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WaPo “cultural theory” professor explains “The Lion King”: It’s actually all about fascism, white supremacy, and, of course, Trump

July 17, 2019

Photo: Disney

The Lion King, Wikipedia:

In the Pride Lands of Africa, a pride of lions rule over the animal kingdom from Pride Rock. King Mufasa’s and Queen Sarabi’s newborn son, Simba, is presented to the gathering animals by Rafiki the mandrill, the kingdom’s shaman and advisor. Mufasa shows Simba the Pride Lands and explains to him the responsibilities of kingship and the “circle of life”, which connects all living things. Mufasa’s younger brother, Scar, covets the throne and plots to eliminate Mufasa and Simba, so he may become king. He tricks Simba and his best friend Nala (to whom Simba is betrothed) into exploring a forbidden elephants’ graveyard, where they are attacked by three spotted hyenas, Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed, who are in league with Scar. Mufasa is alerted about the incident by his majordomo, the hornbill Zazu, and rescues the cubs. Though upset with Simba, Mufasa forgives him and explains that the great kings of the past watch over them from the night sky, from which he will one day watch over Simba.

The Lion King, Washington Post:

The first thing to understand about “The Lion King” is that it isn’t in any way about lions, or any other animal species. As in every fable, a variety of cute and cuddly figures stand in for human societal organizations. Mapping our internalized social hierarchies onto the pristine and “neutral” world of the animal kingdom renders these power dynamics natural, common-sense and desirable. But by using predator-prey relationships to allegorize human power, the film almost inevitably incorporates the white supremacist’s worldview, one in which some groups of people are inherently superior to others.

The Lion King, Wikipedia:

Scar sets a trap for his brother and nephew, luring Simba into a gorge and having the hyenas drive a large herd of wildebeest into a stampede that will trample him. He informs Mufasa of Simba’s peril, knowing that the king will rush to save his son. Mufasa saves Simba but ends up hanging perilously from the gorge’s edge. Scar refuses to help Mufasa, instead sending him falling to his death. He then convinces Simba that the tragedy was Simba’s own fault and advises him to leave the kingdom and never return. He orders the hyenas to kill the cub, but Simba escapes. Scar tells the pride that both Mufasa and Simba were killed in the stampede and steps forward as the new king, allowing his three hyena minions and the rest of their large pack to live in the Pride Lands.

The Lion King, Washington Post:

Just as fascist leaders constantly pinpoint specific groups they seek to villainize and cast out from “natural” society, the film’s heroes are preoccupied with keeping their kingdom free of contamination by undesirable elements, who are consigned to the shadowy ghettolike areas “beyond our borders” — on the wrong side of the tracks. With these elements in place, the film’s plot centers on what happens when the “natural” supremacy of traditional patriarchal rule is interrupted. This foul betrayal of tradition is predictably orchestrated by Scar, the misfit lion whose opportunistic desire to advance the status of minorities echoes the way conservatives speak of liberal politicians, when they act as if compassion is merely opportunism.

The Lion King, Wikipedia:

Simba collapses in a desert and is rescued by Timon and Pumbaa, a meerkat and warthog, who are fellow outcasts. Simba grows up in the jungle with his two new friends, living a carefree life under the motto “hakuna matata” (“no worries” in Swahili). Now a young adult, Simba rescues Timon and Pumbaa from a hungry lioness, who turns out to be Nala. She and Simba reunite and fall in love, and she urges him to return home, telling him that Pride Lands have become a drought-stricken wasteland under Scar’s reign. Feeling guilty over his father’s death, Simba refuses and storms off. He then encounters Rafiki, who tells him that Mufasa’s spirit lives on in Simba. Simba is visited by the ghost of Mufasa in the night sky, who tells him that he must take his rightful place as king. Realizing that he can no longer run from his past, Simba decides to return to the Pride Lands.

The Lion King, Washington Post:

But as so often in Hollywood films, the explicit Nazi iconography serves primarily to distract us from the heroes’ own fascism. Simba’s final ascent to the throne, his masculine roar returning Scar’s dystopia to its Edenic natural state, is nothing less than the Führer Principle at work: the idea that those we entrust with positions of leadership are blessed with a natural, even divine superiority. Groups who question this system or rebel against it are presented as genetically inferior and malicious beings who must learn to acknowledge their proper place in the social order. As Matt Roth has written, the movie thereby idolizes bullies by mythologizing the most brutal social principles: “only the strong and the beautiful triumph, and the powerless survive only by serving the strong.

The Lion King, Wikipedia:

Aided by his friends, Simba sneaks past the hyenas at Pride Rock and confronts Scar, who had just struck Sarabi. Scar taunts Simba over his role in Mufasa’s death and backs him to the edge of the rock, where he reveals to him that he murdered Mufasa. Enraged, Simba pins Scar to the ground and forces him to reveal the truth to the rest of the pride. Timon, Pumbaa, Rafiki, Zazu, and the lionesses fend off the hyenas while Scar, attempting to escape, is cornered by Simba at the top of Pride Rock. Scar begs for mercy and attempts to blame the hyenas for his actions; Simba spares his life, but orders him to leave the Pride Lands forever. Scar attacks his nephew, but Simba manages to toss him from the top of the rock. Scar survives the fall, but is attacked and killed by the hyenas, who overheard his attempt to betray them. Afterwards, Simba takes over the kingship as rain begins to fall. He also makes Nala his queen.

The Lion King, Washington Post:

In our increasingly nostalgic culture, we need to recognize that the real problem with “The Lion King” isn’t the ethnicity of its voice actors, just as the inherent misogyny of “The Little Mermaid” can’t be salvaged by casting a black actress in a role that’s notorious for sexualizing and objectifying teenage girls’ bodies. These films consistently champion authoritarian and anti-democratic values by reproducing a worldview in which power, strength and privilege are genetically determined, and where the weak and vulnerable only exist to serve, support and flatter their masters.

The Lion King, Wikipedia:

Later, with Pride Rock restored to its usual state, Rafiki presents Simba and Nala’s newborn cub to the assembled animals, continuing the circle of life.

The Lion King, Washington Post:

Doubling down on Disney’s historical obsession with patriarchal monarchies, it places the audience’s point of view squarely with the autocratic lions, whose Pride Rock literally looks down upon all of society’s weaker groups — a kind of Trump Tower of the African savanna.

I knew from the beginning that this op-ed, by WaPo “cultural theory” maven Dan Hassler-Forest, would eventually get around to Trump.

The one thing to be said is that Hassler-Forest’s day job is “assistant professor in the Media Studies department of Utrecht University”–so at least your U.S. taxpayer-subsidized federal loan dollars aren’t paying his salary.

Posted by Charlotte Allen

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