Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The beasts that Plague Man and Beast Alike

Have you ever seen the movie Watership Down? Well, it’s a pretty violent movie considering the main characters are these animated (in the Disney style) bunnies. I remember seeing it when I was a young child, and it being pretty horrifying. In fact, it stuck in my mind with such resonance, that I immediately thought of it when I was reading Burns’ journal, of how Nast and Burns used animal imagery to portray the high emotions, corruption, and crudeness that characterized the political atmosphere (particularly the stock market) of the late 1800s, early 1900s. I watched Watership Down once again today and it’s still pretty horrifying.

Burn’s journal discuses how human behavior in the late 1800s sometimes conflicted with the bourgeois' high standards regarding social codes of conduct and the practice of restraining one’s emotions in a social setting. It was a time of high stakes for the American economy. An unregulated market allowed people to take out risky loans or, like Gould and Fisk, advantage of the market. The fluctuation of money and politics is closely linked to fluctuations of human emotions, and during a crash, or in the fight to get one’s party into power, man is never seen at his most civilized or best. The artist Burns, in particular, was a master at depicting the chaos of wall street as well as the corruption of politics using animal figures to represent the primitiveness of human nature. Using animals to represent humans is an effective choice because creatures like Bares and Rabbits are similar enough to humans in physic, as well being mammals, and having some sort of social structure within their colony, that they can be personified doing human activates. Humans can relate to the imagery. However, one can also distance them self enough from the animals, and on a certain level feel superior to their primitive ways. What is being ridiculed are the vices: gluttony, greed, and violence, rather than specifically human’s acting on or carrying out these vices. The generality of the imagery has the effect of being less offensive to the viewer. However, the inference that humans are wild and animals at heart is more offensive, and leads the viewer to the conclusion that civilization is fragile, as well as a construct.

The movie Watership Down is a commentary or allusion to government. The characters Hazel, Blackberry, Bigwig, and Fiver set up a democratic colony on a hill, which at the end of the movie is threatened by a more anarchistic colony. Actually, there are three monarchies they encounter throughout the film, each with it’s own problems. The one they originally escape from is ineffective, the other deceitful, and the third barbaric. The film and relationships of the Rabbits demonstrate the values of loyalty, courage and cunning as well as the less honorable, indulgence, mutiny, and stupidity. It portrays the atrocities that occur when a ruthless government comes to power, along with the horrors and sacrifice of war. All very human like emotions and activates, yet portrayed by rabbits. The audience is able to recognize the social structures of government, as well as the honorable and not so honorable qualities of each rabbit. It is clear which side should win, and one gets caught up in desiring, the welfare and survival of the main characters. However, the film in generalizing monarchy as a structure, as well as the criticizing nameless brutes who run it, Watership Down is not any specific government, leaving the audience free to criticize the actions and emotions without too much self comparison.

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