Ponyo – A boy’s responsibility

March 4, 2010 2 comments

Ah, Studio Ghibli. I am quite glad to have finally gotten to see their most recent film, Ponyo, and it brought some very interesting thoughts to mind.

Ponyo is a touching story about a young boy and a fish, with many themes about fathers. It shows the importance of fathers to their children, as well as looking at over-protective fathers.

What I find most interesting about Ponyo is how it portrays child-parent relationships and the behavior of children. Ponyo seems to be reflecting a cultural mindset, which may give it more truth than might be apparent.

What got my attention most was the male lead, the five-year-old Sosuke. He is, without a doubt, the most level headed, collected and responsible five-year-old I have ever seen, and it is that responsibility I want to talk about.

I think this is best illustrated by comparing Sosuke to the main characters of another Ghibli movie, My Neighbor Totoro. In Totoro, the focus is on how the two sisters interact with the world of magical spirits, as well as their worrying for the health of their mother. It is largely about how they feel.

In Ponyo, we have a very different story, but with similar themes. It is also about the interaction with the world of nature and magic. However, the focus is far less on Sosuke’s interaction (i.e. play) with the magical world than it is about his dealing with what comes out of it, like Ponyo and all the problems she causes. It is much less about how he feels and more about what he does.

This difference can even be seen within the cast of Ponyo. Ponyo herself spends most of her time on land learning to interact with it, experiencing it with wonder, while Sosuke is there to keep an eye on her and lead the way. Once again, what matters is how she feels and what he does.

I think this reflects an interesting viewpoint on how little boys and little girls work and live. Sosuke is shown as stepping up, taking charge and being responsible for those he cares about and for his own actions. He worries about keeping his promises and takes responsibility for caring for Ponyo without a single thought to the contrary.

American media is so bloated with girl power and political correctness gone wrong that it is rare to see a boy as anything buy a punching bag (both verbal and physical), so it is interesting to see a different take on ‘what little boys are made of’, showing them as capable of understanding the consequences of their actions and taking responsibility.

More than that, however, I am always interested by takes on traditional gender roles, which is just what this is, and this film is made all the more intriguing by the fact that its creator, Hayao Miyazaki, is a self-proclaimed feminist, and so seeing an exploration of male responsibility and leadership from him makes it all the more telling.

I think American media has made many of us forget how little boys think, but this film gets back in touch with that, hopefully reminding us how not all traditional gender roles are totally learned, that some behavior is natural and that such natural tendencies should be nurtured and encouraged, in both boys and girls.

The eagerness with which young boys seem to assume roles of leadership and to take on duties of protecting others is well documented and Ponyo’s portrayal of such behavior rings with the note of truth. That is not to say that girls are naturally followers. Far from it (just ask my sisters). However, despite how the media ignores this, little boys do seem to naturally gravitate towards roles of leadership and protecting. Maybe not more than girls, but at the very least in their own unique way.


Treasure Planet – Father hunger, in space!

February 17, 2010 2 comments

Treasure Planet is Disney’s ‘In Space!’ version of the classic novel, Treasure Island. It is the story of Jim, a troubled youth who is adrift in the world as he searches for his path and his purpose. The cause of his aimlessness is the loss of his father, at a fairly young age, leaving him unsure, sad and angry.

This is actually one of the most honest portrayals of fatherlessness I have seen in a film, especially a family cartoon.

The story begins with Jim as a happy, smiling, chubby child, enjoying story time with his mother. We then transition to teen-Jim, a rugged, obviously rebellious youth out for thrills.

We see all the problems he has been having, with the law, in school, communicating with his mother. It is only a ways in that we learn the trouble started when his father left. This is where the film begins to dig into the problems of fatherlessness, later on detailing Jim’s father’s departure in faded flashbacks.

Jim goes through all the problems which sons always experience when they grow up without a father (or even a father figure). Aggression without focus, a lack of drive, no discipline. All this stems from a lack of father involvement, a concept which is reinforced by Silver becoming Jim’s father figure, of sorts, which helps to give him some focus and helps to set him down the right path.

Jim eventually becomes caring, confident and focused, the things any good man should be.

What is important to remember is that these problems are not caused by a bad father (although they can be), but by an absent father, and this isn’t limited to fathers who willingly leave. Deceased fathers and those whom the mother leaves are also absent in the same way, having a similarly negative effect on their children.

While Treasure Planet only shows one situation which can lead to fatherlessness, it is honest enough about the problems and keeps the focus enough on Jim that it is not limited to talking only about fathers who left their families, but about missing dads in general. It doesn’t focus on the evil of the absent father, which keeps it from coming off as an attack on fathers. It focuses on the problems Jim faces, making the point without making fathers feel bad.

The feeling is that the problems don’t come from the father having left, but from him not being there, allowing the message to cover all reasons for absent fathers.

Another thing I like about the movie is how it handles Silver as a father figure. His positive effect on Jim is undeniable, but he is not played as a full replacement father for Jim. Too often movies will show new men stepping in to take the place of the biological father in the lives of children, but this usually doesn’t go so well.

Silver is really more a mentor, just one of the many roles of a father plays, but perhaps the most important to a young man approaching adulthood, like Jim.  This helps to give a sense of the absolute importance of fathers without trying to claim just any man can be a true father figure.

All in all, Treasure Planet is a fun movie, one of my favorite Disney movies, which tells a powerful tale of fatherlessness and a young man’s search for himself in the cosmos.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian – How the mighty have fallen

February 12, 2010 6 comments

You can read my post on Night at the Museum here

As I said not so long ago, I quite enjoyed Night at the Museum. Its sequel, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, is quite a bit lacking in many ways, mostly to do with the ‘lead’ character, Larry.

The character of Larry is devoid of most of his charm in several ways, differing greatly from his previous screen appearance and giving a much weaker performance overall.

Firstly, Larry’s role as a father barely comes into it at all. His son is only in the movie for a few brief scenes and there is no real interaction there. Nor is Larry’s struggle with his ex-wife covered in any way. This side of the character seems to have just vanished.

Larry is also lacking the sense of empathy shown in the first movie. Beyond a brief pep-talk to Col. Mustard, he doesn’t really interact with the exhibits much. This also has him much more out of control than he was before. In the first movie, he worked with the exhibits to get problems resolved, but little of that leadership, problem solving ability and sensitivity is seen here, leaving us with a story which tries to be frantic but lacks any intelligence to hold it up.

Larry also lacks any sense of control over his own actions. I commented on how he was actually surprisingly confident in the first film, but this time he spends most of the film getting pushed/dragged around by Amelia. He is almost disturbingly submissive to her, just following alongside and not really doing much of anything, expect a bit of combat in the final confrontation.

Another example of the stereotype of men only being any good with a weapon, and then never against a woman.

I quite appreciated the first movie’s tendency toward having Larry win with knowledge, not with strength of arms. All that is gone however, leaving us with a rather empty character who you wouldn’t really miss had he just been edited out altogether.

Overall, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian has a much weaker male lead who is basically tagging along after his female co-star. You barely know he is a dad, or even alive for that matter.

WFP Women’s Food Entitlement – The key word really is ‘entitlement’

February 4, 2010 11 comments

Beard Reel is mostly about media, but some things in politics simply must be discussed.

The recent earth quake disaster in Haiti has been in all the news, and rightly so. It was a truly devastating event which has left the country in ruin. It is extremely important that other nations help them to re-establish livable conditions.

However, I think the U.N. may be a bit confused on how to do that.

As reported on here, the World Food Program has a policy (readable here) which directs that all food resources be given out exclusively to women, as in ‘no boys allowed’.

The logic arises from the issues women can face in obtaining food when they have to confront larger, stronger men vying for the same resources. To resolve this the U.N. decided to just ban men all together from the food distribution compounds. They also seem to think that women are somehow better suited to the distribution of food.

This is messed up on so many levels that I’m not even sure where to start, but I’ll try.

First, there is the obvious (like the moon) flaw in this system: it excludes half the adult population! Apparently the WFP is going to take steps to ensure all the men get fed, but that is planned for stage 2, some time in the future. Too bad many of those men won’t live that long.

If it seems obvious that this is an attempt at unfairly empowering women, that’s because it is. That is one of the official reasons for it. Since empowering people is so important, I guess the old patriarchal system wasn’t so bad. In Haiti we are empowering women by giving them control over the food, something they are apparently better at using. By that logic, it was good that we used to give all the jobs to men, since they are better at them, empowering them to be better people. Empowerment is what really matters.

Seems fair to me.

What they are calling equality is pure sexism.

The men of Haiti are now going to have to go through women for their food, leaving them in a potentially life threatening position of submission. This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, just as women are said to have been in the past age of patriarchy.

If that was unequal, how is this any more equal?

As an additional insult to men, it seems the WFP intends for them to work as body guards to earn their supper:

The women are encouraged to bring male family members or friends to wait for them outside the distribution compound, to protect them and help them take their food home.

So the women are the only ones suited to get and distribute the food, but men are still expected to go out of their way to protect these women, and then have to rely on them to get any food.

It seems to me that it would have been easier to just ban women from the food centers. Then everyone would have been on the same physical standing, and the people could have protected the food themselves.

The misandry in this whole policy is mind-boggling, but I think the worst part of it is how it blatantly insults countless generations of male sacrifice. For millennia, it has been men (and often boys) who have died on the hunt, in the field, down the mine shaft and on the assembly line to provide food for their family, including their women. Now the WFP is insisting that women can better serve as primary providers and so should be given the food. However, they still need protection from men, not that the men should receive anything special for providing that protection. This is the first time I have heard of a group being expected to be both submissive to and protective of another group.

They just spit in the face of every man who has ever died for his family.

Maybe it’s time for someone to spit back.

Categories: Politics Tags: , , , , ,

A Knight’s Tale – Prove yourself!

February 1, 2010 2 comments

I want to start by saying that I actually enjoyed A Knight’s Tale (and it has a nice father-son relationship). While not a masterpiece, it was a fun movie. I am not going to criticize it, but there is a theme in it which I find interesting and which appears in many parts of the media.

What I speak of is the concept of a man ‘proving his love’, as we see in A Knight’s Tale. In this film, this young would-be-knight is asked to prove his love to the fair lady. He does so, winning her heart and all such stuff.

This plot element is common, not only in knightly tales but in many forms of drama. It often takes the form of men changing themselves or their life styles drastically. It is also not just fictional, as such activities have been going on through much of history.

Now, I have no problem with someone going out of their way to prove their love (although it seems a bit rude to tell someone to prove their love to you). What I find interesting is that it only ever seems to be men who do this proving, both historically and in media.

I can only think of a very few cases where a woman has had to prove her love to a man. And when a man does want a woman to prove her love, he is usually portrayed as a jerk who the women soon dumps. I wonder why that is.

It obviously isn’t completely a modern media construct, since there are examples of it going back many thousands of years. However, one might have expected to see women doing such deeds of daring do after feminism graced our shores, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Men are still apparently expected, in many cases, to demonstrate their loyalty.

I actually find the contradiction in this rather amusing. Throughout history, men have often been held to the highest standards of honesty and honor. A man’s word is his oath, as it were. On the other hand, you have women, who have often had the reputation of being manipulative and not so prone to keeping their word.

Yet here we see how a man’s loyalty must be proven, while a woman’s is taken for granted.

The reason for all this, as given in A Knight’s Tale, is that a woman doesn’t want to

Uncross her legs for nothing.

That is understandable, in a world where any intimate relationship could lead to pregnancy, and with no courts to enforce paternal responsibility.

However, that is no longer the case. Contraception gives women fairly complete control over pregnancy, and if there is one thing our courts actually do it is enforce paternal responsibility (if not paternal rights, but that’s a different issue).

That would make you think that men shouldn’t need to prove any special loyalty, since a woman will only take on extra responsibility from a relationship (ie, motherhood) if she wishes it.

It seems then that it would make sense that both men and women are equally responsible for their own loyalty and that neither should have anything extra to prove.

If anything, in this world of paternity fraud, mother-centric family courts, abusive restraining orders and unfair domestic violence policies, it is women who should have to prove that they will not take advantage of their partners.

Yet it seems men still must prove themselves.

For equality’s sake, I guess we should start having women wrestle wild animals to prove their love.

I know some hungry mountain lions out in the hills. We could have cougar-versus-cougar matches. Any takers?

Categories: Film Tags: , , , ,

Ecotopia – Give your daughter a crown and your son a spear (and bandage)

January 29, 2010 2 comments

Ecotopia is about a utopian land established in the American North-West. It portrays a society built around the beliefs of social equality and ecofeminism (Ahhahahaha!).

Or, at least, that’s what it claims to do. While Ecotopia is a very pleasant little nation, fairly portrayed with both good and bad aspects, it is also a prime example of a social mindset which dictates that men and women are equal, but women are more equal.

To put this ‘idea’ more clearly: the genders should be treated as equal (egalitarianism), but women have special ‘needs’ and ‘skills’ above men(traditionally called matriarchalism or female-chauvinism, but those are just details). Apparently these extra benefits don’t count in the race for equality.

For example, in this supposedly equal world, women have various powers which men lack:

  • Political: The primary political party in Ecotopia is primarily composed of women, including the nation’s president, and women are encouraged to pursue politics.
  • Relationships: Women are obviously in control of relationships, from start to finish. There even seems to be some remaining ideas of chivalry (ie, ‘he shouldn’t hit a girl’).
  • Family: In Ecotopia, it seems everyone just calmly accepts the ‘fact’ that mothers are the masters of child rearing. They also seem to have more or less total control over the conception of children (paternity fraud?).

But surely men must have some niche in this world! And yes, they do. In Ecotopia, men are in charge of:

  • Violence

Yep, that’s right. Human blood sports. In Ecotopia, young men take part in ‘war games’ where someone is always injured (days in the hospital) and, on average, about one seems to die a week.

To say the least, this is an unfairly negative portrayal of male identity and societal function.

As I have said before, I believe that men have a natural (or at least deeply rooted) ‘warrior instinct’ not possessed by women. However, Roman-style blood-sports are not about being warriors. They are not fighting for anything real, except maybe a night with a random woman. Seriously, that seems to be the only reason for the Ecotopian war games. Where I come from, a woman who likes to sleep with a murderous brute is usually considered unhealthy.

The Ecotopian ‘war games’ don’t even serve any political function. They aren’t part of endemic warfare, as has evolved in some human cultures as a way of maintaining power balance. Nor are they used as a means of personal conflict resolution (like duels). They seem to have no function except as displays and for personal pride, which leaves only one reason for them: the men want to fight because they are inherently violent.

This idea seems to pop up disturbingly often in feminist media as a reason for increased female power, but it is usually unfounded. The fact that women have not commonly made war does not mean they will not make war. I think the truth is that men don’t have a stronger ‘urge’ for battle than women, but rather a stronger willingness and understanding for the need of battle. If you ask any war veteran, combat isn’t fun. No normal person really wants it, not if they actually understand it.

The overall message wrongly paints men as violent and generally uncivilized, and the story’s ecofeminist (Ahhahahaha!) side not-so-subtly blames men for the earth’s ecological problems.

For a story of a supposedly equal society, there seem to be a lot of inequalities. To ‘be a man’ you have to enter mortal combat. To ‘be a woman’ you just have to sleep around.


Now, it is important to look at Ecotopia in the context of its own time. In 1975, many of these ‘advances’ in the goals of feminism and ecofeminism (Ahhahahaha!) had not yet happened, but by today many of them have. At least in terms of human relationships, Ecotopia has actually turned out to be somewhat predictive.

That means we should be due to see gladiator combat (all male) in the Olympics by 2020.

I’ll bring the sponge.

The Incredibles: Dash – A boy in over-drive

January 27, 2010 1 comment

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The Incredibles is a fun and frantic family adventure which focuses on the quest for self-worth of Mr. Incredible (see my post on it here), but it also has a subtle message about young boys, as shown in the character of Dash.

There are two children (of speaking age) in The Incredibles, Dash and Violet, each with their own sub-plot. Violet’s is about her own self-esteem and her courage to be more open and forward.

Dash’s, on the other hand, is more buried in the main plot but is also more complex. He is endowed with the power of super-speed, and with it apparently came super-competitiveness. However, his parents (or at least his mother, depending on Bob’s mood) will not let him go out for school sports because of his lack of control.

What this represents, or at least can represent, more than overly controlling parents is the trend in American education to suppress the natural behaviors of boys in favor of a more conformist and often feminine system of behavior.

American schools are full of examples of boys being forced into learning environments which are not suited to them, and this includes often blatant disdain for the naturally physical nature of male competitiveness. Sports are the last place of release for boys, but even this is obstructed in some cases, and the Incredibles shows an example of how a boy can be left with no outlet.

In the end, Dash is given the chance to go out for the track team and he does well and stays in control.

The resolution is subtle, I didn’t even notice it until recently, but it clearly states the idea that boys need to be allowed to compete and that they shouldn’t be held back. It recognizes the societal blocks placed against boys and shows that these blocks can and should be knocked down, allowing the young man to express himself as a young man, even when that means being different.

Really, the stories of Dash and Violet show an interesting reflection of our world. Violet is held back by herself, while Dash is held back by society.

Simple subplots, or truth in fiction?