The 76th Down Under Feminists Carnival.

Pop Culture.

I wrote about Katy Perry’s insistence on appropriating other cultures.

I’m also at Bitch Flicks writing about physical and mental health on Orange is the New Black.

Still with OITNB, Morello has such a fractured relationship with romance she’s in prison for stalking her faux-fiancé.

“I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Feminism!” [Bitch Flicks]

The racial and sexual politics of Hitch. [The Hairpin]

Clementine Ford writes about the Girls on Film Festival in Melbourne from the 12th to 14th of September: “Where are the men’s film festivals?!” [Daily Life]

Race & Religion.

Racism in the job network. [The Koori Woman]

Where was the Native American representation at this years’ San Diego ComicCon? [The Travelling Unicorn]

Racism in the digital age. [The Anti-Bogan]

Qantas’ Recognise campaign “seems to be little more than corporate endorsements and photo opportunities for powerful figures to prove how much they like us.” [Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist]

And she’s not the only one who’s got a problem with the campaign. [New Matilda]

Struggling to be a “traditional” Sudanese woman by a woman who has Sudanese heritage but was not raised there. [Redefining the Narrative]

“What is a Moderate Muslim, Anyway?” [Redefining the Narrative]

Navigating Islam and feminism in the 21st century. [Days Like Crazy Paving]

Evelyn Enduatta writes abouta pivotal time in the local history of my adoptive Yolŋu family…. [and] the introduction of wage labour relations in north-east Arnhem Land[;]… a case study in the nature and violence of alienation.” [Upswell]

“Just because you’re Aboriginal doesn’t mean you have to have an ‘Aboriginal’ job.” [ The Travelling Unicorn]

Violence Against Women. *trigger warning*

Clementine Ford sheds light on the savage beating of adult actress Christy Mack by her mixed martial arts fighter ex-boyfriend War Machine. [Daily Life]

There’s probably domestic violence in your workplace. [Women’s Agenda]

Examining the link between animal abuse and intimate partner violence. [SMH]

How liveable are our cities if women aren’t safe? [Daily Life]

Rape culture in politics. [The Hand Mirror]

Instead of devising beauty products that help women prevent their rapes, maybe we should be telling men not to rape. [National Union of Students Women’s Department]

LGBTQI*.

The tragic tale of Australia’s (alleged) first trans man. [Daily Life]

Thinking about trans identities in primary school. [Sal Gold Said So]

Sex & Relationships.

Are you putting out enough to justify your cost per (male partner’s) orgasm? [Daily Life]

“The kids are [having anal sex], let’s make sure they’re alright.” [Daily Life]

The infamous Brocklesnitch (aka Rebecca Shaw) on those “marriage vouchers”:

“Perhaps it might be more useful for the Government to focus more on things like housing affordability, availability of jobs, and letting young people access the welfare system rather than funnel millions of dollars into a counselling voucher scheme.” [SBS]

So Sam de Brito wrote a column about seeking the female orgasm and Junkee ridiculed it thusly.

Asexuality: the next sexual orientation frontier. [Cosmopolitan]

Physical & Mental Health *trigger warning*.

Going undercover as a surrogate mother. [Daily Life]

Correlating breast cancer with abortion discourages women from pursuing their reproductive rights and diminishes the devastation of breast cancer. [New Matilda]

Working with ichthyosis. [Carly Findlay]

In the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide asking RUOK is not the answer. [Culture, Nurture, Nature: Views, Reviews, Rants]

Another thoughtful response to Williams’ death. [The Hand Mirror]

Clem Bastow writes heartbreakingly about never being “enough”:

“You don’t tell your boyfriend, or your parents, or your friends, or your kind therapist that you’re thinking about all these things, because you figure it’s not worth being upset about after all these years, even though you are. You see people go through far worse things and continue the ‘It could have been much worse!’ charade, even though some days you feel so sad you want to lie down on the carpet for a week. Why can’t you just get over it? Why can’t you Think Positive About It All? Why would anyone write you a letter about such small things that it’s not worth being upset about, Dear Young Person?

“Young Person, you think a lot about all of these things. There are so many others: you laugh off your Bipolar 2 diagnosis as ‘the straight-to-video sequel to a real mental illness'; your plummeting weight during a two-year spell overseas is just ‘Los Angeles, lol!'; the nights you eat Vitamin C tablets for dinner are fine because ‘Other people are poorer'; the guy who makes you wear a horse-bit to bed is ‘great comedy material!'; the death of your dear dog at just five years of his young life ‘isn’t as bad as it would have been if he’d been around for 15 years, I guess.’ It never seems to be quite enough to be upset about, not really, truly upset, like some people have the right to be. Not poor enough, not depressed enough, not beset by grief enough, not abused enough.” [I Believe You, It’s Not Your Fault]

Blindness in speculative fiction. [ A.C. Buchanan]

My Decision/Kei a au te Whakataunga is a New Zealand-based campaign to shed light on health care professionals who refuse to provide or refer productive health services. [The Hand Mirror]

And there’s no shame in making these health care professionals known so that people in need of reproductive health care don’t make the mistake of visiting them. [The Hand Mirror]

“Abortions Don’t Cause Cancer Any More Than Parties Do.” [The Conversation]

Women in the Workplace.

The problem with Lean In:

“There’s a bigger debate to be had here about whether care work is valued enough (it’s not), whether the needs of children are prioritised appropriately (they’re not), and whether the desire by both men and women to spend time with their children is accepted (it’s not), but let’s at least agree that eliminating child care struggles is crucial for undoing sexist gender-role divisions. Where women can’t get to work they can’t achieve personal career goals, but nor can they claim the kind of decision making power that comes with income.” [Daily Life]

Australia still has an equal pay problem. [Women’s Agenda]

On the persistence of the pay gap: from penal colony to glass ceiling. [UNSW School of Business]

Ban bossy, be the boss. [Daily Beast]

It’s all well and good to feature a panel about the politics of sex work as part of Sydney’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas, but perhaps it should, I don’t know, feature some sex workers? [Sex, Lies & Duct Tape]

Miscellaneous & General Feminism.

“Do not hold me to the standards that you have internalised. Do. Fucking. Not.” [Facebook]

Deborra-Lee Furness on Australia’s anti-adoption culture. [The Hoopla]

Melbourne schoolgirls were inspired to Kickstart their own “feminist collective” in the wake of Women Against Feminism and after “studying the character of ‘Curly’s Wife’ in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice & Men.” [ABC]

Helpful hints for overcoming Tall Poppy Syndrome. [No Award]

Friday Hoyden: Emma Goldman. [Hoyden About Town]

Diversity and rebellion in Life at 9. [Hoyden About Town]

How to home school a preschooler. [Free Range in Suburbia]

Five reasons why Women Against Feminism actually need feminism. [The Conversation]

Are men better writers than women? No, they just have more time to write. [Overland]

“Political correctness gone mad” is more about not being an asshole. [TheVine]

What Kevin Andrews’ speech at the World Congress of Families might have sounded like. [Brocklesnitch]

More on protesting the World Congress of Families. [Gladly, The Cross-Eyed Bear]

The problem with limited-edition, girl-focused Lego. [Hoyden About Town]

Is Gwen Stefani Racist?

no doubt looking hot gwen stefani racist

You might remember a month or so ago the brief debut of No Doubt’s Native American culturally appropriated video for their single, “Looking Hot”. Or, as it was aptly dubbed by one YouTube commenter, “Looking Racist”.

While the Native imagery is arguably stunning, it’s not No Doubt’s to share, and that’s what pissed most viewers of the clip off, Indigenous or not.

The band issued this statement after removing the clip:

“As a multi-racial band our foundation is built upon both diversity and consideration for other cultures. Our intention with our new video was never to offend, hurt or trivialise Native American people, their culture or their history. Although we consulted with Native American friends and Native American studies experts at the University of California, we realise now that we have offended people. This is of great concern to us and we are removing the video immediately. The music that inspired us when we started the band, and the community of friends, family, and fans that surrounds us was built upon respect, unity and inclusiveness. We sincerely apologise to the Native American community and anyone else offended by this video. Being hurtful to anyone is simply not who we are.”

And just in time for Native American Heritage Month. And Thanksgiving. Double-points for sensitivity!

Looking back on No Doubt and, more pertinently, Gwen Stefani’s history of image changes, it’s not really surprising that they committed this most recent offence in a long line of racial faux pas.

Remember in the mid-to-late ’90s when Stefani got around in that bindi? Or, a lot more offensively, her harem of identically silent Harajuku girls that followed her every move whilst promoting her first solo album, Love. Angel. Music. Baby., and appearing lyrically and starring in the music videos of the singles from it. Eight years after its release, Stefani’s still making money off the appropriation of the Japanese culture in her line of L.A.M.B. fragrances, one of which I requested for my birthday this year. I guess we’re all a little bit guilty of buying into this reappropriation stuff (just look at the recent Navajo-inspired line from Urban Outfitters, and Victoria’s Secret’s penchant for fetishising Asian culture with their “Go East” line of lingerie).

As is pointed out in a roundtable about racism and cultural appropriation on Rookie, the fact that white little Gwen and hipsters alike are able to wear Native American headdresses, bindis and headscarves without a second thought is because they’re white; no matter how well meaning the appropriation might be, they’re not likely to be threatened with racist taunts, “considered weird, or [putting up] some kind of resistance to assimilating into [Western] society…” says Jenny Zhang, a writer and poet.

Fellow Rookie Marie Lodi takes issue more specifically with the Harajuku girls:

“[W]hen she had the four SILENT Harajuku Girls following her around everywhere it was strange. Like, OK, here’s four Japanese girls (I don’t even think they were all Japanese?!) following around this white woman and not saying a word. GWEN, DO YOU LET THEM SPEAK? And now I bet if you did some word-association about Harajuku with a random white American person they’d most likely respond, ‘Oh, you mean the line at Target?’ first and not the area in Tokyo…”

’Cause Asians are relegated to the cute, quiet best friend or background role, didn’t you know? But at least that’s something, according to legendary comedian Margaret Cho:

“Even though to me, a Japanese schoolgirl uniform is kind of like blackface, I am just in acceptance over it, because something is better than nothing.”

I guess black-, yellow- and red-face are the best we can hope for in this sad, sad reality.

So goes the reasoning of many regular people not so well versed in the politics of racism: when someone dresses up as a Mexican who’ll “mow lawns for weed and beer” or a Middle Eastern terrorist (you might think I’m referring only to Chris Brown, but someone I went to high school with actually came as one for an “Around the World” party, the pictures of which were posted on Facebook for the presumably more culturally sensitive world to see) for Halloween or, as with the most recent pop cultural exemplar, a sexy Native American as seen on Gossip Girl’s Thanksgiving episode, the collective opinion is often, “lighten up, it’s just for fun.”

But Sasha Houston Brown writes for Racialicious:

“Recent acts of cultural appropriation do not occur in a vacuum and should not be viewed as isolated instances separate from their social and historic contexts. It is far more complex than hipsters in Navajo panties and pop stars in headdresses. These contemporary instances of cultural appropriation and stereotypes are really byproducts of ongoing colonialism, systemic racism, and the deliberately false narratives perpetuated about Native peoples by white society. Cultural commodification and dehumanised stereotypes extended far beyond any single corporation, retail franchise, or celebrity.

“We are not a relic of the past, a theme or a trend; we are not a style or costume; we are not mascots, noble savages or romantic fictional entities. We are human beings and, despite all odds, we have survived.”

Seeing as pretty much every other TV show, movie, brand and band are doing it, why are Gwen Stefani and No Dobut being singled out for their racism? We can’t expect better of them than we can Victoria’s Secret or scum of the earth Chris Brown because of their history of appropriation, but they’re the ones who said it: No Doubt is a multicultural band, so someone in it should have realised that maybe glamourising a game of cowboys and Indians that was a reality for so many Indigenous people for hundreds of years probably wasn’t the most PC direction they could take the clip in. Or maybe that’s just a hipster-racist excuse: I know black people so therefore I’m allowed to make racist jokes and assumptions about a culture that isn’t mine.

While people and corporations in the public eye who mass produce items for consumption (whether that be music, film or clothing) should be held to a higher standard than your average Joe, as they inevitably influence the Zeitgeist, they can’t be completely accountable for modern racism because it happens in a vicious cycle: we accept it because it’s perpetuated in the media, politics and everyday life, but when those sectors try to make positive changes they oftentimes fall on collectively deaf ears. That such a furor erupted over No Doubt’s latest gaffe is sign of hope, though… at least until next Halloween, Thanksgiving, Victoria’s Secret Fashion parade or No Doubt video.

Elsewhere: [Billboard] No Doubt Pulls “Looking Hot” Video, Apologises for Insensitivity.

[The White House] Presidential Proclamation: National Native American Heritage Month 2012.

[Jezebel] Urban Outfitters & The Navajo Nation: What Does the Law Say?

[Racialicious] Victoria’s Secret Does it Again: When Racism Meets Fashion.

[Rookie] Something Borrowed.

[MamaMia] Racial Abuse on a Melbourne Bus: What Would You Have Done?

[Margaret Cho] Harajuku Girls.

[Jezebel] Cosmetics Brand Pulls, Then Reinstates, Weird Blackface Ad.

[Jezebel] Crystal Reen Wasn’t Trying to “Look Asian” in That Eye Tape Shoot.

[Jezebel] Karlie Kloss as a Half-Naked “Indian” & Other Absurdities from the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

[Jezebel] Penn State Sorority Girls Dress Up as Mexicans Who’ll “Mow Lawn for Weed & Beer”.

[HuffPo] Chris Brown Halloween Costume: Singer Tweets Picture of Himself Dressed Up as Terrorist for Rihanna’s Party.

[NewNowNext] Gossip Girl Style Recap: “It’s Really Complicated”.

[Racialicious] Nothing Says Native American Heritage Month Like White Girls in Headdresses.

[Jezebel] A Complete Guide to Hipster Racism.

Image via Jezebel.

Movies: Cowboys VS. Aliens & Indians… Does it Really Matter? They’re All the Same Anyway, According to the New Movie.

 

Yesterday I wrote that I was sick of seemingly every new release movie these days incorporating aliens into their plotlines, none more so than the latest Jon Favreau effort, Cowboys & Aliens, starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde.

I have no interest in seeing the film. Super 8, Thor and Green Lantern have taken up my alien quota for the year. So I can’t comment fully on the nature of the representation of Native Americans in Cowboys & Aliens, but I think the title and the trailer tell me pretty much all I need to know. I also did some sneaky spoiler reading, so I’ll put up *spoiler alert* where applicable.

Being of Native American heritage myself, my initial viewing of the trailer grated on me. Taking the place of “Indians” in the Western genre were “aliens”—other—, which Indigenous peoples have been seen as for centuries. At ComicCon, the creators and stars of the film defended it, saying that both are genres that have been “done to death”.

I wondered if I was the only one who read it this way, and came across this brilliant article from Ms. Magazine, which asserts that the aliens and the Indians are seen as “them”, versus “us”: the white male main characters of the film, Craig’s Jake Lonergan and Ford’s Colonel Woodrow Dollarhyde. Cowboys & Aliens goes on to further stereotype the members of the Apache tribe featured in the film into categories: “the good Native”, the “savage warrior” and the “exotic” “Indian princess”, played by Wilde.

Wilde’s Ella Swenson is revealed to not be of Native American heritage, but *SPOILER ALERT* descendent from the other “others” in the film. Further to the assertion that people who aren’t white are interchangeable, Swenson is still characterised as “exotic” and not from the world of Lonergan and Dollarhyde. They’re all the same right?

After all, the central premise of the movie is that the whites have already raped and pillaged the Native people of the land, so they need a new enemy. Why not do the same to the invaders?

I’d be interested to know what others’ think of the depictions of race (the Ms. article points out that given the film is set in Arizona, there is an absence of Latino characters), come Cowboys & Aliens’ release date in Australia on Thursday.

Related: Green Lantern Review.

Super 8 Review.

Thor Review.

Elsewhere: [Ms Magazine] White Cowboys & Alien Indians.

Images via IMDb.

Magazines: Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.

 

frankie’s latest edition is somewhat underwhelming, but there was one diamond in the rough: Justin Heazlewood’s “honest look at his relationship with Indigenous Australia” in “Black or White”.

I will admit that up until about two years ago when I started working in the cultural/tourism sector and really immersed myself in the Melbournian way of life, I was “a little bit racist”, as the Avenue Q song goes.

Now, I’m taken aback when friends, family members and, yes, even colleagues, express their racist views. Dare I say I’m offended on behalf of the racial minorities who are victims of racism on a daily basis. (I am primarily a white Australian, but I do have Native American heritage, and I have been the victim of latent racism on several occasions throughout my life). And there’ll be more to come on that later in the week.

Heazlewood references the homeless Aboriginals out the front of Woolworths on Smith Street in Fitzroy, who often get the short end of the stick when it comes to preconceived notions, but I was hanging out in Fitzroy last week and saw just as many drunk and intimidating bums who happened to be non-Indigenous.

But, as I discussed with a workmate over the weekend, city people are far more tolerant than country folk when it comes to race relations. I grew up in a small country town which claims to be the epicenter of Chinese immigration during the gold rush, and it certainly is. But I can only remember one indigenous kid and one Chinese kid at school… and I attended six different institutions!

It’s an interesting take on the cultural/racial gap in Australia, and probably the only reason to pick up a copy of the mag this (bi)month.

Related: VCE Top Designs: frankie Editor Jo Walker Talks to Media Students.

frankie Review: January/February 2011.

Picture Perfect.

 

From “No Refuge: How Webcams & Cell Phones Ratchet Up the Pressure to be Perfect” by Hugo Schwyzer:

“… A young woman who had been scrupulous about her appearance all day could return to her bedroom at night, change into what was comfortable, and have at least a little waking time where her looks didn’t matter…

“The real problem is that the webcam has stripped the bedroom and the bathroom from their role as safe refuge from the beauty-obsessed culture…”

I find Schwyzer’s points to be particularly poignant to my own life.

Until a few months ago, I had lived either at home, with family who knew me from the day I was born and had seen me in all my glory (and not-so-glorious moments) for twenty-two years, or on my own. During that time, as soon as I would get home I’d change into my pyjamas, wipe the makeup off, and pop the curlers in, not caring what I looked like.

Then I moved in with my cousin, and I kept up appearances for a few days until I realised she likes to bum around the house in holey pants and nose strips, too.

Honestly, I don’t give a crap what I look like at home, and if I don’t want to draw attention to myself, I will adopt my at-home strategy in the big wide world, too.

For example, most mornings I go for a jog as soon as I wake, and usually stop by the supermarket on the way home. I chuck a bit of lipgloss on an whip my hair (though not in true Willow Smith style) into a ponytail, but other than that, I look pretty crappy. If I wanted to be stared at while I exercised, I would go to a juice-head gym in full make-up and a crop top or jog with my friend Tess at her neighbourhood track, where the beautiful people go to workout. But I don’t.

A similar situation occurred at my work Christmas party. I was getting my slut on when I was approached by Jack Sparrow. He initiated contact (both verbal and physical), asking which department I worked in and why he’d never seen me before. Unbeknownst to him, he had seen me before…

… Earlier that day, I rocked up for a few hours to help set up in jeans, a t-shirt, work boots (okay, they were Tony Bianco) and my glasses, where he was also lending a hand. He took one glance at me and continued with his work.

What’s even funnier? The following day I reverted back to my bespectacled self, and he went about his day, not realising that I was the girl from the night before.

I don’t begrudge him that, though. I deliberately do these things to fly under (or above) the radar.

Relating more closely to Schwyzer’s point, however, I’m lucky; my generation managed to bypass the whole webcam/sexting/profile pictured frenzy that consumes the lives of teens now. Who knows what pressures I would have facedand how differently my psyche would have developedif my privacy was constantly invaded by mobile phones, Facebook and the like?

Celebrities who are a little younger than I am, though, like Rihanna, Vanessa Hudgens and (the markedly younger) Miley Cyrus have succumbed to the allure of naked photography, with the latter also dabbling in the filming of lap dances to 40-year-old directors and experimentation with bongs.

Personally, I don’t understand the pull of compromising photos. My advice to teen starlets and football players alike? If you’re going to take compromising photos, make sure you’re the only one with a copy or JUST. DELETE. THEM.

Related: ’Tis the Season…

Elsewhere: [Hugo Schwyzer] No Refuge: How Webcams & Cell Phones Ratchet Up the Pressure to be Perfect.

The Representation of Trees in the World of Walt Disney.

This is an edited version of a research article I wrote in 2008; one of the most inspiring and fun essays to write for uni, which was reflected in my mark. It’s a left of centre topic, and maybe a bit left of centre for this blog, but it’s just something I’m trying out. Go with it.

When we think of the wonderful world of Disney, trees aren’t usually the first thing that comes to mindunless you’re a horticulturalist!

You might think of the magic of such classics that bring back childhood memories, like Peter Pan or Dumbo; the crown jewel of Disney that is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: or the somewhat negative public perception of Disneyland, Disney World and the subsequent “Disneyfication” of the Western world. The one thing we definitely don’t immediately associate with Disney is trees.

But the tree is a very important aspect of not only Disney films, but the whole universe that Walt Disney created. Did you know that there are over 5,000 different types of trees at Anaheim, California’s Disneyland theme park, including Australia’s own eucalyptus tree?

And in almost every movie the action, at some point, takes place in a forest or woodland area, abundant with lush growth. In Snow White, the title character is stalked by the huntsman and seeks solace in the Seven Dwarves’ cottage in the woods. Sleeping Beauty’s Aurora ponders her future love in the forest amongst her animal friends. Beauty and the Beast’s heroine Belle and her noble steed are attacked by wolves in the snow-covered wilderness surrounding the Beast’s castle.

So where did the mastermind Walt Disney gain his inspiration for the use of trees? Some of his first fairytales he adapted into feature films came from the Brothers Grimm, who wrote Snow White and Cinderella, undoubtedly two of the most popular and well loved fairytales and, thereby, characters.

The Brothers Grimm, writing about the lush green countryside of the European settings for these stories, inspired Disney through their gift of writing. Walt Disney also had a fascination with animals (from crickets in Pinocchio to lobsters in The Little Mermaid ), so much so that he produced a series of documentaries on the animal kingdom and nature, called True Life Adventures. Titles in this series included “Seals Island”, “In Beaver Valley”, and “The Living Desert”. An article on Walt Disney in a 1963 edition of Modern Mechanix magazine said that, “Walt’s early edict for… all the True Life Adventure pictures was to get the complete natural history of the animals with no sign of humans: no fences, car tracks, buildings, or telephone poles.”

Disney wasn’t only interested in portraying animals on film, but also conserving species and their environments for future generations. This is evident in the construction of the Tree of Life at Orlando, Florida’s Disney World Animal Kingdom sub-park. While the tree is fake (it consists of about 100,000 silk leaves sewn onto over 8,000 branches), it has carvings of numerous animals on it, allowing children to experience an African Safari with illustrated depictions of animals that may not be around for much longer.

The “Tree of Life” was drawn directly from the incredibly successful 1994 movie, The Lion King. In the movie, the tree is shown only a few times, where the mandrill Rafiki draws symbols of Simba when his life seems to be in danger.

Gail Krause says that, “… Rafiki is the wise ‘shaman’ of the animal community; he writes the image of the lost and then found king, Simba, on a central tree, making real for himself the ‘death’ and ‘resurrection’ of the true leaderan interesting parallel to the Jesus myth. The Disney company then created the park Animal Kingdom with a majestic Tree of Life…”.

The Tree of Life in The Lion King also serves as a marker for where Simba left his old life as heir to the King of the Jungle and his new life in exile with the feisty meerkat, Timon, and Pumbaa the rotund warthog. The fact that the Tree is in the middle of the desert where scarcely any animal roams signifies the neutrality of the Tree: the halfway point between the corrupt leadership of Scar and the carefree new life that Simba leads.

But the Tree of Life isn’t the only perennial woody plant in The Lion King. The other tree that acts as a signpost for where the action picks up is the almost half-dead, lone branch in the gorge. This tree is the framing point for the stampede that Simba gets caught up in; the stampede in which his father, Mufasa, is killed. It’s not a full, live tree, but its skeleton-like appearance is parallel to the dark, cold soul of Scar and his hyena followers, and the subsequent reign of darkness the animal kingdom is ruled by.

The Tree of Life shows that trees are not only markers for where certain actions will take place or where the central protagonist should turn, but they are somewhat characters in their own right. Trees are key characters/motifs in the Disney films Pocahontas, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, as they provide turning points or revelations in the story.

Mark I. Pinsky, author of The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust, says, “Providence will show up in the form of a fairy, wizard [or] talking willow tree,” if ever you should lose your way. Or rather, in Alice’s case, stumbling down the rabbit hole underneath the tree she falls asleep in is how she begins her wayward journey.

Pocahontas, the story of a Native American girl who promotes acceptance between white settlers and her own people, is the obvious example of a Disney film with a tree as an actual, personified character in Grandmother Willow. According to the Living Arts Originals website, “Willow tree symbolism includes magic, healing, inner vision and dreams… Forests are the abode for the nature spirits”. A lot of research probably went into the character of Grandmother Willow, as these classic Native American qualities of the tree are evident in her. She acts as Pocahontas’s “fairy godmother”. Although Grandmother Willow could be personified as any nationality, she is fittingly a Native American like Pocahontas and her people, because that’s who Pocahontas identifies with (as evident in the conflict between Pocahontas’s tribe and John Smith’s men). When Pocahontas brings John Smith to Grandmother Willow, she shows him her magic and opens up the Native American culture to him, and thereby the settlers, as Pocahontas did in reality many centuries ago. Grandmother Willow, using her virtues of inner vision and dreaming, encourages Pocahontas to follow her path, shown to her by the spinning arrow of John Smith’s compass, thus orchestrating great change in conflict between the “savages” and the whites.

Alice in Wonderland, the most eccentric of all Disney’s films, uses trees in a number of ways. Firstly, the tree in which Alice is studying in at the beginning of the story is the tree under which the white rabbit escapes, and she follows. A magic mushroom (perhaps a reflection of the author Lewis Carroll’s drug use?), makes Alice grow to the height of a tree, where a nosey pigeon refuses to believe she’s “just a little girl!”.

One image of the tree, or woods/forest, that rampant not only in Disney films, but many other contemporary movies, is the personification of the treetaking on human characteristics, such as eyes and arms, to give off a menacing vibe. In Alice in Wonderland, the Tulgey Woods’ trees observe Alice as eyes appear , which then turn out to be a gathering of characters with eyesducks with horns, flamingos with umbrella bodies, and glasses that seem to resemble the fake-nose-and-moustache disguise that children are fond of. Treebeard, in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, both text and film is another, non-Disney example. The forest in The Wizard of Oz comes to life and the trees throw their apples at Dorothy, Scarecrow and little Toto. If I listed the numerous other movies that show trees in this way, we’d be here all day.

But, they’re all derived from one Disney flick in particular: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The first ever feature length animated film was also one of the first to depict a forest coming to life in such a way, where the trees grow arms and eyes, and bark floating in the river turns into crocodiles! No doubt other Hollywood productions have used Snow White and Disney as inspiration, especially The Wizard of Oz, with it’s out-of-this-world plot and unmistakably Disney-esque characters.

Even before Snow White, though, was the Disney short animated film Flowers and Trees, shown in 1932, which won the first ever Academy Award for an animated short. This undoubtedly would have been the starting point for trees as more than just “trees”, not only in Disney, but in film in general.

If ever there was a documentary explaining all about the depiction of trees in Disney films, it’s Four Artists Paint One Tree, a special feature that can be accessed via the 2003 special edition DVD release of Sleeping Beauty. In the doco, Walt Disney narrates as four animators go out into the field to demonstrate how they would paint an old oak tree. The first artist, Walt Peregoy, views the tree as an architectural monument, and his finished painting is evidence of the animation of the backdrop of Sleeping Beauty. Josh Meador, an effects artist for Sleeping Beauty, references the Druids, who believed trees had personalities. Maybe he was a key artist in personifying trees and bringing them to life? The next painter, Eyvind Earle, is primarily interested in the trunk, and uses watercolours to fill in the fine detail. Finally, Marc Davis represents the tree as an explosion out of the earth, with branches spraying out from the body of the trunk. After watching this documentary, you can see which aspects of each artists tree, or their style of painting scenery, that has gone into creating Sleeping Beauty. Walt ends the documentary by paraphrasing the artist Robert Henri: “The great painter has something to say. He does not paint men, landscapes or furniture, but an idea.” This seems to be the consensus amongst not just Disney’s approach to filmmaking, but the studio’s approach to letting audiences believe what they want to believe (some would beg to differ on this point).

M. Lynne Bird backs this theory up in her article titled “Ecological Ambivalence in Neverland from The Little White Bird to Hook in the tome Wild Things: Children’s Culture and Ecocriticism. She discusses the idea that trees are just treesnature is just naturein Disney films, but it’s the children’s imaginations, and in turn, Walt Disney’s child-at-heart imagination that makes a tree something more, such as in the films mentioned above. She writes, “‘The Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there’… This mix drops nature and privileges both imagination and society. The island can only become real as children look for it.”

Though not a “tree” specifically, the Smoke Tree Ranch, Walt Disney’s holiday home in Palm Springs, California, was used as collateral in the funding of Disneyland. While it was hard for him to part with the ranch, it turns out Disney made the right choice: sacrificing a symbolic and sentimental place in his personal life to create a symbolic and sentimental place for millions of others.

Walt Disney was obviously a kid at heart, as can be seen in the tales he chose to adapt and bring to a worldwide audience. Tarzan’s Treehouse, from the movie Tarzan (and was also adapted from the tree house in Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson) and located in the Disneyland theme park as an attraction, and the creation of the Hangman’s Tree, the home of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, are more blatant examples of trees in the world of Walt Disney. Hangman’s Tree exemplifies everything a child could want in a tree house.

While, once again, trees are definitely not the first thing Disney-enthusiasts think of when sitting down to watch their favourite film, but the next time you do, keep an eye out for the trees: after all, that’s what a horticulturalist would do!

Elsewhere: [Modern Mechanix] The Magic Worlds of Walt Disney Part 1.

[MSMC] The Cipher: The Mythological Tree in Various Cultures.

[Living Arts Originals] Find Your Tree: The Deep-Rooted Symbolism of Trees.

[Google Books] Ecological Ambivalence in Neverland from The Little White Bird to Hook.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Indeed, “What Is the Difference Between Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan?”

Again, in the wake of Sheen’s “drug-alcohol-and-woman abusing” bender, Girl with a Satchel asks if men’s mags focussing on UFC and, alternatively, retro Mad Men style sensibilities is a result of the “soggy” men’s mag market trying to inject some much needed zest:

“In the current socio-cultural context, where women assert more power and influence, the ‘reality’ may be why more men are turning into Don Draper lookalikes and turning to UFC. It doesn’t take Two & a Half Men to work [sic] out that in magazines, men need escapism, inspiration and style tips, too. The appeal of men’s magazines is to service wants, needs and desires; I just wonder what men really aspire to.”

Tiger Beatdown’s response to Beyonce’s “Why Don’t You Love Me?” video is, in a word, hilarious (more on it to come next week):

“A blog post, we hear, should be short, and timely, and probably pegged to some manner of news item. This ensures that it can be part of the blog conversation on the Interwebs. Where immediate response is king! And that, of course, is why we write 3,000 to 5,000 word posts about long-running TV shows, and movies we rented from iTunes, and also, albums that came out when we were twelve.

“However, sometimes it only takes us weeks to respond to something! For example, a music video, of the sort that the kids enjoy today. A music video like this one!”

Joan Holloway’s Mad cartoon curves are poured into a Little Miss book.

In other Mad Men-related news, The Washington Post writes in defence of the show’s alleged sexism:

Mad Men’s writers are not sexist. The time period was.”

Feminist Themes on Lady Gaga and Beauty.

Slate asks “How Long Has the ‘Dumb Blonde’ Meme Been Around?”:

“The poet Propertius, for example, wrote: ‘All beauty is best as nature made it… In hell below may many an ill befall that girl who stupidly dyes her hair with a false colour!’ So while he didn’t connect blondeness with idiocy exactly, he implied that wish to be blondes, and contrive to be blondes using artificial means, don’t have much going on.

“As for why the dumb-blonde idea resonatesone idea is that it’s basically Propertius’ logic at work. It’s a fairly well-known fact that few adults are naturally blond[e], and that many apparent blondes actually die their hair. If you die your hair, you must be superficial or vapid, Q.E.D. There’s also a theory, outlined in The Encyclopedia of Hair, that blondeness connotes youth, since children are far more likely than adults to have naturally blond[e] hair. Blondeness, then, seems innocent but also naïve.”

Steve Pavlina discusses which aspects of your life are worthy of your attention, and which aren’t.

Organisational Post-It porn at MamaMia.

From The Awl, “How to Lose [Facebook] ‘Friends’” and alienate people:

“Christopher Sibona… explains the top reasons fro defrienestration: updating too frequently about boring things, posting about controversial subjects like politics or religion, and writing racist or sexist stuff. It’s a lot like life, although in life these people are actually friends and not some random body count you’ve assembled through networking or total availability.”

Godammit, I’m Mad profiles “Bloggers With Influence”, and has some particularly scathing words to say about Gala Darling. Ouch.

Along the same lines, The Feminist Breeder says not to “assume that more ‘fans’ or ‘followers’ means they’ll all be adoring. The truth is, the more people who read you, the more bullshit you’re going to have to put up with…”

In the wake of those controversial GQ photos and last week’s Rocky Horror episode, Glee is questioned as to whether it has a “Body Image Problem” or not.

As Halloween is swallowed back into the underworld for another year, Gawker has some All Hallows Eve etiquette tips on how to tell if your costume is racist:

“… When the entirety of your costume is ‘I am a person of a different race, LOL,’ that qualifies as a racist costume.”

But is it racist if, like, you’re of Native American descent? (FYI, I actually am.) Paris Hilton, take note.