Natural Influences

People all have different ideas about nature and what it means to them. Some would call nature inviting and playful. Others would say nature is grand and brutal. I think these opinions are a result of both the personality of the writer as well as the object or area of nature they choose to describe. There were many different “versions” of nature is in Lapham’s Quarterly. William Bradford described the ocean off of Cape Cod as a “dangerous and roaring” force that was unforgiving to him and his men. He uses the word wilderness with somewhat of a bad connotation, suggesting the fear it strikes in men. He also talks of how men before him had been taken by the wild, again reinforcing its power over man. Bradford’s description of Cape Cod is very different to Henry Beston’s however, who instead speaks of the wonderful beach, star-lit sky, and changing seasons. We see how Beston and Bradford both describe a similar place in very different. It is only natural that Bradford, a pilgrim, and Beston, a fairy tale author, would view a Cape Cod in dissimilar way. One thing most of the authors did have in common however was a reference to a higher power. Whether it was The Creator or some mysterious power of nature, almost all the authors mentioned it. What is it about nature that is so powerful to use humans? Why can we seemingly not comprehend these powers? Nature can inspire fear and awe as well as warmth and affection.

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Reactions to Fantasia

Walt Disney does a great job of mixing pastoral representations of nature with sublime depictions. It seems as if in every scene both exist. For example at Mt. Olympus we first see the different species of animals dancing and playing happily together. The music is upbeat and the colors in the scene are bright and lighthearted. There seems to be no threat to the animal’s existence or there celebration. However in the blink of an eye the sky turns black and the music gets heavy. Zeus, the God of God’s, begins to throw lightning down at the animals creating a panicked frenzy. In the Volcano and Dinosaurs scene we immediately see the sublime side of nature. The gigantic volcanoes explode, gushing molten lava into the sky. In contrast to many of the other scenes in Fantasia, there are no animals shown here. Instead it is only nature, more specifically volcanoes that dominate the landscape. Again the music Disney uses is dark and powerful in contrast to the softer happier tones of other scenes. The darker colors also give the scene a darker mood. However after a while the volcanoes slowly start to simmer down and we begin to see organisms developing at the bottom of the ocean. The music begins to lighten up and the colors begin to brighten. Pastoral nature slowly begins to creep back into the scene. We see a scene of herbivores all eating together and living peacefully. It seems as if Disney is almost suggesting you cannot have one type of nature without the other. In a way he has created a pastoral-sublime hybrid in Fantasia. 

Another aspect of the film that really surprised me was some of Disney’s racial and gender suggestions. The dancing mushrooms are clearly intended to look Asian, the black bucktoothed donkey that carries the god Dionysius, and the same color couples at Mt. Olympus all were quite obvious and somewhat stereotypical. Also the female characters in the film are almost always over sexualized or shown in stereotypical female roles. Fantasia was made in a time where these stereotypes were generally accepted, however the movie acts almost as a window into that culture. I’m not sure what Disney thought about this. Was he a racist, or did he merely wish to comment on the social situation at the time?

Definitions

Animal: Noun. A creature with characteristics unlike those of humans.

Nature: Noun. Land that has not been touched or tarnished by man. Earth that is still ruled by the animals.

Wild: Adj.  So innate and pure that it is seemingly alien. Beast-like.           Noun. Nature in its purest form.

Human: Noun. Homo sapien. A human being.

Morals: Noun. The human “code of conduct” designed to suppress the wild within.

Love: Noun. An indescribable emotion.

Life: Noun. The quality of animate existence.