Superversive Again, and Other Thoughts

On Sunday I went on Superversive livestream again to continue talking Disney with Ben Wheeler, Anthony Marchetta, and Caroline Furlong:

This one got a little heavier and heated in places, though still a good time overall.

A good chunk of the first hour is spent discussing whether Mulan is better interpreted as a feminist or conservative/traditionalist film.

In that regard, the point I was trying to get at but didn’t really articulate was this: in every story there are, as it were, three factors: the intention of the creator, the reception of the audience, and the objective content of the story. Now, how the audience receives a story depends on a lot of things, most of which are not in anyone’s control. But one of those factors is how it’s been interpreted to them. Most people default to the general cultural tone of their surroundings, and beyond that tend to adhere to the first interpretation they receive. In any case, once they’ve been presented with a plausible interpretation, most people will more or less assume it is the ‘correct’ interpretation until another one is presented that they find more convincing.

(This, by the way, is one reason why private judgment in matters of faith doesn’t work: because people normally default to interpreting Scripture in light of their surrounding culture instead of vice versa, or failing that default to whatever a given person teaches them it should mean. An inerrant Scripture will only produce a uniform, inerrant faith in its readers if it’s accompanied by an inerrant tradition – that is, an inerrant context for understanding it).

Now, the objective content of a story always supports a limited number of interpretations. Generally there is a ‘best’ interpretation that fits the material most completely and several other ‘possible’ interpretations (keeping in mind, of course, that how you read the material always depends in part on your own context: e.g. the Imperial uniforms in Star Wars mean something to a post-World War II world that they would not have meant beforehand).

The best, or even the possible interpretations are not necessarily the intention of the creator, either because the needs of a good story would not allow for his stated intentions or because his idea of the real-world situation was so false that his attempted analogy simply doesn’t apply (High Noon is a good example of this: it was intended as an indictment of HUAC, but the course of the story, with a lone defender trying to do his duty to protect his town from corruptive forces, only to be abandoned and ostracized by all his allies because they don’t want to face up to the reality of the situation and are made uncomfortable by his methods, is much more applicable to McCarthy himself than to his opponents).

Here’s the point: most people today will default to a liberal interpretation of any story they receive if it is at all possible, because that is the culture in which we live. But part of changing that culture is to re-interpret stories in light of the truth. Therefore, I think that, to the extent that a story will bear a traditionalist interpretation, it should be read and presented with that interpretation. By interpreting it for people in that light, we plant the seeds of that understanding in whoever reads us. Like how early Christians re-interpreted pagan myths and stories in a Christian framework.

This isn’t a matter of imposing something that isn’t there: the objective content of the story must be able to bear the reading. But since stories are naturally traditionalist, well-crafted stories will often (not always, but often) bear or even be better suited to such an interpretation, whatever the intentions of the creator.

That’s really one of my main goals with my work.

Hence Mulan may have been intended as a feminist work, and may be read by normal audiences as such, but I would argue its actual content is more traditionalist in nature. And I think that it’s incumbent on us to present that interpretation for anyone who happens to be reading us.

2 thoughts on “Superversive Again, and Other Thoughts

  1. Here, here. I remember being struck, not long ago, by just how many canon characters I’d unilaterally made into Christians in my ff stories for one reason or another: Turtle from The Westing Game, Dorothy Ann from The Magic School Bus, Baljeet from Phineas and Ferb just this week – and Wanda Maximoff, too, if I ever get my rear in gear and finish that story. Good to know someone else is laboring in the same vineyard.

    (On an unrelated note, are you by any chance planning to use “The Hound of Heaven” for an upcoming Poetry Corner? Something about that image at the end of the post irresistibly calls it to mind…)

    Liked by 1 person

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