Tuesday 9 October 2012

Politics and The Lorax/Chicken Run/Bug's Life/Monsters Inc...

Films for children occasionally take up major political themes which they express in non-realist ways through talking animals, imaginary creatures and the like. On several occasions in the last twenty years, I've found myself sitting in a cinema with my children wondering what frame of mind the various people involved in major film production got themselves into to bring a particular film in mind.

Take four: Chicken Run, A Bug's Life, Monsters' Inc., and The Lorax. Bearing in mind that all four films use comedy (parody, farce, comic situation etc) throughout, they all explore ideas of oppression, exploitation and liberation. Chicken Run is set in a kind of Stalag Luft camp controlled and run by and for the benefit of an English pie-maker; A Bug's Life tells of a rapacious colonialism/imperialism and The Lorax (which I saw this week) is a moral tale about capitalism's unstoppable rush to despoil the planet. Monsters' Inc., involved the harvesting of raw materials taken from humans in an oppressive factory.  In all four films, some kind of resistance takes place which involves a co-operation between the creatures directly affected and neither this liberation or the life beyond implies that things would be better if, say, we had some kind of liberal monarch running things. They very much lean on the idea that 'the people' have to do the changing and rather imply that the people have to run things in some kind of way in that place beyond, for their benefit.

Several strands of thoughts run through my mind:

How come the most capital intensive, most corporate part of the entertainment business produces such seemingly subversive or dissident stories? Various models circulate about how 'ideology' works, (eg the prevailing ideology is the ideology of the ruling class; no matter what something appears to be said from the mouthpieces of major corporations it is being 'recuperated' ie 'made safe'; the notion of 'false consciousness' rests on the idea that we are dominated by ideas which encourage us to accept exploitation and oppression right up to a point where we actively collaborate with them; we are gripped by 'ideological state apparatuses' (church, education, the law etc) through which we are 'produced' - our roles in society become fixed as we are 'summoned' to take up these roles by the functioning of such apparatuses...and so on)

If any or all of these are partly true and/or interact in different ways at different times, can we ask ourselves:
how do productions like these emerge, survive and flourish at the heart of the film industry?
are they really in any way as subversive, liberationist and emancipatory as I'm suggesting, or am I just inventing this?
what kinds of effects are engendered by the films and talk about the films - both as we watch them and afterwards? both for children and the parents etc who take them to the cinema? 
how come this kind of fable/fantasy about society only seems to have a place in 'family' or children's entertainment? After all, there was a time in European culture where this kind of tale was an adult form? In a modern situation, does it have to be 'smuggled' in as family entertainment?

I'm not sure I have answers to these questions. I'm not even sure that much of a discussion is going on about it. I have the feeling that the world of film criticism finds these films a bit tedious and trivial or - that worst of all critical insults: 'obvious'. Being a bit of an obvious person, I've never found that obvious is so bad. In the world outside of culture and art, we accept obvious all the time: political speeches, newspaper articles, TV programmes, so I'm not sure why culture and art can't be obvious some of the time too.(Not all of the time, just sometimes!)  It's as if there's an unwritten rule that culture and art have to be ambiguous, nuanced, ironic, uncommitted, implied etc all the time and anyone who occasionally breaks into 'obvious' is ignorant or foolish.