Archive for September 6th, 2012

September 6th, 2012

Sadly, all the vibrancy in this film is generated by a crude pornography of violence. At the center of this spectacle is the continuous physical and emotional violation of the body and being of a small six year old black girl called Hushpuppy (played by the ten year old actress Quzenhane Wallis). While she is portrayed as continuously resisting and refusing to be a victim, she is victimized. Subject to both romanticization as a modern primitive and eroticization, her plight is presented as comically farcical. Some audiences laugh as Hushpuppy, when enraged at the antics of her disappearing alcoholic oftentimes abusive wild man dad Wink, burns her shanty house. Initially, she hides from the fire in an overturned cardboard box until Wink rescues her by fiercely yelling mean spirited words that both frighten her and lead her to run for her life; in that moment she is more terrified of her raging dad than she is of the fire. Hushpuppy has a resilient spirit. She is indeed a miniature version of the ‘strong black female matriarch,’ racist and sexist representations have depicted from slavery on into the present day. Like the unrealistic racist/sexist stereotypical images of grown black women in the recent blockbuster film The Help who confront all manner of exploitation and oppression only to triumph in this ridiculous macabre fantasy of modern primitivism, Hushpuppy is a survivor. From the onset of the film, she is depicted as a wild child, so at home in the natural wild of the Gulf of Mexico bayou world where black and white po’ folks create their own community affectionately called the Bathtub. This is the territory they claim as a renegade place of belonging. It is a total homemade world of make do, use whatever you got to survive. Nature is the most compelling force in the world of the Bathtub. In this world there is no us-against-them mentality when it comes to human and nature. Instead there is an intimate merger so complete celebration of their collective feral animal nature binds everyone in a sacred contract; they are to resist domestication and civilization at all costs. As Diane Ackerman states in her short essay “Natural Wonder;” “Nature is both personal and panoramic, including a profound sense of our animal essence…All of our being juices, flesh, and spirit is nature. Nature surrounds, permeates, effervesces in, and includes us. At the end of our days, it deranges and disassembles us… There, once living beings, we return to our non-living elements, but we still and forever remain a part of nature.” As explanation this declaration provides the metaphysical backdrop for the role nature plays in Beasts of the Southern Wild. The natural setting that serves as poignant poetic backdrop is real and imaginary in the film. Hushpuppy finds solace in natural wildness, listening to the heartbeat of animals, envisioning her connection to a primordial world, what anthropologist Carl Sauer calls “the world before the coming of the white man.” Hushpuppy has visions of a natural world humans are destroying. And even though the other black and white members of the Bathtub community do not share her visions they share the commitment to remain in the wild even as the waters rise. It is the survivalist narrative that seems to most enchant viewers of this film, allowing them to overlook violence, eroticization of children, and all manner of dirt and filth. Just as television audiences remain glued to their seats watching the reality shows that focus on humans struggling against harsh unnatural circumstances and each other to survive, audiences of Beasts of the Southern Wild enjoy this same rush. As in these everyday television survivalist narratives, humans in the film are both at one with nature even as they are potential victims of a harsh natural world that respects no categories of race, class, or gender. Of course the message that only the strong survive has been and remains an age old argument for politics of domination, that determine that some folks will live and others will die, that the strong will necessarily rule over the weak. For many folks who see this film it is the mythic focus that enchants. And yet it is precisely this mythic focus that deflects attention away from egregious sub-textual narratives present in the film. Writing about the role of myth n popular media that makes use of race in his book White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness critic Maurice Berger contends: “Despite the visual sophistication and supposed vigilance of a media-oriented culture …Western commentators, critics, and academics seem no to realize how duplicitous words and images can be. They simply do not understand how myths work, how myths hold us hostage to their smooth elegant fictions. The subject of race, perhaps more than any other subject in contemporary life feeds on myth…. Myth is the book, seamless narrative that tells us the contradictions and incongruities of race and racism are too confusing or too dangerous to articulate. Myths provide the elegant deceptions that reinforce our unconscious prejudices. Myths are the white lies that tell us everything is all right, even when it is not.” Deploying myth and fantasy we are shown a world in Beasts of the Southern Wild where black and white poor folks live together in utopian harmony. No race talk, no racial discourse disturbs the peace.

Sadly, all the vibrancy in this film is generated by a crude pornography of violence. At the center of this spectacle is the continuous physical and emotional violation of the body and being of a small six year old black girl called Hushpuppy (played by the ten year old actress Quzenhane Wallis). While she is portrayed as continuously resisting and refusing to be a victim, she is victimized. Subject to both romanticization as a modern primitive and eroticization, her plight is presented as comically farcical. Some audiences laugh as Hushpuppy, when enraged at the antics of her disappearing alcoholic oftentimes abusive wild man dad Wink, burns her shanty house. Initially, she hides from the fire in an overturned cardboard box until Wink rescues her by fiercely yelling mean spirited words that both frighten her and lead her to run for her life; in that moment she is more terrified of her raging dad than she is of the fire. Hushpuppy has a resilient spirit. She is indeed a miniature version of the ‘strong black female matriarch,’ racist and sexist representations have depicted from slavery on into the present day. Like the unrealistic racist/sexist stereotypical images of grown black women in the recent blockbuster film The Help who confront all manner of exploitation and oppression only to triumph in this ridiculous macabre fantasy of modern primitivism, Hushpuppy is a survivor. From the onset of the film, she is depicted as a wild child, so at home in the natural wild of the Gulf of Mexico bayou world where black and white po’ folks create their own community affectionately called the Bathtub. This is the territory they claim as a renegade place of belonging. It is a total homemade world of make do, use whatever you got to survive. Nature is the most compelling force in the world of the Bathtub. In this world there is no us-against-them mentality when it comes to human and nature. Instead there is an intimate merger so complete celebration of their collective feral animal nature binds everyone in a sacred contract; they are to resist domestication and civilization at all costs. As Diane Ackerman states in her short essay “Natural Wonder;” “Nature is both personal and panoramic, including a profound sense of our animal essence…All of our being juices, flesh, and spirit is nature. Nature surrounds, permeates, effervesces in, and includes us. At the end of our days, it deranges and disassembles us… There, once living beings, we return to our non-living elements, but we still and forever remain a part of nature.” As explanation this declaration provides the metaphysical backdrop for the role nature plays in Beasts of the Southern Wild. The natural setting that serves as poignant poetic backdrop is real and imaginary in the film. Hushpuppy finds solace in natural wildness, listening to the heartbeat of animals, envisioning her connection to a primordial world, what anthropologist Carl Sauer calls “the world before the coming of the white man.” Hushpuppy has visions of a natural world humans are destroying. And even though the other black and white members of the Bathtub community do not share her visions they share the commitment to remain in the wild even as the waters rise. It is the survivalist narrative that seems to most enchant viewers of this film, allowing them to overlook violence, eroticization of children, and all manner of dirt and filth. Just as television audiences remain glued to their seats watching the reality shows that focus on humans struggling against harsh unnatural circumstances and each other to survive, audiences of Beasts of the Southern Wild enjoy this same rush. As in these everyday television survivalist narratives, humans in the film are both at one with nature even as they are potential victims of a harsh natural world that respects no categories of race, class, or gender. Of course the message that only the strong survive has been and remains an age old argument for politics of domination, that determine that some folks will live and others will die, that the strong will necessarily rule over the weak. For many folks who see this film it is the mythic focus that enchants. And yet it is precisely this mythic focus that deflects attention away from egregious sub-textual narratives present in the film. Writing about the role of myth n popular media that makes use of race in his book White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness critic Maurice Berger contends: “Despite the visual sophistication and supposed vigilance of a media-oriented culture …Western commentators, critics, and academics seem no to realize how duplicitous words and images can be. They simply do not understand how myths work, how myths hold us hostage to their smooth elegant fictions. The subject of race, perhaps more than any other subject in contemporary life feeds on myth…. Myth is the book, seamless narrative that tells us the contradictions and incongruities of race and racism are too confusing or too dangerous to articulate. Myths provide the elegant deceptions that reinforce our unconscious prejudices. Myths are the white lies that tell us everything is all right, even when it is not.” Deploying myth and fantasy we are shown a world in Beasts of the Southern Wild where black and white poor folks live together in utopian harmony. No race talk, no racial discourse disturbs the peace.:

—bell hooks on Beasts of the Southern Wild

Thanks Judy for sending me this link—I’ve been struggling with that movie.

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