HOTB2020 Panel 4.1: MultiMediations



Panel 4.1: MultiMediations

“Of Sound Mind and Body: Lessons in Listening to the Jingle Dress Dance”

Kristen Brown (Dixie State University)

“Surviving Environmental Apocalypse in Film ‘Lifeboats’: Cinema, Psychoanalysis, and the Formal Structure of the ‘Stories We Live By'”

Robert Geal (University of Wolverhampton)

“From Cultural Hero to Zero (Emissions): The Ecofeminist Critique of Maui’s Resource Extraction in Disney’s Moana”

Christopher D. Foley (University of Southern Mississippi)



Q & A

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4 replies
  1. Robert Geal says:

    Thanks Kristen and Christopher, for these fascinating presentations, which I’ve managed now to get round to (and congratulations, Kristen, on the doctorate and fellowship!) The question that I have about these two presentations (in the sense that it relates to both the ecocritical project of facilitating real-world environmental praxis, and to the current Black Lives Matter movement that you both mention), is the extent to which you think that the topics you discuss here can have a meaningful use-value? You discuss, Kristen, how the jingle dresses have been used in recent protests, so you’ve already addressed this issue, but I wondered whether you think that it possible (or even desirable, perhaps?) for this practice to spread into other media? Would something like a Disneyfication of the jingle dresses extend the lessons you talk about, or merely blunt them, in the kind of manner that you talk about, Christopher, in relation to a perhaps similar appropriation of Indigenous culture? Perhaps you think that’s a little unfair on ‘Moana’, Christopher? Or is the adaptation of this kind of cultural practice into the ‘mainstream’ of the industrial-cultural complex inevitably one that loses the most important element of what was there in the first place?

  2. Kristen Brown says:

    Thank you for the question, Robert! I really appreciate the way asynchronous conferences allow more time to reflect upon questions. To be honest, my visceral reaction to “Disneyfication” led me to explore how, or if, such a global corporate entity could meaningfully engage in an extension of the lessons in the jingle dress dance. I found myself thinking of “Molly of Denali,” on PBS. While I limit television for my own young daughter, I am so grateful for that show. An important step toward decolonization, I believe, is bringing Indigenous advisors, creators, writers, actors/actresses, and so on, to the fore of production and distribution of media.To that end, here is a bit of information about the show:

    In addition, I think the entire education system needs deconstructed and thought anew. This is not necessarily about inclusion, but more a mutual respect for difference that can lead to productive (albeit at times uncomfortable) conversations. In short, I think the jingle dress dance ought to be part of our collective and ongoing narrative, both on the ground and in the media.

  3. Christopher Foley says:

    Thanks, Robert and Kristen, for your excellent and thought-provoking virtual presentations, and apologies for my late reply to our group’s message thread.

    I’m struck by a major theme running through all of our presentations and those in our “Eco-mediations” stream more broadly—to what extent does the art object in question unsettle, or reinforce, our habituated (or culturally conditioned) ways of experiencing our relationship to our own consumption practices, to other people, to diverse cultural frameworks, and to the more-than-human world?

    Like Kristen, I have a visceral reaction to the term “Disneyfication,” which seems to foreclose any possibility of change by way of the art object in question. While the term “Disneyfication” is certainly an appropriate as a term of critique for the company’s long history of cultural appropriations and commodification for Global North markets, I’m not sure it should be applied equally to all Disney films. As I allude to toward the end of my talk, it does seem that Disney has become increasingly responsive to its cultural critics and is attempting to learn from its past mistakes. We can see this dynamic, I think, in the subtle but profound changes in the creative process from Moana to Frozen 2, the latter of which featured even more creative control granted to the Sami people and their cultural representatives than were granted to indigenous Polynesian peoples in the making of Moana. The most significant difference in the final versions of these two films that I see, especially as it relates to my presentation, is that Frozen 2 lays the environmental sins and ecological disruptions that have ensued as a consequence of those sins at the feet of the film’s central white European characters (and their ancestors). That environmentalist message, in my estimation, has more social, political, and environmental “use-value” than the idealized ecofeminist message of Moana, which culturally decontextualizes its critique of extractivist capitalism and problematically re-inscribes deeply rooted Western associations between (indigenous) women and “Nature.”

    I’d also like to echo Kristen’s message that “bringing Indigenous advisors, creators, writers, actors/actresses, and so on, to the fore of production and distribution of media” is an important step toward decolonization, and the more Disney and other major television and film production companies adopt this practice, the better for us all.

    Robert, to return your question to you, within the “frame”-works that your presentation adopts: I believe that you analyze only Hollywood films in this particular talk. With that in mind, to what extent might foreign and/or indie films trouble the normative res cogitans framework of Hollywood disaster films? Though it’s not an exact fit, I have in mind Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer (2013) as one potential candidate you might consider, though I’d also be happy to hear of any others that come to your mind.

  4. Robert Geal says:

    Perhaps ‘Molly of Denali’ and ‘Frozen 2’ suggest ways that the industrial-cultural complex (I’m struggling for a better term than that at the moment, but I mean the hegemonic ‘mainstream’) can incorporate certain environmentally progressive elements by collaborating with Indigenous writers, performers etc. I haven’t got round to watching ‘Frozen 2’ yet, so I don’t know whether this next comment applies, but it tends to be the case that ideology gives with one hand and takes with the other in mainstream films like Disney – I’ve argued elsewhere that the first ‘Frozen’ has certain progressive attitudes towards homosexuality, but undercuts those with certain negative attitudes towards homosexuality too. Do you think that something similar happens with ‘Frozen 2’’s ecological narrative?

    In terms of your question, Christopher, about whether non-Hollywood films are also Cartesian, this is an issue I consider in my forthcoming book. I start with the argument that European culture has an alienating dualism between the human and the nonhuman, going back through Descartes to Genesis to Greek philosophy to the Agricultural Revolution – ecocriticism has already made this claim. I then discuss how perspectival painting and realist film are aesthetic representations of this dualism, and spend most of the chapters providing examples like the ones I discuss in this presentation. My final chapter considers some of the alternatives to Hollywood realism that you mention. I discuss how avant-garde ‘ecofilms’ (such as ‘sleep furiously’, ‘Grizzly Man’ etc.), much analysed already in ecocriticism, can de-privilege the spectator-as-res-cogitans. The problem with these films, in terms of their use-value, is their extremely limited circulation. This is one of the reasons why certain non-occidental filmmaking traditions, with much wider circulations and potentially non-Cartesian aesthetic backgrounds, are so interesting. Your example of ‘Snowpiercer’ might be an interesting example, particularly as a kind of liminal international case, but the case study I use is Japanese cinema. I chose this as a case study both because filmmakers like Miyazaki are often thought of as environmental visionaries, and because of a Japanese aesthetic tradition of flatness (what Takashi Murakami calls ‘superflat’) which diverges from the European tradition of geometric perspective. Existing scholarship has located this superflatness particularly in Ozu’s film, and later in anime. So I ask whether the form, as well as the narrative, of certain Japanese films, might be non-Cartesian. My conclusion is tentative, because recent Japanese films about environmental disasters include work like ‘Sinking of Japan’ (Higuchi Shinji 2006), which is every bit as bombastic and Cartesian as the occidental disaster films I analyse, but films like ‘Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’ (Miyazaki 1984) include some superflat challenges to Cartesian film grammar.

    I suppose, in one final point, that I am principally focused on this film grammar, so that even if a film like ‘Frozen 2’ has an environmentally progressive narrative, in the terms you outline Christopher, it still employs a dualistic film grammar, which I think is the real source of our ecological woes. This is one aspect of the jingle dresses which I thought was particularly interesting – they seem to include a form of vibrating non-monocular communication through what Descartes thinks of as the inert space between people in a somewhat non-Cartesian manner.

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