Disney’s Storytelling Tradition of an “Imperfect” Family

My sister pointed out to me that most Disney and Pixar protagonists have one parent (if any at all).  The other parent is either killed off, lost, or completely absent during the entire film.  Any film that you come up with off the top of your head (with only one exception that I’ll let you ponder about) lacks the model two-parent setup: Jasmine only has the Sultan as her Dad, Snow White has an absent father and an evil queen stepmother, Belle only has her father, Ariel only has King Triton as her dad, and Toy Story’s Andy has a single mom.  According to what my sister’s read, Walt Disney himself started this trend in Disney’s earliest films: Snow White, Cindarella, even Bambi.  Disney apparently felt that no one really has a perfect family life, so having both parents present in a story represented an unrealistic and idealistic image with which his audience would have trouble relating.  This may be true and even noble in its own respect; in a time where the American family was a particularly hyper-idealized image of a smiling couple with two kids and a dog, Disney sought to portray different types of families.  You could say that it broke down that idealized image.  It also showed that an “imperfect” family is something that is acceptable and normal.  It also addresses the pain Bambi felt when he lost his mother (and the horror that the rest of us felt) as something that can be overcome.

But I think there is something more important that we gain from Disney’s decision to consistently present us with single parents: it is much easier to digest the relationship between a child and one parent than it is to digest the relationship a child might have with a pair of parents.  Let’s take a look at this recent animated short, for example.  This 6 minute short film features a little bird and its mother bird during a pivotal time in its development; the film has no dialogue.


There’s a lot to examine in even this short, 6-minute clip.  You can acknowledge immediately that Piper has just one parent (and somehow through the magic of Disney animation we understand that it’s a mother).  The relationship between Piper and mother is very specific.  There is a moment at around 5:15 where the mother smiles lovingly at Piper playing on the shore.  There’s a bond there and a deep connection between two characters.  We aren’t distracted by a couple reacting here but instead just one character reacting to another.  And that simplicity does a lot.  Imagine two parents here; we’re already forced to question the relationship between those two parents before we can even begin to think about the relationship of the two individuals to Piper or the collective pair to Piper.  On top of all that, our own personal biases come into play – some might begin to compare and create judgments based on personal experiences with family life (which may or may not include two parents).  By eliminating all of that and keeping it to just one parent, Disney keeps the storytelling simple and straightforward.  It allows us to focus on that relationship – that loving bond that Piper has with mom.  All of the pretense and the overanalyzing fades away because it’s really more about this one relationship which was expertly conveyed by Pixar.  Perhaps there’s a better reason or maybe my sister’s original understanding of Walt Disney’s preference for the single parenting trend is accurate.  But there’s no denying that this element does, in fact, simplify and improve the storytelling.

The Forest Temple

[travel journal excerpt, 15/5/16]

A friend led me to a forest temple in Petula village, tucked and hidden outside of Ubud.  It wasn’t a very official or grandiose temple, and maybe it wasn’t even a temple.  There were some shrines and some baths that dispensed water from the river that ran through the forest.  The local people called it sacred water, but it appeared to be just clean water for bathing and drinking.  I didn’t really know what to do there.  With my phone and camera gone, I couldn’t take any pictures or videos.

My friend bathed first, washing himself in the river water that flowed from some carved stone fountains that the villagers used.  He did a little prayer motion with his hands and continued bathing.  I followed suit, washed my face and chest, put my hands together as in prayer, but I didn’t really know what I was doing.  I was a bit anxious because there were some villagers waiting to do their thing.  I felt guilty for using their space for some sort of amusement or whatever.  I motioned to my friend, indicating that we should leave; we left the fountain and began to leave the forest.  A man smiled at me as he took my place in front of the stone fountain.  I passed an old woman bathing alone in front of another stone fountain and continued through the forest, leaving the fountains behind me.

An enormous spider caught my eye as it sat in its web that was spun between two thin, tall trees.  I stopped in my tracks and just stared for a moment.  My friend continued walking, perhaps not realizing that I had stopped.  I’m not sure why I stopped – perhaps to marvel at this spider or maybe to just really take it all in so that I could remember the scene.  I looked at the serene, green forest and listened to the tranquil, flowing water.  For a moment, I was the forest; and time slowed down.  I blinked, and the weight of my eyelids shut the light from me for what could have been a lifetime.  The forest looked back at me as if it were another person.  It was kind.  And I felt God.

“Thank you,” I whispered.  And I was at peace.

What I felt watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat


The sun was rising in the most peculiar way over the ancient structures of the main Angkor Wat temple. It was as if the sun was ignoring the horizon and starting out further up in the sky. It was amazing, and everything was orange and beautiful. Angkor Wat looked even more magnificent that I had imagined. But a strange feeling came over me that was completely unexpected. I felt almost…underwhelmed. It wasn’t that what I was experiencing wasn’t absolutely breathtaking or awesome or wonderful – it had all to do with what brought me here.

It had been years since I had first read about Angkor Wat. Sitting in the uncomfortable chair of my shitty desktop at my shitty job, I wanted a distraction. I clicked on my Stumble Upon button, and my browser loaded a page showing a map and images of Angkor Wat. What I saw was incredible – I couldn’t believe that something like this actually existed on Earth. My mind was in complete awe as I read more about it, and I told myself that one day I would most definitely visit Angkor Wat myself.

It was pure fantasy. It was a promise I made to myself to get me through the day. And then day after day, I made myself more promises: “one day I’ll do this” and “some day I’ll go here.” But they weren’t real. They were all just pure fantasy. And as I walked up to this incredible ancient temple – the first of many on this journey I finally decided to take – it occurred to me that I could have actually done this at any point. When I first saw Angkor Wat on my computer screen and told myself that I wanted to go there, I could have literally booked a ticket that day. The trip would have costed me maybe one paycheck, but it was totally doable. If I really loved myself and really wanted to welcome happiness into my life, I would have just went to Angkor Wat that year. But I didn’t. In fact, it wouldn’t be until I sat at several more desks at four more different companies before I would even actually bring myself to actually go to Cambodia. And that thought – that I had basically created this fantasy which I wasn’t really intent on realizing just to get me through another day – was upsetting. It gave me an emptiness. I had deceived the best part of my humanity – wonder.

Wonder is that emotion that children get before they’re about to open a Christmas present. Wonder is what you felt when you first learned about your favorite animal. It’s that budding excitement you get when you see something that you wished you had dreamed about but you didn’t. It’s when, for a moment, reality defies your understanding of what you thought could have actually been, and your imagination does cartwheels. And wonder is something that fades as we get older because, obviously, we learn about most of the things that we’ll ever learn about.

When I first learned about Angkor Wat, it was wonder that I felt. And it felt good – it felt amazing. I was a child again, and the world was full of things that left me in awe. My imagination was doing cartwheels. But instead of running with that emotion, I used it. I harnessed that wonder and used it to get through another shitty day at my job. And that’s not how people should live. If you ever feel wonder – if you ever find yourself wide-eyed and quivering with excitement about something, just go for it. Accept it for what it is and go for it. Think about what your 8 year-old self would do if he were you – an adult in the free world that could probably do almost anything but instead continues to sit at his desk wasting away all the excitement in his life.


Why suing Spotify hurts independent and emerging artists

There has been a lot of press lately about several lawsuits against Spotify.  And many are in support of these lawsuits, pioneering artists’ rights and talking about more royalties for artists.  While some of the suits might be warranted (e.g. Spotify allegedly streaming music without the artist’s consent), fighting Spotify really hurts the greater music community.

As an independent artist, I stream my music through many different channels including Apple Music, Google Play, Deezer, XBox Music, and Spotify.  At this point in my music career, Spotify matters the most to me.  Is it because it offers me the most income from my music?  No.  Spotify’s royalties are indeed dismal, but that’s not why I’m on Spotify.  In fact, most of the projects into which I launch my music serve the purpose of reaching an increasing number of people, not sustaining or gaining a substantial income.  Someone like me, with only a few hundred listeners, sees much more value in Spotify than just track dissemination.

Spotify is very social – it connects easily to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, making it easier to connect and share music (and it’s hassle free, as in the platform does it all for you.)  It has a unique community-driven playlist system that allows discovery of new artists through playlists as well as its own, constantly evolving, music matching system that will connect artists based on everyone’s listening habits.


And, most recently, Spotify added an About page for artists that offers some analytics reporting and insights into where listeners are coming from.  It even shows the playlists through which listeners are discovering your music.

About Stats

These are services that Spotify offers to me that I might even pay for if they were not included as part of the package that Spotify has put together.  These are services that new artists like myself appreciate and use; we care less about payment of each individual and more about how we can leverage this system to get more exposure.  And therein lies a huge gap in the complaints that people hear from largely successful music artists and the complaints they don’t hear from young and independent artists that are just starting to share their music with the world.  What is driving these lawsuits, in my opinion, is greed. If you’re an enterprising and popular artist, then you wouldn’t need Spotify for anything other than the streaming service itself.  In fact, if you’re popular enough, you really just need a venue where your audience can purchase or stream your music.

The highest tier of this group includes artists like Adele and Taylor Swift – their immense popularity is so incredibly strong, that their audience will switch platforms just to hear their new music.  So they don’t care; they just sell their music elsewhere.

Just below that tier lies established artists that are still very much dependent on Spotify because it’s just so big.  And so they have a legitimate argument – they’re simply not getting paid enough for their music on Spotify, but their audience isn’t interested in switching platforms.  They’re in a bind, and they fail to see how else Spotify can benefit them.

What’s left is the large and voiceless community of musicians that want to use Spotify for all its worth.  That’s where I sit.  There’s an enormous and intimidating barrier in the music industry looming over me, and places like Spotify and Soundcloud can change the game.  Whenever a large artist like Adele chooses not to put music on Spotify, it removes listeners who could potentially discover my music through Spotify’s nifty music-matching platform.  When artists sue Spotify for exorbitant amounts of money, it threatens to change the way that Spotify functions so as to benefit artists that already have their foot in the door.

There’s a lot of really good music out there waiting to be discovered.  And there are a lot of artists out there that are more excited about people enjoying their music than they are about how many more fractions of a penny they’ll make when you stream their song a second time.  Spotify, as it is now, favors those artists; and it’s for those artists that I hope Spotify can continue to do what its doing.

Life on Earth

Of all the things I love and hate about New York City, it’s actually the people I will miss the most – the throngs of bustling, rude people that I loathe to swim through each day.  When I stop, for a moment, and look upon the sea of faces of a crowded bus or a busy park, I see a rainbow of faces.  There are people in the world who would grow anxious, afraid, and even angry at seeing faces that are entirely unrecognizable – faces that are different.  But I can’t imagine a forest where every tree is the same or a sky where every cloud adheres to the same shape.

I believe that what makes Earth so powerful and so precious is the diversity of everything.  I recognize that even things that I perceive as bad or threatening are important because they offer something different than the rest.  The faces of New York, when you stop and think about it, are a reminder of this balance.  I wish that all people on Earth, at some point in this life as a human, have just one moment of clarity where they realize that they are special because they are each a unique development of mankind.  And I wish, that through this realization, they realize that each and every other person on earth is special for that same reason.  This fundamental concept, I believe, is the most valuable tenet of our existence.  The sooner that humans can learn this, the faster Earth will process towards a new and enlightened world that is predicated upon coexistence and cooperation.

Discouraging Invention

I found this particularly saddening.  Not because of the obvious racial implications or poorly managed educational facilities, but because of what it does to the boy.  I know what it’s like to get excited about making something and then get weird looks from people about it.  I think that one of the worst injustices in the world is discouraging a child from doing something great and unique.  The world would be a better place if people were encouraged to explore things that they enjoy, especially if it’s for the betterment of society.