Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: Hyenas, Donkeys, and Dirty Diesels: Figures of Social Death in Children’s Animation, Folktales, and World Art
Tuesday | Thursday: 12:30 - 2:00pm
When artists working on the animated Disney film The Lion King came to study the spotted hyenas in UC Berkeley’s research colony, scientists begged them to break with a transnational, millennia-long tradition which depicted hyenas as the most anti-social, anti-human species in the animal kingdom. In Africa and the West, hyenas have been represented as cowardly, dishonorable, deceitful, ugly, smelly, queer, corpse-eating, baby-snatching outlaws. In some West African folk traditions, the hyena is the paradigmatic figure of social death: she can be banished, tortured, and killed with impunity, as she embodies a threat to the social and familial order, as well as to the physical integrity of bodies that deserve to live.
The Lion King artists did not heed the scientists’ pleas, and instead produced dastardly characters who would serve as foils to the noble lions. In this course, we will examine representations of figures who function as stand-ins for the socially dead in human communities – slaves, untouchables, outcasts, illegal aliens – especially in cultural products aimed at children. How do these powerful representations normalize exclusion? How have anthropomorphic creatures (animals, trains, robots, aliens) been used to define the limits of the normative human, and to establish a boundary between a community’s inside and outside? In addition to looking at works that reproduce the logic of exclusion, we will also consider those that mount a critique of this logic.
As this is the second course in the Reading and Composition series, the syllabus also places an emphasis on the acquisition of the skills required for researching and writing a 10-12 page term paper.