Occasionally, the desire to write a longer, more-developed prose piece or essay will strike me, but lately, that desire is soon supplanted by a larger awareness of all things in my life that currently merit more attention--foremost, my daughter, staying in shape for firefighting, and starting small side hustles that I hope will come to greater fruition down the road. The random thoughts I have left, then, are usually prompted in response to the mixtures of media, interactions, and occasions of our weird, increasingly democratic, or one might even say, chaotic, times. And that leads me to….Dumbo.
I have Maryanne overnights on Tuesday--a full day, a full evening. There are many activities and ways to divide it, and it's time I typically like to end with something classic, something grounding for both me and her. It could be a book, or as in last night, it could be the 1941 Disney movie. Upon its release and to this day, Dumbo has been very well received. And for good reason: the animation is simple and vibrant. The music and mood are enticing. The characters are memorable. I do think it’s important to critically examine older cultural products for signals that could subtly perpetuate stereotypes, etc, especially when it’s presented to children. But on the surface I felt like it’s a work that can be genuinely enjoyed.
However, the following morning, soon after M woke up, I thought, “Why not see what other short films or shows from around the same era she might find entertaining? Why not try spunky, singing dancing little Shirley Temple?” I am trying to get her to enjoy dancing more for fun and exercise, so it sounded good, and I was off, looking up episodes on Youtube, which lead me, first, to a short documentary, and.... holy sh*t! The things that the Hollywood studios put those little kids through is incredible, and I mean that in the most negative way. I will post the video below, but to sum it up, they were treated like little circus acts, separated from parents on set, inhumanly punished for perfectly normal toddler behavior, and most appalling, exploited for their sexuality (often very overtly.)
Cripes! Needless to say, we did not watch Shirley Temple. M watched Elmo while I did some household chores and prepared for our bike ride downtown and generally had the time to connect the dots--”They were treated like little circus acts.” Dumbo is about a circus act. Dumbo is separated from her mother, dressed up like a clown and abused. What is Dumbo trying to tell me? Or more poignantly, what was Dumbo trying to tell the cabal of hollywood pedo-monsters during the time it ran?
Basically, upon a deeper reading, I think Dumbo was a shot at MGM, and the other studios, saying, hey look you sick f*ckers, we’re onto you and we’re going to make an entertaining film that elevates the public consciousness about the crap you’re producing. Films for kids should not be made by exploiting kids, they are made with colorful animations that appeal strongly to their senses. And in this case, the primary sense they appealed to is pathos, the pity viewers are made to feel for things unjustly put on display, which if the film is seen literally, just as well extends to animals. This is not to say Disney is some squeaky clean company without its own problems then or now. It’s a conglomeration of a bunch of imperfect people, as we all are, and even more imperfect stakeholders. But it is to say, I think the film itself is essentially moral, it is good, and I’ll always appreciate the time I spent watching it with my daughter.
Feel free to comment or disagree.