Judy Hopps 2016

March 14, 2016

79 years after its first animated classic, Disney revealed its most powerful character of all-time to be a minute rabbit.

Zootopia could have easily been purely a children’s movie, akin to its post-Disney Renaissance predecessors The Wild, Bolt, and Home on the Range, among others that featured anthropomorphic animals. Instead, it wisely predicted the dangerous rise of Donald Trump and his all-but-genocidal ideology.

Trump officially declared his presidency on June 16, 2015. Three months before, John Lasseter and the rest of the creative team for Zootopia rewrote its plot to be the most socially aware cartoon this side of South Park and other crude-but-poignant satires that I’ve watched—certainly the most on-point since Pixar’s WALL-E. The rewrite was prophetic, addressing the very issues that our nation must face as long as Trump remains a threat to succeed Obama.

For those who haven’t seen the film, you absolutely should. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, but Zootopia necessarily addresses the incongruities and dangers of the current landscape of American politics, tackling issues such as the forced imprisoning of a “dangerous” minority, the rise of power in order to oppress out-groups, and the implementation of fear in order disenfranchise anyone who threatens one’s personal power gains. A small-town rabbit heads to the big city to fulfill her dream of becoming a cop. But upon arriving in Zootopia, Judy Hopps learns the complexity of intergroup relations and the constant threat of oppression and disenfranchisement, constantly harassed for her size and background, accidentally throwing the 10% population of Predators under the bus as likely dangerous criminals, and addressing her own implicit biases. It all calls upon America’s current issues.

Trump promises to make America different, not great. He promises to rule with as much tyranny as possible, to mute the media à la his friend Vladimir Putin, to ban refugees and well-intentioned immigrants in order to “purify” a nation that spans ocean to ocean upon land that generations ago was wrested from its actual native inhabitants. He encourages his supporters to harass anyone with a logical and dissenting opinion. These are the same supporters who told my brother on Friday, “All Muslims are pedophiles.” The same supporters who told a Kirkwood, MO, native of Arab descent that he should go back to Arabia because he’s ruining this country. The same supporters who chant for Mexicans to build a wall on the border. Trump is the greatest domestic threat that American millenials have ever seen.

Toward the end of Zootopia, an unsuspecting villain claims, “Fear always works. And I’ll dart every predator in Zootopia to keep it that way.” Trump’s philosophy is no different. Incite fear, destroy the opponent. Then lie. And lie. And lie some more. And then beat the shit out of dissenters. Make them fear him more than he fears them. Because he fears them a fucking shit ton.

Trump thrives on fear. But the scariest thing of all is that his strategy might work. It’s time to take a lesson from Disney and rise above such hateful actions.

The Jolt

February 29, 2016

More a jolt than a chill, it always starts in my chest and neck. As it works its way to my head and limbs, my skin tightens and my hairs seem to point up, directing me toward something greater. Something creative. Transcendent. Rarely, it reaches my fingertips or toes. But when it does, I’ve reached that elusive state of flow that I’ve learned about in psychology classes. It convinces me that I shouldn’t be a psychology major anyway, that I should’ve been an English major all along. But it also inspires me to pursue a creative outlet anyway. To find a way to write. So I can keep chasing this feeling and keep creating.

***

Creativity hits me in waves. Most of the day, the seas of my mind are relatively calm, capping early and not all that often. I notice small details, like the way my mouth carries a stale sour taste some mornings, or how the face of my class ring settles itself at the two o’clock position instead of noon. These gentle crashes at the shore keep me level and at peace, keeping me in cruise control rather than stalled in traffic. Bad days come when my mind’s sea is completely still; swirling storms summon the best days. Little creativity comes in the nothingness, while I can’t stop wandering my mind when waves crash over and over on a body desperately clinging to that perfect flotsam carrying full ideas ashore.

There’s a paradox in this analogy: I hate rain. Clouds and a drizzle with punishing winds cooperate to make my mind lull, while clear skies stir up the lightning in my brain. My creativity also is not entirely dependent on the weather; it’s just that certain patterns prelude a range of creative thoughts. At times, I need creativity that I can’t conjure. On the opposite end, I also have so many scraps of paper, notes on my phone, and documents on my laptop with ideas that came one time in a flurry and I haven’t had a chance to revisit. It varies. It comes in waves.

During those slow moments, I’ve focused recently on finding a way to jolt myself into creative mode, gray or blue skies. It took a while to nail down exactly where I find this jolt, a rush of energy that inspires me. But lately I’ve noticed that what so many call chills, I find electrifying. Yes, I’m frozen for a moment by the intense emotions that people talk about whenever a piece of art or love or whatever else strikes a deep chord, but that paralysis always leads to deeper inspiration. Whether the ice takes half a second or four hours to crack, that feeling connects my mind to the world around me, wiring a creative source to its outlet.

Usually, other sources of creativity spark me. I’m thinking particularly of the rising tension and breakaway chronicled in “Defying Gravity,” the simple and enchanting beat of the Chainsmokers’s “Roses,” a string of words from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, the performance O.A.R. puts on at its concerts.

But it goes beyond those moments, too. Any Cardinals game, particularly the first one in April or any in October, charges this jolt for a full three hours. Awe-inspiring architecture like that of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia has the same effect. And, obviously, so does nature: the heights of County Clare’s Cliffs of Moher, the landscape and pastel buildings spotting Italy’s Cinque Terre National Park, St. Louis’s own Art Hill on an 80 degree Saturday in the middle of February. The jolt begs to be found, like the Golden Snitch. It just makes you search in places you’d otherwise never find in order to get there, places either too obvious to stop by or too distant to reach. But it knows you’ll find it anyway.

***

It’s sunny on this leap day, and that alone is enough to inspire me today. But most days in February offer more gray than blue. But those chilling days don’t exclude the reality of music, sports, literature, nature, or anything else with its own story from the jolt existing elsewhere. There’s more than we let ourselves see, and seeking out that Golden Snitch leads to the most amazing jolt of inspiration.

***

“He considered it a trick of his whimsical fate to have searched for the sea without finding it, at the cost of countless sacrifices and suffering, and to have found it all of a sudden without looking for it, as if it lay across his path like an insurmountable object.”

– One Hundred Years of Solitude, page 12 by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“Sunday Candy” by Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment