Thoughts on Zootropolis

As Popeye might say after a very busy period of work, “Ug ug ug ug ug ug ug! I’ve been so busy lately, it has been really mad”, and I’d like to mirror those sentiments exactly as an explanation for why I haven’t written a blog in so long. I had my second year review deadline a couple of weeks ago and I also (perhaps foolishly, only time will tell) signed up to teach next year so have been doing some prep stuff for that, all the while cracking on with some hot talking animal/poetry research. Earlier in the week I was feeling a bit BLAH about the whole PhD situation, though I’m assured that’s just the general vibe of second year. Anyway, I decided to take some time way from my desk and approach my research from a slightly different angle…

…yesterday I went to see Disney’s latest offering, Zootropolis, set in a world where anthropomorphic animals rule with not a human in sight. Guyyyyyyyyys! It was really great. So I figured, since I’m passing this little cinema sojourn off as research I’d better share some of my thoughts on the film in the context of my PhD (for those of you who have forgotten/just don’t know, I’m studying talking animals in poetry). I’m aiming to keep spoilers to an abso minimum, but apologies if there are any – will flag ’em. Also the accompanying pictures are actual stills from the film that Disney sent me because they knew I was writing this blog.

The general story of Zootropolis goes: animals have evolved to a point where prey and predators live in complete harmony, within human-type cities, where they drive cars, wear clothes and speak perfect American-English. We follow the story of Judy Hopps, a bunny from the country who wants to be the first rabbit police officer, but LOL bunnies can’t be cops, can they?! (SPOILER) Well, as we see during the course of a handy training school montage, yes. they. can.

So while all the animals pretend that they’re bffs, there’s still some very clear animosity towards foxes, who are characterised as sneaky, treacherous, mean and violent, and apparently, out of all the other predators (including but not limited to, tigers, lions and wolves), are the most likely to break the sacred bond of trust made with prey animals in order to guzzle down a lamb or two. So OF COURSE Juddy Hopps is going to have to befriend a fox in order to succeed in her adventure. Enter Nick P. Wilde, a smooth talking hustler perfectly voiced by Jason Bateman.

zootropolis 1

This raw deal for foxes seems to hark back to the medieval bestiaries, where foxes are portrayed as devious lad pals of Satan who pretended to be dead in order to lure birds into their mouths – a trope that has been handed down through fables and fairy tales and is still fairly pertinent today. BUT what’s nice about this film is the shattering of these dull illusions to show that foxes ARE a-okay and deserve respect, just like all the other animals. Really, that seems to be the take home message of the whole film – be kind to others and treat everyone the same. GOOD WORK, DISNEY, making us all reevaluate our treatment of any number of political issues including but not limited to race, gender and religion by forcing us to see ourselves in these little animal dudes!

So yeah, I’ve been reading a lot lately about the “sympathetic imagination” and the ways animals can be used to activate this facet to provoke empathy and compassion in humans. I will (poorly) elaborate on this in the following few lines: The fact that there are zero humans in this film is great, because it means the audience has to put themselves in the position of the animal, therefore subconsciously eliciting more respect for animals and their feelings as living beings. At the same time the sympathetic imagination allows us to overlay the message behind the movie onto other aspects of our lives – if we follow Judy Hopps’s example of positive attitude plus helpful demeanor everything will work out in our favour (that’s kind of a spoiler, but this is Disney, I’m sure you saw it coming so no complaints).

feelings

Interestingly there were no domestic animals featured in this film, i.e. cats and dogs, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. Maybe because IRL pets (cats and dogs in particks) bridge the gap between humans and animals so we don’t want to see them in predator/prey situations? Or maybe the idea of dogs and cats fending for themselves (without our benevolent intervention) isn’t quite so appealing as a rabbit and a fox getting shit done and makin’ it work?

Anyway, this is now really long and even though I have 2 more pages of notes, I’ll stop. If anyone else has seen this movie and would like to discuss it, I am MORE than willing to go into way too much detail (I had a whole section on the self-referential nature of Disney, but I’ll save that for another day.) Oh also, if you like Disney in general, be sure to check out Me3 Comedy’s podcast It Disney Matter (It Does) by clicking here (basically me and my comedy/life partner Richard Hanrahan discussing Disney movies with a comedy edge).

Here’s a brief run down of life since last I blogged:

  • Poetry – Oh yeah I won a thing! The Grierson Verse Prize…so that was nice and surprising.
  • Drawing – Bought myself some Posca pens and a black page notebook and have been doing stuff, will post images soon.
  • PhD – Counted up and already have 40-50 poems, which means only like 30 more to have the amount necessary. Slowly getting back into research too…as I explained above. Currently reading The Animated Bestiary by Paul Wells and The Lives of Animals  by J.M. Coetzee.
  • Puppy – Chumbo turned 1 in March! He’s so grown up these days and ridiculously well behaved (most of the time). Here he is being undeniably adorable:

chumbo age1

Ciao!

 

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Readings and Risings

It’s been another alarmingly snappy week over here at Marianne Towers, so much so that I am apt to wonder if someone is playing a trick on me – pretty sure none of the clocks in the flat are correct, at least, none of them show the same time and often I’ll settle down for LITERALLY ONE GAME of Candy Crush and all of a sudden three hours have passed and I’m still not a published poet.

Did I say we bought a sunrise alarm clock? Well, we bought a sunrise alarm clock and it’s actually pretty cool. You set the time you want to wake up, then half an hour before the light comes on and gently brightens as though t’were a crisp spring daybreak and you feel like a little bird ready to wake up and sing. I genuinely didn’t think it would work for me, but it’s been a pleasant surprise to say that it does. I usually wake properly about 15 minutes before the alarm goes (you can have a beeper, just to make sure you get up) and get Chumbo up on the bed for a morning cuddle (we held off for months and months before we let him on the bed and now I can’t imagine why!) So yeah, my advice if you hate getting out of bed in the morning, and let’s face it, literally everyone does and if you say you don’t you’re lying to yourself and to us, then I highly recommend investing.

poetry swag
Poetry Swag

Saying that, I had a lie-in this morning because I woke up at 4am after I heard a ghost playing marbles in the empty flat upstairs, and then couldn’t get back to sleep for about a hundred years (1 hour). Also I was out last night at the Shore Poets Quiet Slam, where I took 2nd place, yay! My good pal, Russell Jones won overall with some top notch poems from his new book The Green Dress Whose Girl is Sleeping (buy it here << an imperative). Thanks to Shore Poets for having me along – really enjoyed listening to some fantastic poets and being allowed to get up and read for them in return.

Me and Russell, along with 3 other super duper writers – Lauren Pope, Aileen Ballantyne and Jonathan Bay (we’re collectively and affectionately known as Poetry Gang) – will also be reading at Wash Bar on The Mound this Thursday (4th Feb), so do come along if you’re free! It’ll be really relaxed and fun, and best of all it’s freeeeeee. We’re all Edinburgh University PhD-ers – Aileen and Russell have both graduated into official Doctors and are, I think, running a small GP (General Poetry) practice just outside of Glasgow, while we three others are slogging away in second year.

PG-Poster(small)
Reading Deets (poster designed by Richard Hanrahan)

I’ve been doing quite a lot of editing this week, in preparation for said readings/sending things away to magazines because ain’t nobody gonna come knocking on my door with a publishing deal amiright? I’ve mentioned before that I am ridiculously lazy/nervous/picky about putting my work out there and I think it’s because of this editing process. Sometimes I discover old poems that I wrote years ago and filed under “Fucking Dire Never Read Again” and realise they’re not actually that bad after a few tweaks, but most of the time I wind up editing myself into a corner clutching words like “darkness” and “blood” and “eggs” and insisting I can squeeze them into every single poem if I just keep cutting and pasting. It becomes very boring very quickly and I only have myself to blame. I’m really working on an objective point of view for editing but it’s haaaaaard.

I am, however, finding it so useful to workshop pretty much everything I write with Poetry Gang (did I mention we’re doing a reading this week? Click here for more info). We meet just about every week and share thoughts on one another’s work. Having four voices of reason critiquing my writing in a friendly environment definitely helps to put stuff in perspective – you may have gathered, I can get really surreal really quickly if I’m not kept in check.

Anyway, I’ve spent bloody ages intermittently writing this, singing along to the Les Misérables soundtrack and refreshing my hot water bottle so I should really get back to some actual work. Here’s a round-up of my week:

PhD: Still reading Thinking With Animals and enjoying it. Need to go get the Medieval Bestiary back from the library since it was usurped before Christmas.

Poetry: Turns out I hate Shelley, but I really like Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti. I think I’m gonna sub Percy out for Tony Harrison and tap into my Yorkshire upbringing. Elsewhere, I wrote TWO sonnets. Well one and a half…but I’m counting it.

Exercise: Nice dose of swimmer’s ear means no swimming this week, sad faces all round. Loads of walking and yoga instead though.

Puppy: Still super cute and virtually a real dog now, so will probably stop having to call him a puppy. Read something about a dog who died and cried loads and hugged him for about an hour.

Drawing: Errrrm, still not back to this yet. But I did start a new painting at the weekend, so that’s fun. Oh also, I know it’s not a drawing, but me and Hitch had a pottery lesson a couple of weeks ago and went back to glaze them. Super fun and shall share pictures eventually.

Comedy: Brand new It Disney Matter podcast for your listening pleasure! Check it out here

Enough now.

The Days Tick By

Apparently it’s Monday again already, so time for another blog. As usual, I feel like I haven’t done that much this week, but when I look back through my notes I realise I’ve actually read quite a lot so that’s good!

One of my resolutions this year (yeah, I know I wasn’t going to tell you,
butIMG_0300 it’s relevant now) was to date the pages of my notebook and write down literally any “interesting” thought I might have throughout the day. A sort of pseudo diary, I suppose, because I’m not really recording events as such, just images and musings. So yes, I’m using “pseudo” to mean both “sham” and “pretentious” here…hmm, well done me? Not a particularly novel idea, but I’m finding it quite helpful; I’m certainly getting plenty of creative writing done now anyhow. I’m also toeing the water in terms of research too. Currently reading Daston & Mitman’s Thinking With Animals, which is pretty darn relevant/interesting thus far.

Just got back from the library, which was, as always, oven-like in its ability to cook me slowly from the inside out. I picked up the complete works of Shelley, Dickinson and Rossetti. Not my usual bag, but I spoke to my supervisor last week who suggested choosing three poets and ONLY READING THEM FOR A WHOLE MONTH. Initially a year was suggested and we was like whaaaaaat?! But we agreed that that’s an inordinate amount of time to only read three poets, particularly when I have a thesis to write about three entirely different poets. It was also suggested that I might like to read some more “traditional” works, since I’m a postmodern, free verse kinda gal and find the very idea of rhyme and metre utterly nauseating. That’s not necessarily to say I don’t like it when other people do it, I just cannot bear it when I try to do it myself.

So these are the three I pick because…you know, I heard they’re quite good. Right now I find the idea of this task utterly arduous, so I’m throwing in John Ashbery as well otherwise I think I’ll go mad. I’m also listening to James Schuyler’s Hymn to Life LOADS because it’s bloody great and ain’t nobody gon’ stop me!

me and john ashbery

I’ll keep you posted on how long I last with this. (NB, yeah, I know I probably should have read all of these poets in more detail than I have thus far, but I planted my roots in linguistics, not literature, so gimme a GD break, would ya?)

Burns Nicht today, obvi, so off for some haggis and poetry reading with pals this evening. This time last year I was taking part in the NLS Burns Night Slam which is worth popping along to if you’re in Edinburgh and at a loose end – lots of great performers taking part in a welcoming environment. I’m sad I’m not doing it again!

Right, back to the grind. JK I’m gonna eat a piece of toast first, and then get back to it. Here’s a rundown of the rest of my week:

  • Poetry – two poems finished, one of which needs major work, the other…is okay for now.
  • PhD – See above, I guess.
  • Exercise – 25 lengths at the pool and an earful of water, which is making me feel a bit sickish tbh.
  • Drawings – Pretty much forgot that this was one of the things I was doing…I’ll pick that back up at some point soon, I’m sure.
  • Comedy – We recorded a podcast yesterday! It Disney Matter (It Does) is officially baaaaack! I’ll get a link up at some point, because I know you’re all dying to listen.
  • Puppy – Got bathed this weekend, looking extremely dapper! Wasn’t going to post a picture of him this week, but he’s just too cute, so I’m sharing: IMG_0295

See you next week, dolls.