Liberalism Present: Disney’s Utopia

At the beginning of this series, Outis’ ghost embarked on a quest to explore possibly uncomfortable ideas about his identity as a progressive.  In the previous episode, the Spirit of Liberalism Past abruptly vanished, and Outis found himself face to face with someone else.

“What a cute bunny,” I thought to myself.  “But why is she wearing a police uniform?”  She stared at me with her big blue eyes and confidently held out her paw.

Bemused, I took it.  She softly shook my hand.  “Hopps, Judy Hopps,” she announced.

“Outis Philalithopoulos,” I responded slowly.  “And you are?”

“I am the Spirit of Liberalism Present!”

“I see,” I replied.

“Have you seen my movie?”

“I’m afraid I’m dead,” I confessed.

“So?” she responded undeterred.

“So I haven’t seen it.”

Her face fell.  “Oh,” she said.

Then she brightened again.  “You just have to see it.  The New York Times said it was ‘irresistible.’  And ‘delightful.’  And ‘thought-provoking.’ Not to mention ‘full of savvy jokes.’ Rolling Stone said that it might be ‘the most subversive movie of the year.’”

“That sounds nice,” I said.

And it’s on track to become the second highest grossing movie of the year,” she noted proudly.

Hesitantly, I said, “I don’t mean this the wrong way, but are you sure you’re the right Spirit?  Or that you weren’t sent to the wrong person?”

She stared at me sternly.  “Maybe you think that because I’m a bunny I can’t be a real Spirit?”

“No, no!” I protested.  “I just wondered what you were going to show me.”

“Oh!  Yes.  Yes!  My movie.  Let’s go!”  She grabbed my wrist and in a whirl, I was whisked away.  I found myself in a movie theater, where an animated movie called Zootopia was playing, with Judy in the starring role.

Watching the movie

The city of Zootopia was a beautiful place to live.  It was populated by animals who had evolved so they were all vegetarians.  Their economy seemed mostly like our own, with buying and selling and corporations and advertising – but no poor people.  There was, however, one problem in Zootopia, which was that some animals believed hurtful and wrong things about other animals.

In particular, some animals thought that predators still had different DNA from non-predators and so were inherently violent.  Also, animals often assumed that bunnies were cute, dumb, fluffy things who couldn’t do anything serious.  This was annoying to Judy, but the first two thirds of the movie show her convincing even animals who underestimate her that she is exceptional.

She wants to become a police officer, even though the conventional wisdom is that bunnies can’t become cops. She ignores this and becomes valedictorian of the police academy.  When she starts work, the police chief doesn’t recognize her ability immediately and puts her on parking duty.  Although she is understandably offended at having to do this sort of work, she resolves to show he was wrong about her, and so instead of handing out 100 tickets like she was told to do, she gives out 200, all before her lunch break.

She starts fighting back.  She goes over the police chief’s head and gets herself an assignment more reflective of her abilities.  One time, a fox named Nick had tricked her about something and then laughed at her for being liberal and naive.  Now she evens the score – she threatens to have Nick thrown in jail for tax violations, and using this leverage, gets him to follow her all over town.  She makes him illegally enter private property and go places where he feels threatened.  “What a strong, intrepid character,” I thought to myself.

As time passes, Nick starts to appreciate how awesome Judy is, and they become friends.  She exposes a scandal and everyone realizes that she’s a great cop.  Right in that moment, though, she comes face to face with a second adversary:  her unconscious mind.

In the midst of a press conference, Judy gets asked an awkward question about why the animals involved in a series of incidents were all predators.  She doesn’t think about what the right thing to say is, and the first thing that pops into her head is that maybe it’s because predators have different DNA than non-predators.

It’s just what the anti-predator animals wanted her to say, and it makes Nick feel terrible.  Anti-predator prejudice explodes, although thankfully pop stars speak out against it.

Judy tries to get Nick to help her fix things, but Nick is still furious with her.  Judy pleads with him:

Wait, listen… I-I know you’ll never forgive me, and I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t forgive me either.  I was ignorant and irresponsible and small-minded. But predators shouldn’t suffer because of my mistakes. I have to fix this. But I can’t do it without you. And after we’re done, you can hate me, [begins to cry] and… and that’ll be fine, because I was a horrible friend, and I hurt you, and you… and you can walk away knowing that you were right all along – I really am just a dumb bunny.

Nick forgives her then, and things work out.  They expose a plot by the anti-predator animals, and send the leader, an evil sheep, to jail.  All conflict melts away as the animals dance together to the pop singer’s finale.

After the movie

“What did you think?”  the Spirit Judy asked me excitedly.

“I’m just so impressed,” I told her.  She grinned.

“Who would have thought that a billion-dollar corporation like Disney would have the courage to make such a strong statement in support of progressive values?” I went on.

“I know!” she said.

“It did a great job showing how little things that we don’t think of as bad can be hurtful to others.  For example, while you were in the big city, you were carrying around a thing like a can of mace that was made to drive away foxes.  And it sort of helped you to feel safe…”

She blushed, ashamed.  “But it made Nick feel bad, because it implied I thought foxes were dangerous.”

“It showed how our attitudes can really affect people’s lives.  For example, Nick was making his living as a crook, and you might have thought that it was because times were hard and he had difficulty finding a job…”

Judy nodded soberly.  “But actually,” she said, “it was all because when he was very young, he had wanted to be nice and good.  But then some of the other young animals just assumed that since he was a fox, he had to be untrustworthy, and so he was like, ‘well, then I might as well be untrustworthy.’ “

“In general, your movie didn’t play it safe,” I said.  “For example, you’re an open-minded bunny and you always try to treat others with respect.  But still, one time you carelessly said something that was really not good.  And then, the only way you could return to being a good bunny was to convince yourself that you were truly a bad bunny, and say so publicly.”

“Oh, yeah,” Judy said.  “Even though I’m really embarrassed that I said those horrible things, at least this way I could model for the children watching the movie how they ought to act when they say something wrong.”

“The movie definitely delved into difficult issues,” I agreed.  “At the same time, it had plenty of humor.  Like there was that time you go to the DMV, and the employees there, the sloths, just operate in a lower gear than the rest of us.  Which was hilarious for anyone who’s had to deal with real life public employees.”

Judy shook her head.  “I was in a hurry and it was just so frustrating.  But I know I shouldn’t let it bother me – they can’t help it.”

“The movie often combined humor and teaching moments.  Like there was the really, really fat police dispatcher, so I just assumed he eats doughnuts all the time.  And then he calls you a cute bunny, and you’re very patient with him, and are like, ‘Ooh, uh, you probably didn’t know, but a bunny can call another bunny cute, but when other animals do it, it’s a little…’  And so you deftly addressed the theme of political correctness, but it didn’t feel preachy because then there was a light-hearted moment…”

“Right,” Judy laughed, “because he really did have a doughnut stuck in the fat folds of his neck.”

“Or when they put the evil sheep in jail at the end,” I went on,  “and the other inmates touch her wool ‘cause it’s soft and fluffy, which makes her really mad, because as you explained earlier in the movie…”

“… touching a sheep’s wool is a microaggression and it’s not okay,” Judy supplied helpfully.  “But she was xenophobic and hurt a lot of people, so when her wool gets touched, technically it’s wrong…”

“But it’s also kind of funny,” I concluded.  “Another way the movie used humor was to show how it isn’t smart to be prejudiced.  For example, your parents sometimes said prejudiced things, but that didn’t make us want to be like them, because after all – I mean, not to be critical or anything – they’re rural, they have a really big family, they’re always saying ‘gosh’ and ‘amen to that,’ they don’t really have ambitions…”

Judy fought back a smile.  “Yeah, I love them to death, but they’re kind of old-fashioned.”

“And so the movie shows,” I went on, “how when you have wrong ideas, your kids just won’t listen to you.  Like when you were little, they would try to give you advice, and you would just wander off and they wouldn’t even notice you were gone.  Or there was that scene where they tried to get you to bring fox repellent with you to the big city – because a fox had beaten you up one time, and they were worried it would happen again.  And you knew that carrying fox repellent was prejudiced, but finally you just said, ‘I will take this – to make you stop talking.’“

Judy laughed.  “They mean well, they really do – it’s just that there are some things they don’t really understand.”

“On a side note,” I added, “I think it’s really awesome how even though you’re a bunny, you really have the mannerisms of white Millennial upper-middle-class girls down cold.”

“Thanks!” she said.

“And it just goes to show,” I continued excitedly, “that the right-wingers are totally wrong about us when they say we want to stamp out gender roles and make women exactly like men!”

“What… do… you… mean?” she said, her voice full of warning notes.

I went on obliviously.  “I just mean, you do lots of things in the movie that they wouldn’t have guys do.  Like for example, you force Nick to follow you around and do whatever you tell him, and that’s awesome ‘cause it showcases how you’re a strong female character, but if he had forced you to follow him around…”

“That would be controlling and creepy and horrible!” she exclaimed.  “Obviously.  But Nick wouldn’t do that.  So what’s your point?”

I wasn’t sure if this conversation was going in a good direction.  Instead, I said, “Actually, I’m worried – maybe your time is short. In case we get cut off, what is the most important thing you want me to learn from your visit?”

She looked at her watch.  “Oh, yes.  Yes.  I do have to go,” she said.

Then she smiled at me warmly.  “My final message is, if anyone ever tells you you can’t do anything, or you can’t be anything, don’t believe them.  You can.”

I looked at her, stricken.  “But Judy, I’m dead.”

She looked quizzically at me.  “So?  Look, I know a lot of people assume that dead people can’t do certain things, just because they’re dead.  But don’t listen to them.  Follow your dreams!”

And with a peal of thunder, she was gone, and I was back in the livid marshes.

* * *

The series will take a break for the weekend and resume Monday, at which point Outis will succeed at putting it all together – sort of.

Sources:  Uncritical praise of Zootopia from major press outlets: the New York Times, Rolling Stone, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the…03/04/movies/zootopia-reviewPost.

The Atlantic said Zootopia was “subversive,” while the Times said it “subverted clichés.”  Rolling Stone declares “Zootopia takes chances and doesn’t play it safe.  Is it too soon to talk about next year’s Oscars?”  The Guardian says that in the movie, “the themes of cultural sensitivity and political correctness are handled with real wit,” while the Post says that the movie is about “the hard work of becoming the best, most open-minded bunny you can be.”  The sloth scene is singled out for praise by the Times, the Post, Rolling Stone, and the Atlantic.

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      1. skippy

        Good old Ellison…. quite the free spirit sort…

        His expulsion from O-“High”-O state for allegedly popping a prof after degenerating his writing and resulting forwarded copies of his published works for 20 years is a timeless classic… too….

        Disheveled Marsupial…. not a bad track record for copy right infringement either, man if people only payed him rather than riff on his original works…. sigh… Hollywood…

  1. Tom

    Zootopia stuck me as a misguided perpetuation of the current paradigm wherein we create false identities as separate species or “races” as opposed to our actual future where we are subsumed into the great mass of a superior human race.

    1. urdsama

      What future would this be? The currently reality is that race exists and will for the foreseeable future. Making a film that avoids this fact would be guilty of a greater sin than you accuse it of.

      Of course if this was snark, I apologize for not detecting that…

  2. Disturbed Voter

    Tomorrowland … but with cartoon animals, not real people. More of the Star Trek propaganda (Starfleet is the mother of all progressivisms).

    When will Disney make a children’s movie that has the liberals and progressives as the villains?

    1. craazyboy

      Dunno, but the Federal Reserve blows balloon animals, and Wall Street futures follow. Bears are banished, Bulls are inflated. That’s pretty weird.

    2. polecat

      Disney’s founder and namesake, Walter, wasn’t exactly a paragon of ‘liberalism’ ya’know !

      ….. and the Disney Co is Bernaysian propaganda on animated steroids …… infantilizing children & adults everywhere ….. by the millions !!

  3. cocomaan

    Haven’t seen the movie, but the allegories sound about as heavy-handed as can be.

    Conversation style was really effective, I had a laugh too!

    1. Carolinian

      I haven’t seen the movie either but reading the reviews it sounds pretty good. It’s possible that by using pop culture as stand in for the overall culture Outis is being led astray. Disney, after all, just wants to sell tickets, one time SNL writer Franken to tell jokes and sell books (in the 90s). The entertainment industry is a reflection of American culture but also a funhouse mirror that distorts. Some were disturbed by the liberties Eastwood took with the facts in Sully and more especially American Sniper and indeed Eastwood has a political agenda. But most people understand that what you see on the big screen is “just a movie.”

      1. ambrit

        Sorry, but I must aver. “Most people” often use ‘entertainment’ as a means of escaping the reality they must deal with on a daily basis. Thus, what they are presented with will act as a template for world views that they associate with superior outcomes in their struggles to exist. It ends up molding their aspirations in specific and often counter productive, for the individual, ways. Now apply the above to children who are still forming their attitudes towards the world around them, and you have social engineering on a profound level.

        1. Carolinian

          So you are saying going to Zootopia will be warping childish minds? A bit of a stretch.

          On the other hand there’s no question that H’wood’s love of guns and violence shapes the culture to some extent. But this probably has less to do with politics and more to do with modern cinema’s addiction to action. When home viewing the upteenth super hero movie it saves time to fast forward over the content free action sequences. These films seem designed for people with ADD.

          1. Outis Philalithopoulos Post author

            The movie’s success as entertainment is connected to how it sets up a frame that it expects audiences to interpret in certain ways. Reviewers who loved the movie praised it for its positive messages and its obvious (“sly”) relevance to real life.

            As for children, it isn’t clear how much difference one movie will make on any given child. But many young children watch Disney movies repeatedly and memorize them.

            1. animalogic

              Let’s hope this pernicious load of PC claptrap has very limited influence on kids.
              “Then she smiled at me warmly. “My final message is, if anyone ever tells you you can’t do anything, or you can’t be anything, don’t believe them. You can.”

              I looked at her, stricken. “But Judy, I’m dead.”

              “She looked quizzically at me. “So? Look, I know a lot of people assume that dead people can’t do certain things, just because they’re dead. But don’t listen to them. Follow your dreams!”
              I’m old fashioned enough to believe that essentially telling kids they can do ANYTHING is grossly irresponsible.
              Incidentally, I do like the satire: “but Judy I’m dead….so ?” Priceless.

              1. LeftHook

                Kurt Vonnegut wrote a great short story about that very subject about a boy who tries to play the drums with consistently horrific results.

          2. Yves Smith

            Why do we have a movie rating system and why did TV for many years have censors? I once met Dan Rowan of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In, and he discussed at some length his battles with the censors.

            Disney had a series of princess movies and promoted princess culture (pink claptrap). The princess industry most assuredly took hold. And not that Disney


            A smaller example: when James Doohan died, it was widely reported in his obits (with specific people quoted) saying that his portrayal of the character Scottie in the original Star Trek had inspired them to become engineers.

            1. Carolinian

              And there was a long ago battle over commercials on Saturday morning television. I’m just saying Hollywood’s bias is toward making money. Only rarely is it explicitly political. That could go double for Disney.

              Of course in their private lives they are almost all for Hillary.

              1. hunkerdown

                Carolinian, it seems as if you claim that cultivating the market (i.e. culture) into which one sells (cultural) products isn’t somehow compatible with making money?! The TPP would buy Disney nothing if parents decided to reject American liberalism and Disney’s propaganda therefor.

                No, Hollywood’s bias is toward the control of revenue streams. The money comes eventually and they’re equipped to ride it out.

                In enterprise IT, the customer and the end user often have rival interests and stakes in the system. Here, Disney is pandering to the aspirations of the parents who want their children to become successful members of the bourgeoisie, and thus wish them to be programmed with a particular enabling narrative and a particular sense of the world around them as an unharvested resource sparking with eagerness to be converted into human [whose?] benefit.

                As the old ditty goes, “Kids like Kix for what Kix has got. Moms like Kix for what Kix has not.”

                1. Carolinian

                  Or maybe they just wanted to make 300 million dollars. Check out some of the trivia entries including the fact that the story was considerably changed after a test screening.

                  Judy Hopps was originally going to be a cynical, no-nonsense, aggressive and seasoned police officer, but the screening for the film’s development was proven to be dark and unpleasant, and as a result, the story has been revamped by Byron Howard and the rest of the production team, and they changed Judy’s personality to an optimistic and starry-eyed in order to make the film’s story emotional and a lot more sense.


                  The studios and Disney above all certainly are interested in manipulating our copyright and trade policies but i doubt they are quite so subtle as to be attempting mind control to protect their future markets. Indeed if you look at the way H’wood has handled the “copyfight” it’s quite the clusterf*ck. As the above shows the way movies are crafted is considerably more ad hoc.

      2. jrs

        Good point. While I definitely think Hollywood’s influence on the culture is largely negative, it’s not the whole culture. And the old Al Franken stuff was just funny, still funny, might not be PC but it’s funny.

        As for ambits points re molding people’s individual actions and aspirations in counter-productive ways well so can any number of other things, like one’s parents, one’s friends etc..

        But of course it is largely foolish to expect real leftism (which isn’t just about whether and individual’s actions are counterproductive for an individual anyway) from a billion dollar corporation. Perhaps even especially Disney which has a LONG entirely regressive history. Anti-labor and always have been etc..

        1. ambrit

          One quibble; one’s parents and friends do not, as a rule, try to mold one’s attitudes for financial purposes. Corporations would, as a direct consequence of their reasons for existing, try to do so.
          We should have a reasonable expectation that a corporation would be constrained from “capturing” the culture for selfish ends.

  4. Donald

    I thought this was a heavy handed satire–until the end I didn’t realize you were talking about a real movie.

    1. Jim Haygood

      Nor did I, till reading your comment.

      But then, I don’t watch Disney fare, unless I can pirate it.

      Free Kim Dotcom!

      1. skippy

        Morgan was a drunk with a few fiends….

        Disheveled Marsupial….. always grand to see you grow as a person Jim….

  5. craazyboy

    Haven’t seen Zootopia, but if it has politically correct Valley Bunnies, which I believe it may, it has potential.

    1. Massinissa

      I think youre getting your animal movies confused. I think the valley bunnies are from a movie that came out more recently, zootopia came out in february.

    2. Massinissa

      I looked it up. The valley bunnies are in a film called Sing, which apparently comes out in early december.

      1. craazyboy

        I’ll have to keep an eye out for it. The concept is intriguing to me, having actually lived in the San Fernando Valley.

        But actually my comment refers to this post where Outis subtlety raises the specter of politically correct Valley Bunnies, and this piece of speculative fiction is loosely based on zootopia, based on my careful reference to the footnotes which in turn point to MSM analysis of the subject.

  6. David

    Unfortunately, there is only one type of liberalism, and the search for a “good” version doesn’t lead anywhere useful. Liberalism is essentially about competition between individuals and groups for the economic and political spoils of a society. In contrast to socialism, which (like most human systems of thought historically) considers the good of the community as a whole, liberalism is a zero-sum doctrine where the strongest makes off with the most money, the most rights etc. Historically, some liberals did support political and social reforms, but in general this was because of their religious beliefs, which prompted them to try to alleviate the social consequences of their doctrine with individual or collective acts of charity, whilst still leaving the system as a whole intact and unchallenged.

    1. hunkerdown

      I suspect Outis would be tempted to lift this bit of lucidity as his last paragraph. Fortunately, specters have a far easier time of lifting electrons than nucleons.

    1. ambrit

      You set a very low bar there.
      Cute is fun and all, but our family has had to eat real bunnies during hard times, so there is that. Sometimes, excess cuteness is a disservice to children. The Grimm brothers “fairy tales” in the original are quite grim, and for a good reason. Children had to be taught how to respond to a truly dangerous world. For most of the world’s children, the world around them is still dangerous. Just ask the underage girls who are forced to ‘service’ rich perverts on board Jeffery Epsteins flying brothel.

    2. Outis Philalithopoulos Post author

      The movie is well-paced and the animation is impressive. Implicit in it are a series of presuppositions about the attitudes of the people watching it: what kinds of jokes they will find funny versus offensive, what kinds of assumptions they will examine critically. These two statements are not in conflict with one another.

      1. flora

        I was going to make a comment about the archness of making the police bunny a member of the PC thought police. I wonder if Disney meant it to be an arch joke or was simply playing to the audience.

        1. Massinissa

          I assume it was playing to the audience. I dont think making arch jokes really appeals to the lowest common denominator.

      2. Michael

        Yeah, I really enjoyed the movie, and it was also good to be tweaked for it.

        It was nice to have the inchoate reasons why I enjoyed the jokes so much more than the plot laid out. So there’s that.

        Not that it matters, but there is a subplot where her rural folks realize that they were wrong about their prejudice in their own time and where their knowledge of “rural things” like botany is crucial to the protagonist solving the case. So there is at least an attempt at subversion.

  7. dk

    Officer J. Hopps and the Zootopia universe are nicely appropriate proxies for Liberalism Present (it is neoliberalism though isn’t it? no wait, it’s libertarian… would love to read some discussion of the distinctions, if any, between those two “philosophies”), but the piece walks right past the most blatant surrealities of the movie:

    – high population densities supported by high technologies with clear blue skies, lush greenery and sparkling water almost everywhere,

    – considerable economic uniformity, as well as job/role uniformity, Judy is one of apparently very few animals that is pursuing a career that is not dictated by her species,

    – nudge-wink criminality, Judy has no serious problem chumming up with and relying on a clearly violent family-run crime group,

    … there’s more, add your own.

    A kiddie/adult movie that strenuously avoids/obfuscates serious and relevant social, economic and bio/ecological issues to focus on and legitimize diversity-embracing to an absurd extent, with multiple surrealities constructed to provide the context the “everyone can be anything” message requires.

    The original story was more complex and challenging even for this narrow topic, with electronic anti-violence collars for predators and some darker socio-economics (spoilers, but worth it, or go watch the movie first):
    Disney’s final choices are even more stark in light of the original themes.

    Regardless, I’m really appreciating and enjoying Outis’s journey, even if it’s not going in some directions I might like to see discussed.explored, but we can get to that when it’s complete. I remember hearing that first Al Franken bit at the time, and my cringe reactions were much the same as Outis’s. I really don’t think mainstream liberalism as evolved very far beyond that posture today.

    There is also a large base of creative fanfiction and fanart, some NSFW, including inter-species sexual themes:

  8. craazyman

    Would it be OK for Judy’s boss to tell her to “Hop to it!” if she was procrastinating on an important assignment.

    Or would that be really really bad.

    1. craazyman

      Question #2:

      Could Judy work as a Playboy bunny or would the required fake ears and puff tail look too ridiculous — since she’s already a bunny?

      These are hard questions to answer.

      I’d say “Go for it”. If she’s hot, 4 ears and two tails won’t matter.

      1. craazyboy

        Playboy makes their fake bunnies wear those wire ribbed pushup corsets, so there are real bunny issues there as well.

        1. craazyman

          This is complicated. Can a wolf stare at a rabbit’s tits and have it be OK?

          if you can’t let wolfs in to the club, you’re not going to make much money

          1. craazyboy

            Wolves are sexual predators, which is a pre-crime, so it is certainly not ok.

            However, Playboy clubs have “bouncers”, which are very, very large animals. So staring at boobies is ok.

            1. craazyman

              It might be socially awkward for Judy if she becomes attracted to a wolf, but she sounds self-confident. If she can wear fake ears and a puff tail and walk around with 4 ears and 2 tails, that would be something lots of wolfs would find attractive on its own — just the charisma itself.

              If she’s hot, then “Katy bar the door”. She’ll get lots of attention.

                1. ambrit

                  Since the word “wolves” is gender neutral, your comment qualifies as a very subtle dig at both of the Presidential candidates.

  9. divadab

    I had the unfortunate experience of watching Zootopia with my granddaughters and was disgusted by its utter ignorance and wrong-headedness. No child should be permitted to watch this drivel. Utter crap. Just infecting children’s minds with bad ideas.

    1. ambrit

      Keep them away from the Disney channel, Nickleodeon, and other “for kids” offerings. The children will thank you for it once they become sane and rational adults.

      1. Massinissa

        Eh, theres a good cartoon every so often on these channels, but 90% are indeed usually crap. Gravity Falls is amazing, but literally every other modern disney cartoon released in the last 5 years or so is completely absolutely awful, for example.

    2. Massinissa

      “utter ignorance and wrong-headedness.”

      Could you explain a little more in depth? Im not sure what specific parts of the movie youre referring to.

  10. Steve in Dallas

    Chris Hedges… in his 2010 book ‘Death of the Liberal Class’… (great speaker…… proof that working class political/economic participation/power… i.e. liberalism… simply does not exist today… and our extremely regressive taxation alone is certain proof there is no progressivism…

    Chris Hedges…

    “But multiculturalism, rather than leading to a critique of structures and systems that consciously excluded and impoverished the poor and the marginal, became an end in itself.

    “Stripped of a radical idiom, robbed of a utopian hope, liberals and leftists retreat in the name of progress to celebrate diversity,” Russell Jacoby writes. “With few ideas on how a future should be shaped, they embrace all ideas. Pluralism becomes a catchall, the alpha and omega of political thinking. Dressed up in multiculturalism, it has become the opium of disillusioned intellectuals, the ideology of an era without an ideology.” …

    While it seems on the surface to be a movement for social change, the campaign for cultural diversity, does little to perturb the power elite. It does not challenge economic or political structures that are rapidly disempowering the working class. Making sure people of diverse races or sexual orientations appear on television shows or in advertisements merely widens the circle of new consumers. Multiculturalism is an appeal that pleads with the corporate power structure for inclusion. The appeal was achieved politically with the election of Barack Obama. It has seen the establishment of multicultural departments in many universities. But it is a call, as Jacoby points out, for “patronage, not revolution”:

    “The radical multiculturalists, postcolonialists and other cutting edge theorists gush about marginality with the implicit, and sometimes explicit, goal of joining the mainstream. They specialize in marginalization to up their market value. Again, this is understandable; the poor and the excluded want to be wealthy and included, but why is this multicultural or subversive?””

    1. Rhondda

      Thank you. I look forward to delving deeper into this. I am beginning to understand why the Yay! MultiCulti! that I once thought was so good, might need more thought. This by Hedges seems really helpful and insightful.

      Oh, BTW, I had no idea WTF the article was about. Zootopia? I may as well have been attending a show at the Cabaret Voltaire. Dada pasties? Whee!

    2. flora

      Thanks for the link and comment. There was a time, before the Red scare witch hunts was used to destroy the Left in the US, when Liberalism had a philosophy and function. Liberalism now seems to be without its historical grounding, as I understand that grounding. If there’s no Left economic programs pushing against the Right’s economic programs then what does Liberalism mediate to find a balance? Liberalism today embraces the Right’s economic programs and the Left’s social projects, imo. See Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the DLC, and The 3rd Way. Destroy public schools, privatize Social Security? Fine. Just don’t be mean to each other on a personal level. meh.

    3. dk

      Centralized administration of power doesn’t necessarily require uniformity, but without uniformity, centralization doesn’t produce any gains in effectiveness or efficiency. Centralization will tend to create uniformity by imposing similar policies on diverse groups/regions. From an administrative perspective, uniformity is a advantageous and diversity is counter-productive for the central authority.

      Cultures are collections of technologies (traditions) accumulated over generations by local/regional groups. Traditions may be very functional and useful. For example, a coastal culture needs to pass down details of technologies like knowing how to weave, store, deploy and maintain fishing nets, using available materials, adapted to local marine conditions and fauna. There may be other ways to do it, but they may not be as well adapted to the requirements of the region. Cultures may acquire and exchange traditions/technologies, through associations like trade or inter-marriage. But appealing traditions may not operate identically in different contexts, they may not translate well, or they may conflict with existing traditions. Forcing cultures to merge will also cause losses of traditions, and detail information that may be critical to the effectiveness of technologies can be lost.

      The term multi-culture implies many cultures, but we seem to be headed to a mono-culture, largely formed or adapted to the operations of large-scale markets, which due to their centralized decisionmaking and collection of profit tend to obscure or eliminate useful technologies that facilitate independent success. A pastiche of symbols and partial traditions separated from their original contexts can be used to present an illusion of inclusion and diversity that is not actually present.

  11. Tigerlily

    Just wanted to say I’ve really been enjoying the series, and I found this the most accessible installment. In previous ones it sometimes seems like the author is hinting at making a point, but doesn’t quite get around to closing the circle, so to speak. Which is to say I need more intellectual handholding!!

    Anyway, I loved Zootopia, and am surprised at the number of people who openly confess to have never seen it, as it did get tons of publicity and is full of cute anthropomorphic animated animals, including a pop star gazelle voiced by Shakira. To each their own. After reading this piece I’m never going to look at the movie in exactly the same way though.

    I feel something has been lost, but something also gained.

  12. Bob Stapp

    Very interesting…

    I saw the movie with kids and liked it a lot, not for any liberal, progressive reasons but because there was humor and intelligent dialogue that could appeal to adults without condescension, something that I still fondly remember from the Warner Bros. cartoons of my distant youth… The animation was superior and there was enough adventure and action to appeal to kids although some of the scenes were intense enough to freak out a couple of the younger kids in the audience…

    As a somewhat radical progressive myself, I nevertheless didn’t pay much attention to whatever “liberal,” “progressive” values were presented, taking them instead as more of a snapshot of the state of mind of the scriptwriters… Trust me, I don’t go to kids’ movies for ideological content but rather for light-hearted, feel-good entertainment… Analyzing them as ideological statements, in my opinion, crosses the line into intellectual masturbation…

    1. ambrit

      These ‘entertainments’ act to mold the minds of the young. Since this concerns the ways in which the future population will act, these ‘entertainments’ are worthy of analysis.
      What bothers me is that these “mental masturbations” will be carried out by children under ‘adult’ supervision. When it comes to pedophilia, relativism is truly a sick joke.

    2. Portia

      Hollywood has forever been used to shape the culture, and it will affect you whether you want to be conscious of it or not. The psychology is not a stream of consciousness of the screen writers. They are motivated to motivate the audience. That movie turned my stomach, for instance, because, everything. The way Judy looks, talks, moves her body, and all of the other “funny” recognizable tropes I would not want my children to become mired in. They were poking fun at these stereotypes, but the solutions are also jaded. It’s just old mush. I hope people see it and are appalled, and wake up.

  13. Beans

    Disney has been long in the girl power movie genre. They ditched the girl follows her dream to find true love and replaced it with girl follows her dreams to do the impossible long ago. Was that all bad? I got a kick out of this review, but think that it is carrying the criticism of pop culture entertainment a little far.
    Zootopia was more of the same Disney plot since the mid 80’s. Look at Tangled (remake of Rapunzle) where Rapunzle was the girl following her dreams and her male counterpart was a no-good, vain, con-artists that much like the Nick in Zootopia. Or try Beauty and the Beast – where Belle is the girl following her dreams of being a well respected smart girl despite being drop dead gorgeous. The beast – well, he was a brooding, hateful beast. Lots of stereotypes in the accompanying cast of characters, too.
    I thought Zootopia was cute and did crack up at the sloth scene. I haven’t and won’t buy it for my kids to watch over and over for many of the reasons discussed by our friend, Outis.
    The Lorax, on the other hand, is one of my all time favorites.

    1. Carolinian

      Doubtless Disney has well researched marketing reasons for targeting little girls. They sold like a zillion of those Frozen dresses. Little boys are more into video games.

      Once again I haven’t seen the movie but John Lasseter–while a bit hit or miss–was in overall charge and he’s hardly a hack. With all the quirky characters it sounds like he may have been channeling his hero Miyazaki.

    2. Massinissa

      The problem with this kind of analysis, is that every. single. story. ever. can be analyzed this way and negative cultural traits from its era of production can be found within. Im not sure that a truly value neutral story, whether in a film or a book or a comic or anything else, can truly be told.

      This kind of analysis is important, I think, but I personally wont let it get in the way of enjoying stories that have an element of craft to them, which I feel Zootopia does, even if the movie is clearly drenched in the values of early 21st century liberalism.

      In fact the movie might even serve as an interesting anthropological time capsule fifty or more years from now considering it captures the values of early 21st century liberalism rather succinctly.

      1. Outis Philalithopoulos Post author

        I agree with many of the points you make in your comment. In particular, “might serve as an interesting anthropological time capsule” etc. is why this movie (and not, say, Captain America: Civil War) appeared in the series.

        There tend to be two dominant modes for engagement with works of popular culture: approval (accompanied by the lack of critical analysis) and rejection (often complemented with a critique). Given this convention, the presence of a critique is usually taken as suggesting that the work is valueless or bad, and should not be watched. But why does engaging critically with a work need to imply that the work lacks craft, or that nothing about it should be appreciated?

        1. davee

          Some of the Marvel movies have been subversive. The Civil War movie makes the point that the US extrajudicial activities in the war on terror may be ineffective and creating blowback, and the Winter Soldier movie made the point that Government surveillance may not be in society’s best interests.

  14. RMO

    One of the Disney movie moments from childhood that sticks in my mind the most was Anthony Perkins getting disemboweled by a big, scary robot that had spinning blades on the end of its arms…. The 70’s were weird.

  15. Massinissa

    I just want to mention that the values in the original Birth of a Nation were truly reprehensible and infested with the most egregious form of anti-black racism, but the film remains one of the most influential and groundbreaking films of all time.

    I would hardly call Zootopia particularly groundbreaking in terms of animation when compared to, say, Toy Story or something, and of course Im not directly comparing it even to Birth of a Nation, but even though Zootopia is indeed stuffed with modern liberalism, I still feel the film has some value as entertainment. Though I do understand the misgivings of those who feel it might not be entirely appropriate for young children.

    1. hunkerdown

      This film could be one of those teachable moments. On the other hand, I suspect many parents will think “nobody ever got fired kids taken away by liberal social workers for buying IBM Microsoft Disney” in the few spare milliseconds between two of their jobs and work the extra 4 hours or so to get it.

      Would that role modeling and entertainment could be so easily teased apart, but enough adults can’t pull it off that children have little chance.

      1. flora

        adding a bit of trivia: yes on Birth of a Nation. Extraordinary movie with a subtext now regarded as deeply objectionable. Griffith’s father was an officer in the Confederate Army. The movie was the first movie given private screening at the White House. The president was Woodrow Wilson, first Southern president elected since the Civil War. Some have speculated that Griffith amplified the anti-black themes to appeal to Wilson’s prejudices.

        ‘After seeing the film, an enthusiastic Wilson reportedly remarked: “It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” ‘ -PBS

        Talk about playing to the audience.

  16. Cat's paw

    “Their economy seemed mostly like our own, with buying and selling and corporations and advertising – but no poor people.”

    Yeah, poor people are real bummer. It’s better if you don’t have to see them. It’s the best if they just don’t exist.

    Conventional, rote Hollywood liberalism also equals:

    “On a side note,” I added, “I think it’s really awesome how even though you’re a bunny, you really have the mannerisms of white Millennial upper-middle-class girls down cold.”

    “On a side note,” I added, “I think it’s really awesome how even though you’re a bunny, you really have the mannerisms of white Millennial upper-middle-class girls down cold.”
    …I went on obliviously. “I just mean, you do lots of things in the movie that they wouldn’t have guys do. Like for example, you force Nick to follow you around and do whatever you tell him, and that’s awesome ‘cause it showcases how you’re a strong female character, but if he had forced you to follow him around…”

    A more subtle ideological nut is the prey/predator dynamic in the film. Prey animals are good b/c they are safe. Predators are morally ambiguous b/c they are potentially dangerous. They are ripe for suppression b/c their biology/”nature” is suspect–a sort of displacement of longstanding racial discourse. Of course, little hero bunny’s mission is to show that animals, even predators, are not bound by their inherent nature; culture overcomes instinct–yay!–and even sheep can be stalinists. Roll credits.

    Okay, fine. Good is inherently safe. Bad is inherently not-safe. But nature is malleable so the inherently bad can be socialized into good and safe if guided properly. But good and safe for whom exactly? Bunnies and sheep, of course (even if they too do bad things sometimes they are still good and safe for whom goodness and safety are sacrosanct). Are the bunnies, sheep, and other prey animals just “upper middle-class Millennial girls, then? Yeah, but not only, just representative. The bunnies and sheep are anybody who can (b/c of who they are of course) “follow their dreams,” to which reality and nature must conform. You’re a little bunny who wants it all, including a little risk and danger? Great! Society and nature will absorb the costs so you can takes risks, experience danger, and live free, perfectly safe from any repercussions.

    I’m just riffing. I haven’t given this movie any thought beyond what I’ve written here, but if this plausible Zootopia strikes me as a fairy tale/affirmation of our (neo)liberal, meritocratic, 10%-000.1% go-getters who resent terribly any intimation that the pursuit of their networked, in-group “dreams” may not be appreciated or lauded, never mind criticized. It is morally repugnant to make them feel bad and feeling bad is definitely not safe.

    Maybe that explains my visceral reaction to the movie when I saw it a couple of weeks ago…

    1. Outis Philalithopoulos Post author

      It’s fun to see someone trying to work out the messages of the movie. Some of the points you bring up will come out more in the next episode.

      On “Are bunnies… just upper middle-class Millennial girls? Yeah, but not only, just representative”: Within the framework that you offer, the question poses itself, why is this particular demographic chosen as the personalized representative?

      Your comment suggests: By identifying the meritocratic person with a young woman (whose class markers signal likeable trendiness), it really does start to seem “morally repugnant” to critique the “pursuit of their dreams,” and doing so effortlessly connotes “making them feel bad and not safe.”

  17. Patricia

    Art has a hidden but definite effect (which is produced collectively). We have given art’s power away to corporations, as we’ve done to everything else, and have lost a great deal by it. We no longer make art but merely consume it. Corporate offerings are polished, bland, professional. This slowly drains us of nuance and separates us from a sense of belonging/place, which then makes it harder for us to feel the full impact of issues that confront us. That, in turn, delays and lessens the shift from inaction to action.

    Haven’t seen Zootopia but liberalism as an animated bunny, sounds about right. Heh.

    And here is one thing that corporately-determined art can do well—accurately embody the shallow and make it seem that it is all that’s on offer. It draws us in with wittiness, technical prowess, and lots of little socially PC sermons. Yep, liberals.

  18. flora

    How does Officer Bunny go from a rural working class childhood to a working class job (police) to having upper class sentiments? One of life’s mysteries.

  19. LeftHook

    I’d say the most accurate part of Zootopia was when the bunny cop almost killed thousands of animals as well as almost destroying entire sectors of the city in pursuit of a criminal who committed a non violent crime. That says more about modern liberalism than anything else- that liberals have embraced any means and are paving a road to hell with good intentions. I am fed up with this obsession with identity and triggerings and safe spaces, and this sudden embrace of institutionalized corruption and police state surveillance and pro war interventionism that is now the American left.

  20. Linda A

    Thank you Outis! I am so enjoying this series!

    Disney’s success hasn’t been achieved by only marketing to children. Adult are the ones who have to buy the tickets, and sit through multiple playings and buy its many products.

    I thought Zootopia was extremely well done. There is a lot of food for adult thought and teachable moments if parents cared to explore them. First and foremost, Zootopia was shown not to be a utopia. Everyone wasn’t happy, everything wasn’t perfect, but everyone was guilt, at some point, of doing something hurtful to others.

    One thing not mention that really stood out for me in Zootopia was when Judy Hopps used her speed and efficiency to give out as many parking tickets as she could (more than anyone ever had) in order to gain career advancement. That is straight out of recent events and shows how using efficiencies and goal setting distorts a reasonable objective of maintain an orderly flow of people in a confined space and twists into generating funds and wrong doers.

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