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I blame The Lion King

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Recent demonstrations by the disaffecteds occupying Wall Street and calling themselves the 99%, coming as they have on the proverbial heels of another populist revolt, the TEA Party, suggest that one thing is clear: people on the left and the right have had it with the status quo in Washington D.C…

…or have they?

Not likely…and I blame The Lion King.

A 3D version of the Disney epic is in theaters now promoting the film’s debut on Blu-ray disc. I went and saw it over the weekend for the first time since its original release in 1994. The intervening 17 years had faded my memory of its central themes, and I was struck by how illustrative the film is of nearly everything that’s currently wrong with American politics today: narcissism, elitism, and cronyism. Further, the film’s lasting popularity seems to suggest that no substantive changes are coming to American politics anytime soon, despite recent protests, because Americans want their king.

Recall that the plot pits the film’s young protagonist and heir to the throne, Simba, against his uncle, Scar, in a political battle for the kingship of Pride Rock. Through song, we learn that Simba is “brushing up on looking down“ and “just can’t wait to be king” so he can be “the mane (sic) event” and tell everybody to do things “all his way;” while Scar croons that “A shining new era Is tiptoeing nearer” and he’ll “be seen for the wonder [he is]…king undisputed, respected, saluted.” In other words, they both essentially represent the narcissism prevalent in so many of today’s leaders (Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Romney, Perry, Gingrich) while spelling-out their common position relative to Main Street: you need us to tell you what to do.

On cronyism, while Scar is explicit, “I know it sounds sordid but you’ll be rewarded…Of course, quid pro quo, you’re expected to take certain duties on board. The future is littered with prizes,” Simba’s cronyism is on display. His friends, Timon and Pumba (a meercat and a warthog, respectively) are protected from being eaten by other lions—at the expense of the lives of other animals—for no other reason than they’re Simba’s friends. I have to believe that the whole “circle of life” stuff is meager consolation for the animals who suffer in their stead…and the same can be said of the American taxpayer tired of bailouts, handouts, and corporate subsides.

The only apparently significant difference between Simba and Scar is their ascension to the throne. Scar murders his brother, the king, and forces Simba into exile. And while murder is certainly an immoral route to power, is it much more immoral than Simba’s route, the divine right of kings and succession? Hardly. The kingdom fails miserably under Scar’s rule and Simba returns to claim his rightful place as king. Of course under Simba’s rule the kingdom flourishes and returns to its former greatness, reinforcing the popular (but mistaken) notion that drives American politics: if only the right person were in charge, everything would be better, fairer, more prosperous, or whatever.

Until the American polity comes to grips with the fact that Simba and Scar are the same guy, that an all-powerful state (red or blue) is not the answer to a peaceful and prosperous social order, and that The Lion King is the mirror into which we look that needs to be broken, no amount of outlier protesting will likely lead to substantive societal change.

 

Mr. Baldwin is a doctoral candidate of comparative literature and cultural studies at the University of Arkansas. He is a self-described free-market anti-capitalist harboring anarchist utopian fantasies. The best that can be said of him is that, presumably, his mother loves him.

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