Disney, you so literal.

Many thanks to this life-affirming Lion King gifs tumblr for this and all the LK gifs in this post.

Discussion question:
What's the most fun you've ever had seeing a movie in the theater?

Friday, October 7, 2011

all roads lead to quidquid

confession time: I really do not care for U2

I have recently hit 20,000 unique visits to my dumb little blog. In honor of this milestone, I’d like to share some statistics with you.

I love Google Analytics. I love combing through the stats and seeing how people get to my blog. Many come from Facebook or Twitter, but 20% of my traffic comes from search engines. And Google Analytics allows me to see what everyone is searching for that brings them to my blog. These searches fall into a few different categories:

blueberry aioli recipe
cabbage drug
Chaka Khan marinade
dogs pulling airplane on snow
floppy melon doggy floor
grad school classics social life (haha)
“hello kitty and pocohontas” (I assume they were looking for this but instead found this
I like Boston
Jerry Doreen cabbage patch value
living in a cabbage truck
meeting a perfect person
one of the reasons was difficulty
Rodney King verdict

Babyland General Hospital
being naked is awesome
Biloxi pirate ship
culture shock for a southerner living in Boston
everyone in Boston says all set
grad school classics bad idea
I lost my glasses in the ocean
Mardi Gras do’s and don’ts
satc 2 carrie selfish brat
surviving New England winters
terrible experiences in grad school

American girl Samantha watercress sandwich
Boudreaux Jenkins
cartman twelve gangs
cauterized uvula
definition of imagicillan
healthworks naked or nude or nudity
jack rabbit acceleration Toyota Avalon
lambert the sheepish lion discussion
mardi gras tablescape
number and color synesthesia mental math
shaq snow measurement boston
tree gives birth to child

chicken parts
classics grad school that will pay for me
despite all my rage I was still just a level 3 mage
having s*x with a cabbage patch kids doll
naked womens changing room celebrations
old s*x in the bouet (I think this one is my favorite)
quidquid, human body party
rub some baby powder on the cabbage patch doll

are children impressionable?
do New Englanders dislike southerners?
do southerners hate New Englanders?
do the indigo girls do private gigs?
is it bad luck to pick beads up off the ground at mardi gras?
should I go to grad school in classics?
what do women think about being nude in the locker room?

and finally, there’s a category that I can only call

classy bitches in fur coats
fingernail’s grip on reality
Georgia peach season in New England
grad school is like a vodka drinking contest
hit the players club bout a month or two
starburst mouth burns
the worst kind of mischief that can get into the country

DISCUSSION QUESTION:: What’s your favorite stupid search term that led to my blog? What’s your favorite quidquid post? Thanks so much for reading my blog and sharing the link with aw your peeps.