{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

October 28, 2015

Dumbo: Art imitating disturbing life

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Dumbo-movie-poster
As any child does, Emma loves animated films. Perhaps television addiction is passed down through the genes, as I also watched a lot of films when I was younger. Of course, Disney was my favourite and, subliminal messages, propaganda and other issues aside, it still is. In my mind, if I can see their hidden messages, one day so will she.

Anyway, the baby elephant - Dumbo - is one of her favourites. I did not like it so much as a child, although I cannot really expound on why. I was possibly exposed to later films before Dumbo was available to rent or shown on television in South Africa. But rewatching the film now as an adult is quite eye-opening (so is watching every other Disney film).

I also realised that it is actually quite a disturbing film, especially considering that it is targeted at children. Apparently, at the time that Disney embarked on the film, the studio was in dire financial straits. It aimed to make an emotional piece to pull in an audience that was in the midst of union strikes and on the brink of the second World War. Its simple story's lightheartedness was much desired by the audience of the time and by successive audiences, and Dumbo has become one of Disney's greatest successes.

I think it was the darker side of the film that appealed to the audience sitting in fear and with little hope. Dumbo's development is from being ridiculed and cast out to being outstanding, all because of a little hope, something the pre-war audience desperately needed.

I know the disturbing nuances of the work are likely overlooked by children but they are still there, perhaps subliminally telling children the world is a dangerous and unfair place:
  1. The introductory song is an interesting reflection of the times: a conservative society would not wish its children to know the reality of mating, so the storks are a manner of avoiding this. Of course, the chorus saying 'Look out for Mr Stork' is more of a warning than a celebration of life.

    By the way, have you wondered why Mrs Dumbo has to wait longer for her baby? Well, elephants have longer gestation periods than other animals! They carry their baby for 21 months, almost two entire years.

  2. The lyrics of the music when the Big Top is being constructed are a reflection of the working conditions of the day and of the workers, with phrases such as:

    We work all day, we work all night
    We never learned to read or write
    We're happy-hearted roustabouts
    ...
    We don't know when we get our pay
    And when we do, we throw our pay away
    (When we get our pay, we throw our money all away)
    We get our pay when children say
    With happy hearts, "It's circus day today"
    (Then we get our pay, just watching kids on circus day)
    ...
    Boss man houndin'
    Keep on poundin'
    For your bed and feed
    There ain't no let up
    ...
    Pullin', poundin', tryin', groundin'
    Big top roundin' into shape
    Keep on working!
    Stop that shirking!
    Grab that rope, you hairy ape!

    Some of the phrases and stereotypes could even be seen as quite racist! And I hazard to guess that all the singers of the song were white, too.

  3. When Dumbo's mother protects him from boys teasing him, she is subdued by whip and elephant hook - no disguises as to how these elephants are reined in. When she is locked away in a cart, she is being broken in, a cruel practice that breaks the spirit of the elephant. If you have ever met an elephant, it is likely they have been broken this way. And when the elephants work to put the Big Top up, we don't see the hooks which are surely there.

  4. Elephants naturally have close relationships with their mothers. Dumbo is forcibly removed from her when she is taken away. While it is implied that he is removed simply because she is being punished, the practice is common today, as it's the best time to break an animal's spirit. Read more about this here, but don't visit the link if you're sensitive.

  5. When Dumbo is removed from his mother, he is seen rocking from side to side - this repetitive movement is often seen by animals in captivity.

  6. The pink elephant scene. To me, this cannot simply be explained by Dumbo being drunk, at least not with such a small amount of alcohol. Maybe the lack of oxygen from holding in his breath was to blame. Whatever the case, seeing pink elephants walking on the roof is quite odd. Apparently, the scene was included to add colour to the film and also to tap into the surrealist trend of the time.

  7. Finally, the way Dumbo is treated and thought of by the clowns is disturbing. He is poked and prodded to make him do tricks - he is poked twice during the film, once by Timothy himself. Of course, the writers really want us to think harder about whether or not animals have feelings, but the reality of a circus is that such cruelty is necessary to train the animals to do tricks.
I have other issues with the film. While it appears to pass the Bechdel Test, it represents women as cliquey gossips and shrews (and afraid of mice). It is also sad that Dumbo has absolutely no agency - he doesn't even have a voice! In this way he is taken advantage of by everyone in the film, even Timothy the Mouse, because he also benefits from Dumbo's fame.

Did you enjoy the film?

{Image credit: "Dumbo 1" by The Walt Disney Company - Trailer. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.}

October 22, 2015

DIY || Envelope cushion cover

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I love cushions. Just ask my husband, who does not understand their necessity, unless, as we had experienced recently, we find ourselves without a couch.

One of the reasons I like to make cushions is because they are just so easy, especially if you purchase a pre-filled inner and make your cover to fit. Even if you'd like to make the entire cushion yourself, it really is a simple process.

To me, cushions add something to your decor.

Here is a tutorial on making an envelope cushion cover.

What you'll need for this project:

About 90cm of fabric, depending on the size of your inner if you have one already
A sewing machine threaded with a matching colour thread

How to make envelope cushion covers:

Most pre-purchased inners are 40cm by 40cm. You will need to cut one square measuring 42cm by 42 cm (1cm for the seams) and two rectangles the height of the cushion (42cm) and half the cushion's width plus about 7cm (including seams.
envelope-cushion-cover-step-1
In this photo you can see the square, which will be the front of the cushion, and one of the rectangles for the back, which will form the envelope.
envelope-cushion-covers-step-2
Double-fold one side of each of the rectangles and pin in place. Sew.

Place the two rectangles on the front square, right sides facing, one on top of the other. Pin together and sew all around the square, making sure you strengthen the joints by going backwards and forwards over the openings.

If you like, you can serger all the way around the square. Then clip the corners and turn inside out.

Et voila!
envelope-cushion-covers-complete

October 20, 2015

Modern packaging: Seriously!?

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Jim Champion [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Why is the world so full of discarded plastic? Well, aside from people not bothering to dispose of their waste properly, is consumerism and capitalism to blame?

In just a single example, much of the software one can purchase nowadays is nothing more than a glorified piece of paper with a shiny code on it or a single CD packed away in an ostensibly useless box that will likely end up in a landfill (if we're lucky) or floating down a river or piled on the side of the road (if we're not). That piece of paper or CD could have been sold in an envelope creating less than a third of the waste the entire box would result in.

Kaspersky-Antivirus-Packaging More-Kaspersky-Antivirus-Packaging Even-More-Kaspersky-Antivirus-Packaging
While I am using a box from Kaspersky as an example, the complaint applies to all kinds of software. Sometimes you are even only purchasing a little license on a piece of paper and you need to go home and download the software anyway. And electrical items in double-sided plastic containers? Single batteries?

I understand that packaging is an important part of a manufacturer's brand and reputation, of a consumer's 'freedom of choice' in selecting particular brands, and also aids in the import and export of products. But with all the calls for 'Reuse! Recycle!' coming from retailers the world over, why do they not make it easier for us to purchase items without the requisite wasteful packaging? What will the retailers and food bars of the world say if I arrived with my Tupperware to fill it with my order instead of allowing them to pack it away in a polystyerene box? To be fair, I suspect some of them would gladly fill my Tupperware, but it's neither convenient for us to carry our own packaging around with us nor would it be possible because the company needs to brand its product and prevent theft. The convenience of it all is reflected by the fact that most people still purchase carry bags from shops even though they're around 21c each now.

Nevermind that as consumers, aside from possibly carrying around our own packaging, we are forced to purchase practically all items packaged in layers upon layers of card and plastic. Just one shopping outing for the basics will result in thrown-away packaging for every single item you've purchased.

In addition to this, most products are not manufactured locally, meaning they have to be packaged for their own protection otherwise they have no value. This value placed on something that does not truly exist is a reflection of our capitalist society, where 'money talks', and what we purchase supposedly speaks volumes on how much self-respect and status we have and it is not important how much waste we create as we go about our days. So we purchase our prepackaged items to package ourselves in packaging we shall one day also discard as we repackage ourselves according to a new brand.

Thus it is this interaction between being a consumer and living in a capitalist society that has turned us all into wasteful creatures who only think about convenience and ease instead of what we are leaving behind for the future.

{Top image credit: Jim Champion [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons}

October 13, 2015

Why be outraged over Cecil, but not the leopard?

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leopard-attacks-ranger-screenshot
YouTube Screenshot
A few months ago, a lucky cameraman in the Kruger National Park caught the action as a leopard attacked a ranger.

Watching the video today still tightens my diaphragm in frustration and annoyance. In it, a leopard spotted in the bush suddenly disappears, only to reappear below the safari guide's window, where it proceeds to 'clamp' its jaws on the man's arm. With 'no way' of getting the leopard to release its grip, the man reverses his car. The incensed leopard won't give up, however, and chases the vehicle for some way.

Infuriatingly, one of the commentators behind the person filming the incident says, 'He's got to drive over it. Drive over it!' The ranger drives over the leopard and another driver decides to 'rescue' the safari guide by also driving over the animal. The leopard loses its passion and limps away from the scene.

This video makes my gut burn. Not only is the poor animal in his own territory surrounded by cars on every side but everyone thinks that it is perfectly acceptable to ride over it. It is a wild animal - why could no one keep their distance and respect it? It was later discovered that the leopard was in a poor condition, likely having been attacked by another leopard seen in the area, so it was obviously in pain.

Meanwhile, the way I see it, the guide really had no choice but to drive forward over the leopard and perhaps it wasn't even his intention to do so, but his way both forward and backward was blocked by convoys of vehicles. This proliferation of vehicles is a scary thing for me. SANParks has even said that visitors are under the impression they're going to a zoo when they drive through the Kruger, but they are not. Warnings abound that people should not keep their windows open when on safari because wild animals are unpredictable. Personally I would have been afraid that the safari guide did not back away when the leopard was initially seen so close to the car. You know, since the safari vehicle has no windows. But then I suppose he couldn't move.

It brings to mind another incident that went viral recently: that of a Kudu being taken by lions right in the middle of the road near Kruger's Orpen Gate, surrounded by the wonderful sight of cars and cars and cars. The Kudu is seen bursting through the bush and is clearly shocked by the car it almost runs into. It begs the question, had the car not been there, would the Kudu have made it to safety?

So after all this, there was no uproar about the leopard being euthanised, or indeed any other wild animal who was feeling threatened in their territory. The safari guide was cleared of all blame (This is not to say he was to blame - it is our society that puts value on lives).

But then, around the same time, the uproar over the killing of Cecil the Lion was stupendous in comparison! What made the situation different? Oh, Cecil is a national Zimbabwean treasure, was part of a study, and was lured by 'disgusting hunter' Walter Palmer (who has since been freed of any blame in killing Cecil). And he didn't attack a human.

So that is the determining factor in discovering whether an animal deserves death or not: whether or not it attacked man. Oh, and if someone paid to do it (Palmer paid around $54,000 to kill a lion).

And every time I hear that a wild animal has been euthanised for attacking a human, I cringe. Because it is we who have encroached on their habitat, we who have locked them behind fences to claim land for cattle and whatever else, we who continue to sell off bits and pieces of their homes for eco-estates and lodges and yet cry we love the wild, we who murder them when there are too many, we who are so populous everyone cannot be happily fed. Where is the justice in that?

And don't even get me started on canned lion hunting, or the game slaughtering festival, sorry, 'driven hunt', that took place on September 7, 2015.

{Image credit: By Daughter#3 (Cecil) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons}

October 7, 2015

Two years and counting: My favourite baby milestones so far

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So... I have been a parent for two and a half years already. It is absolutely unbelievable that the time has gone past so quickly and those moments I was warned about - cleaning dirty nappies, having half-digested milk thrown up on me, sleepless nights, and so on - have passed, and I am no worse for wear. I'm proud to say, neither is my daughter! :D

In the first three months of her birth I read a hilarious article by a comedienne whose similar experiences were a relief to me. 'Hey, I'm not the only one!'

Now, two years later, the baby milestones - such as their first bowel movements with speed and trajectory, the first time she falls to the ground despite flailing arms and hands desperately attempting to catch her, and the first time you realise, despite Googling like crazy, that you have absolutely no clue what you're doing - are completely overshadowed by the very real interaction and bonding that takes place once you have come to know your child.

I would suggest to parents to take some time out every day and document what their child has said and done at least once a week, because there are so many things they do that will warm your heart when you feel like going animalistic on them. (I keep intending to start a journal, but... procrastination is my middle name)

Every parent will have negative memories of their children's first years: the frustration of needing some time to yourself and they refuse to sleep; the heartbreak when they appear to love Granny more than they do you; the first time they bite to hurt; those moments when your heart falls into your stomach because they're lying and breathing so still they appear dead; the first time they choke on something; the first time you realise your television viewing is really inappropriate; or the time that you forgot to put away that sharp instrument only to find that she is quietly playing with it.

However, these scary and frustrating moments are exquisitely undone by the delicate embroidery of love and memories.

Here are some of my favourite moments thus far:

1. Greeting random strangers at the mall with her signature lightbulb wave from her carriage (at nine months);

2. The first time she reached out to hold my hand, and every time she still does it. Emma is a very independent little girl. I believe I was more upset leaving her at a sitter recently than she was at being left, proclaiming, 'Go Mommy!'

3. The smell of her hair in my face while I'm reading a book to her.

4. The moment her imagination had kicked in and the toy in each hand had its own accent.

5. When strangers are not interesting any more and merely make her cling to my leg (no more running into the arms of people I don't know for hugs! Phew!) Lately she simply ignores them, not even bothering to say 'Hello'. Is she already tired of street harassment?

6. Singing along with Norah Jones or Old McDonald, enjoying Round the Garden and Three Little Piggies and Pat-a-Cake way too much, making me do it over and over again.

7. Squashing her cheeks together to say the Chubby Baby Club rhyme.

8. Being proud of her artwork on my wall.

9. Every time she shares her meal or sweet or drink with me.

10. Sometimes being the only one who knows what she wants. :) This just makes me feel good.

11. The first time her shadow on the wall frightened her. She ran to me, of course.

12. Her expression when she knows she's just about to be praised, like when she's used the potty, or when she knows she's going to get her way. She has this adorable little skew smile and she juts out her chin with a nod.

13. Being (nearly) my only motivation to go to the gym: 'Wanna go to the gym, mommy!'

14. I know it sounds terrible, but the first time she was really ill. The little baby I had a few years ago had returned, eager for cuddles, lying on my chest, and just wanting mommy!

There are way too many though; I could go on forever. Every day is a new adventure with a child.

Do you have any moments you would like to share?

October 6, 2015

Just Read || Fair Stood the Wind for France by HE Bates

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he-bates-fair-stood-the-wind-for-france
Fair Stood the Wind for France is one of those unexpected gems that everyone simply must read. I am not a fan of war novels in general, but while this one is set in the war, it is a very personal tale about humanity, love, and faith.

Telling the bittersweet story of a young man and woman during World War II, it is filled with evocative, beautiful imagery and amazing insight.

Franklin, a British air force pilot, lands in occupied France after engine malfunction. He and his crew make their way across the French countryside in the hopes of finding someone who will help them eat, hide and escape. They find Francoise and her family, who are more than willing to offer them sanctuary and help them escape the country, feeling it is their small contribution to the war against Germany.

Franklin was badly injured when the aircraft crash-landed and in the rush of the moment and the confusion of the future, he is stunned at the calmness and faith of Francoise, who makes him feel that all his life had been leading to these moments with her.

The pair decide to escape France together, making their way to Spain along sunlit waterways and rugged pathways. Franklin meets up with one of his crew mates, who had left him long ago, in Marseilles and O'Connor gives him and Francoise a gift that changes their lives.

Bates' writing truly is beautiful, evoking the emotions of certain moments and burning some sights in your memory. It is filled with descriptions such as this:

Then there was another level crossing, and he saw a peasant and a boy with a brown horse and cart, waiting for the train to cross through. Sitting in the cart, the boy had his coat collar turned up, and Franklin could see the mane of the horse tossed suddenly upwards in a wild fringe by the wind.

From cover to cover, his enthralling writing is gripping and intuitive, and you won't want to put the book down.

Bates has amazing insight into the emotions of his characters and doesn't shy away from making criticisms about war itself, describing a belief in weapons as 'pathetic' in comparison to the real power of those innocents affected by the war. He tempers the sad reality of such tragedies with generous helpings of the power of love and friendship. Franklin is, and we are, forced to think about everything from faith and fear to patriotism, comradeship, love for our homelands, and sacrifice.

I was left in tears when I finished Fair Stood the Wind for France, aching at the honesty of it and reeling at the terror that wars have still not ended for many.