I love The Lion King.
Don’t take that statement lightly. I don’t use the word “love” in the casual sense like “I love cake” or “I love my spell-checker.” I use the term as it is defined which, according to Wikipedia, is the following:
“Love is an emotion of strong affection and personal attachment… a virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion and affection.”
So, to really nail the point, let me repeat: I love The Lion King.
I once felt as if I knew this animated musical back to front better than anyone else. Yes, most of you are probably aware of the supposedly intentional subliminal scene of the leaves spelling “SEX” or the parallels between the film and Hamlet. However, it is only recently that I’ve begun to see the underlying political statements the film makes.
To put it simply (like a deranged conspiracy theorist), The Lion King is capitalist propaganda.
Before I rip into this, there are two things to note if you have not seen the Disney classic:
1) We will never ever ever be friends until you have
2) I’m gonna spoil the shit out of it, so you better be my friend and watch it before reading on
I’m not the first to recognise this conclusion, nor am I a political studies graduate. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to express this point of view to the best of my uneducated ability. Let’s start from the top.
At the beginning of the film, Mufasa explains to his young cub the inner workings of the kingdom they rule, a mechanic he calls “the circle of life.” You see, the antelope eat the grass and the lions eat the antelope. When the lions die, they become the grass. It’s the beautiful simplicity of nature, like a geological game of rock paper scissors.
Underlying this innocent wildlife lesson is a stark analogy with the hierarchical capitalist system. The lower classes are the grass that support the antelopes of the middle class. The upper class happily feed on the middle class while the lower class scavenge off the scraps of decaying waste and leftovers produced by the “lions.” Yeah, in this system, the lower classes quite literally eat shit. That’s the circle of life.
Of course, they don’t go into those details. Instead, they gloss it over with a happy song-and-dance routine to put you at ease with the idea that this is the “proper” structure of the world, the commonly held Western discourse that capitalism is the correct social system.
Then you’ve got them commy hyenas, dictated by the power-hungry brother with political differences. The hyenas are fairly mindless drones, so the simple display of an iron claw is enough to get them in line. Seriously, check out the Nazi march in the number Be Prepared.
…and just in case you didn’t get the point the first time around, the communist dictator conducts a plan to kill his own brother (and scare off his nephew) in order to overthrow the honourable capitalist nation of Pride Rock.
The impression here: feel sorry for the capitalists, openly despise the communists.
The ideals don’t stop their, neither do they stay that black and white. With Simba left in the wild to fend for himself, he runs into two sponges: Timon and Pumba. The proceeding montage we get is Simba’s burnout Uni years. He grows his hair out, lays about, bums around with his buds, gets baked every other night, hakuna matata. He enjoys his lack of responsibilities and his unbound sense of freedom to be whoever the hell he wants to be.
Alas, Pride Rock is starting to crumble under the communist’s hammer. The rivers dry up, the food stock depletes, the stock market crashes, everything goes to hell. The message here is simple: communism fails. So, Nala goes out to find the “rightful” king in order to change their land back to a peaceful, prosperous capitalist community.
Nala finds Simba laying about in the jungle, openly enjoying the care-free life he chose and built for himself. After Elton John puts them in the mood, Nala nags Simba about how his place in the system is essential to maintaining the circle of life. If he does not come back and take his role as king, his land will cease to thrive.
At this point, Simba’s confused. He’s torn between his blissful individuality and the responsibility-heavy place his social system demands from him. So, in a star-spangled night, he bursts into an open field where his father appears before him. Instead of saying “Be who you want to be. You control your fate,” Mufasa dons his capitalist crown and proclaims to his son “What the hell’re you doing? Get your hippie ass back to Pride Rock and contribute to society!”
So Simba does just that. He confronts Scar. They fight. It’s badass.
The king takes his throne, his “rightful” role in society. Within a finger-clicking lion-roaring second, the land is rejuvenated with the circle of life safely in tact. Capitalism, fuck yeah.
A few years pass. Simba and Nala have a cub of their own. The middle class animals bow to their royalty, knowing that their hierarchical lifestyle will never cease to be the dominant social structure of Pride Rock (along with everywhere else the light touches). Simba’s buds, Temone and Pumba, also get sweet jobs in the upper circle. ‘Cause, ya know, they’re friends ‘n’ stuff.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the real story of The Lion King.
At least that’s what some would lead you to believe. It’s pretty damn convincing too. With these subtle political statements in mind, what kind of message is this Disney animated musical really sending?
Well, for one, the film seems to be saying:
“Hey, you can’t just leave the social system and bum around your entire life. You have a designated place in the system. If you don’t fill the role we assigned to you, society will collapse. You don’t want to be an asshole, do you? Fill your role and stop complaining.”
On top of that, it goes for the communist-bashing angle. It’s not just saying communism fails, it’s straight-up evil. You don’t even wanna think about being a commy hyena.
Then you have the last scene, which is really a repeat of the first. It seems to tell us that capitalism is an infinite, flawless cycle which we should praise and drown in worship, whether you’re the middle class antelope or the shit-eating pasture.
If you soaked up all the skewed points I just made, then you’ll probably never be able to watch The Lion King again without thinking that it’s a maniacally crafted piece of capitalist propaganda. One major question lingers: did Disney knowingly plant this message into the film from the beginning?
To be honest, and this is just my personal opinion, you’d have to be completely flippin’ nuts to believe Disney made The Lion King in order to support a capitalism-praising discourse. To me, it’s more likely to be the effects of those dominant Western beliefs (the ones that say “capitalism = peace”) that inadvertently shaped the plot of this ’90s Disney classic.
And who says that the nature of the African pride lands isn’t just a raw version of capitalism anyway? It’s not like they could really portray a glorified lion-centred movie with a socialist slant. It’s their world, can’t they promote it however they like? Isn’t it easy enough for a child to distinguish the culture of a fictional pack of lions from that of humanity? How could a child ever really get any of this social structure jibber jabber anywho?
It seems ridiculous to get worked up about it. But then again, you can help but raise an eyebrow to the lyrics of The Circle Of Life [which I will translate for you]:
From the day we arrive on the planet [from the moment you are born]
And, blinking, step into the sun [as in, the very second you are born]
There’s more to see than can ever be seen [there’s a crap-ton of shit to worry about]
More to do than can ever be done [you need to get a job]
There’s far too much to take in here [don’t try to push your limits]
More to find than can ever be found [there will always be resources to mine]
But the sun rolling high [the future will stay bright]
Through the sapphire sky [global warming’s a myth]
Keeps great and small on the endless round [keeps the upper, middle and lower classes in check]
It’s the Circle of Life [it’s Capitalism]
And it moves us all [and we all have to be a part of it/you cannot escape it]
Through despair and hope [your feelings are irrelevant]
Through faith and love [trust it, love it]
Till we find our place [till you’re assigned your role]
On the path unwinding [and work at that same job to the moment you die]
In the Circle [in Capi-]
The Circle of Life [Capitalism}
So, is The Lion King a big advertisement for capitalism? Absolutely.
Was that Disney’s goal? I highly doubt it.
Now that I’m old enough to understand this political riff raff, you’d think my accurately defined love for the film would cease somewhat. And yet, I still love it the same.
Sure, I could dwell on its propaganda-ish sub-attitudes, but the mere fact that there is this whole other layer to a movie I love only furthers my fascination and obsession for it. Sure, I don’t have to entirely agree on the point it’s trying to make, but I can at least respect it for expressing it in a charming and artistic manner that I adore. I have my problems with capitalism like many, but there are more obvious, vile ways to attempt to brainwash the public (*cough* Atlas Shrugged *cough*).
Besides, I grew up with the film, and I turned out just fine.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna light a few hakuna matatas with my two buds.