Sunday, February 8, 2009

Disney As Midrash

  • Random Pop Culture:
    • Big Love has, up until this season, been a good show. The characters are well fleshed out and the story is intricate, but not impossible to follow. Two things happened between the last season and this new one. First, I read a book called Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, which deals with Fundamentalist LDS (FLDS) cults, specifically dealing with the history of polygamy in the LDS church. As I began watching this new season, I realized that I disapproved of the practice so strongly that I had a certain dislike for all of the characters on the show. Second, the writers just kicked the whole thing into another gear. The show is extraordinarily intense. Even better (for me, especially), the writers starting taking a close look at the link between polygamy and the forcing of teenage girls to marry. It means the show is addressing the very problems I had and it makes the show almost as complex as Lost in some ways (though no Mormon time travel, yet). So, it's now a great show, worthy of the tradition of the great HBO shows and right up there with House and Lost as one of the best shows on TV.
    • Clearly the best line from tonight's Flight of the Conchords went something like this: "You called him a dick, which makes you a dick. So, Jemaine, how do you like the taste of your own dick medicine?"
  • Random Hatred And/Or Love:
    • I actually watched a regular season NBA game today. Lucky for me, Kobe had the flu and LeBron didn't play very well. Because I totally tuned in to Lakers-Cavs to see Lamar Odom and Wally Szczerbiak go off.
  • Random Mini-Essay: Wall-E: The First Tu B'shvat Movie

Quick, think of a movie that has to do with a Jewish holiday. Odds are that just about anyone would pick Heston's The Ten Commandments. It's the biggest movie for the biggest Jewish holiday. There are plenty of other holidays though, one of which runs from tonight until tomorrow at sunset. Tu B'shvat, known as the New Year's for trees, is on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shvat and celebrates the first flowering of trees in Israel. There have to be plenty of other movies that we can relate to these other holidays and I'm here to say that Pixar's masterpiece, Wall-E, is a Tu B'Shvat movie through and through.

Let's put aside the love story aspect of the movie and just look at how it deals with the theme of vegetation and renewal. Earth is desolate and people have escaped to space, but probes are periodically sent back to look for plants, to prove that the planet is habitable again. One of these probes, Eve, finds a plant and brings it back to the spaceship Axiom. After some fighting over whether or not humans can or should return, people go back to Earth. This leads to the remarkable ending credits where the story of the rebirth of the planet is told. The human race, after becoming lazy and baby-like, is also renewed.

Humans reclaim their viability by reclaiming their planet. Their reliance on technology and their disrespect of the environment doomed them to a life of sterile exile. To fix that, the first thing the people do is to plant and farm. A tree grows out of the original plant and this is shown to provide shade, comfort, and fruit. There's a very thinly veiled Eden reference there -- I mean, the one robot is named Eve -- but the people, through their hard work, are the ones doing the creation this time. It's sort of a reversal of the curse of hard work that God puts on Adam after the expulsion from Eden.

Remarkable in the ending credits is that the robots play a role in helping the humans to plant and farm. Wall-E and Eve are shown helping bring up water, tilling soil, and basking in the shade of the tree. Rather than eschewing technology to help the environment -- a major, if unfair, criticism of the environmental movement -- the humans are using everything at their disposal to help the planet and their situation. Everybody, human and non-human, is focused on the task of renewing the planet.

Obviously no trees are beginning to bloom today in America, so we have to celebrate the miracle of trees in Israel while making Tu B'Shvat more personal to us by dealing with the theme of renewal as a whole. What flowers anew for us? What figurative roots can we lay down today that will take hold and grow to provide us a more fruitful future? Many of us watch The Ten Commandments, as cheesy as it is, every Passover to help us think about the story and what our exodus means to us. As Jews take this holiday to think about the environment and this theme of renewal, maybe it's not such a bad idea to check out Wall-E and use it the same way.

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