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.
Welcome to Part 2 of my look at Dockers’ “Wear The Pants” ad campaign. Part 1 can be read here. For reference, here is the ad again:
Now, as I said, the ad is a call for men to take back up their old ways of strength and leadership. However, it is not so much a call to arms as a challenge. It does recognize that men were stripped of their place in society, but it also saddles them with 100% of the responsibility for setting things straight. It ignores what the cause of the problem might have been, instead demanding that men just fix it by acting like real men again. In medicine it is considered bad practice to treat the symptoms without treating the cause, but that is what is happening here.
Here the cause is society, as a whole, which needs to change, but men can’t be made totally responsible for changing it. We aren’t all Hercules.
This ad’s sentiment is echoed by many public figures, like President Obama, who has given calls to men to ‘step up’ and become better fathers. That is unreasonable when you consider the world we live in. Men are being told to be more like traditional men, but those traditional men are hated by feminists everywhere.
When women were first entering the workforce, were they met with hostility for having not been working? Were they told to ‘toughen up’ and start ‘wearing the pants’? No, allowances were made, aid was given and support extended. Most of this had to come from the men who were in control of the workplace. If anything, they were given nice, clean pants. And they got to keep their skirts too.
Now let’s look at modern men:
First we have a nice guy who wants to be a better man. He decides to be more chivalrous and to take on more responsibilities of leadership. What might he get for allowances, aid and support?
- Allowances: Women might ‘allow’ him to flee before he gets torn apart (verbally and/or physically) for trying to tell them what to do.
- Aid: I am sure many women would be glad to ‘aid’ him in being chivalrous by taking every opportunity to exploit his politeness.
- Support: There would be ‘support’ for him doing all the dirty work, as long as he doesn’t try to claim any special privilege for doing so.
Now how about a more family oriented man, trying to become a better husband and father. What would he see?
- Allowances: He would probably be ‘allowed’ to take the kids to soccer when mom is tired.
- Aid: I am sure he would get plenty of ‘aid’ in the chores, like snide remarks about how he did it wrong and constant check-ups.
- Support: There are probably support groups.
The truth is this: women expanded their horizons with the assistance of supportive men. How can men be expected to do the same without the support of women? Men who wanted to see women doing more had to become feminists. Women who want to see men doing more will need to be masculists. That doesn’t mean telling men to man up, it means giving men back a position of respect and helping them to be proud of being male. Men don’t need to change to fit society, society needs to change to fit men.
It is unfair and misandristic to call on men to be ‘manly’ again without also calling on the rest of society to support them in doing so. That would be like suddenly calling on women to return to life as homemakers, without taking any action to allow them to make up the lost income from stopping work.
On the Internet, there is a word for such an idea:
And unreasonable, and impossible, and cruel, and…