Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Half-Baked Self-Analysis of a Checkered Past

I've written briefly about my break-up with The Lion King, a beloved movie from my childhood that I just can't  love for itself anymore, though I also can't bring myself to hate it. It's because I can't swallow the film's support of ironclad hierarchy, one in which everyone has their place and those who try to change it are evil or misguided. I also find the handling of Simba's exile unconvincing in a few ways, and the easy diffusion of Scar as a threat once he becomes ruler to also be disappointing.

Which just leaves me wondering why the hell I loved it so much as a kid. I've decided I'll never know for sure, but that doesn't prevent me from thinking about it. The strongest thought was that I interpreted Scar and the hyenas as positive anti-authoritarian characters, and having decided, by age ten, that I liked characters who defied authority, I latched onto them as fellow aliens. In my mind, Scar was "snarky" and thumbed his nose at royal pretentions. The hyenas were (not literal) underdogs who had been treated unfairly and were looking for a better lot in life, and they also were "snarky" and didn't give a shit about authority.

If it really was the way I looked at those characters in the past, it's impossible for me to do it now. I look at those characters now and all I can see are the ways they support the "real" messages of the film. Scar is an idiot, and most emphatically not a saviour of the downtrodden, but one who uses them for his own ends. He can scheme his way to the top but isn't smart enough to be an effective villain once he gets there.

The hyenas are also not meant to be oppressed in any way. Their desire for food is because they are gluttonous rather than starving, and according to the rules of the narrative, they "deserve" to be kept out because if they don't, it'll fuck everything up. They're also too stupid to realize when they're being manipulated, and not intended to be worthy of sympathy for it. All four characters are anti-authority, but negatively so. Their refusal to stay in their pre-ordained roles is why they are villains.

I know part of the beauty of fiction is seeing characters in different ways, finding emotional resonance that the creators may not have intended. I still believe that, and there are times when I balance my feelings towards a character with the knowledge that these reactions were not intended by the writers. However, in this case, I can't see the Lion King characters as anything but what I believe they were intended to be, with no other emotions in the way.

I just cringe to imagine the Lion King villains being spun for any kind of progressive interpretation, because I see them as so strongly the opposite of that, so obviously meant to show why defying authority/order is a bad thing, that I can't connect with the characters on any other level anymore. They're not competent, they're not "right", and they don't care about each other. Something's just gotten screwed up in the last eighteen years.

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