Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Allegory

Is Mary Poppins a giant metaphor for the "ongoing struggles of institutional Christianity to adequately respond to the triumph of secular humanism?" Vincent F. Rocchioa, the author of an article in the journal Culture and Religion believes so, as The Percolator from the Chronicle of Higher Education notes.

The evidence for this reading of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious seems like a stretch to me, and to the Percolator author, who singled out a particular part of the journal article that suggests Mary Poppins may be a reaction to our overly consumer oriented culture.

But just as I was prepared to dismiss the entire thesis, I got to the part about the Bird Woman. Remember her? If not, watch the clip above. The Bird Woman plays a small but pivotal role in the film, feeding birds on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral. Here are some lyrics from the song "Feed the Birds" that are highlighted in the paper:

All around the cathedral, the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares.
Although, you can’t see it,
You know they are smiling,
Each time someone shows that he cares.

And here's what the author has to say about that:

The actions that the lyrics authorise—that the saints smile upon—are more than just kindness and simple generosity: they are an alternative social action. And while ‘feeding the birds’ specifically seems fairly insignificant, it nonetheless operates within a specific social vision—the Biblical mandate of ‘stewardship’. As opposed to capitalism, which sees nature as a commodity —as something endlessly subject to commodification and the human demands for profit— stewardship imposes a responsibility on humanity to care for nature. The Bird Woman carves out a space for stewardship even within a modern urban setting, and the lyrics of the song strongly endorse it.

So I leave it to you, dear readers. Did the Walt Disney Corporation bankroll a film designed to teach children to stand up in the face of rampant capitalism and embrace the Biblical mandate of stewardship? Or did they just think kids would think dancing penguins, magic umbrellas and cheery chimney sweeps were cool?

Incidentally, Mary Poppins was the #1 moneymaker of 1965, earning a net profit of $28,500,000. (It was a good year for Julie Andrews. The Sound of Music was #2 with $20,000,000, and My Fair Lady was #4 with $19,000,000.)