Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: Hyenas, Donkeys, and Dirty Diesels: Figures of Social Death in Children’s Animation, Folktales, and World Art
Monday | Wednesday: 2:00 - 3:30pm
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 that 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-eaters and baby-snatchers. In some West African folk traditions, the hyena is the paradigmatic figure of social death: he can be banished, tortured, and killed with impunity, as he 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 for children. How do these powerful representations normalize exclusion? How have anthropomorphic creatures (animals, trains, 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, we will also focus on the acquisition of the skills required for researching and writing a 10- to- 12 page undergraduate term paper.