01.04.2007 Dear Lucy (....

) On another issue, Yar Habnegnal, our favourite self-professed ‘neo-con performance artist and agent provocateur’, sent me this short critique of the recent animated film, Happy Feet (2006). Extrapolating on your use of the term ‘animalities’, he calls the piece ‘Faunaphiliac Animatalities’, referring to ‘the human affinity for “animated-animal” icons’. I must admit that I am a bit disappointed that his analysis doesn’t extend to the complex worlds of interactive online games that many of us periodically inhabit, or to the more rewarding creation of cognitionbased parallel-life personae. Mainstream animation is limited by a narrative univalence that reduces ontological questions to spectacle hermeneutics, and we now require a coherent ontological articulation that addresses these avataric ‘universes-in-universes’. I know Yar has a lot to say on this subject from our recent conversations at his home in Lahore, and I look forward to his promised theorisation of these at a later time. Habnegnal’s post-Marxist analysis of base/superstructure is useful in the analysis of animal predation and predation avoidance behaviours in mainstream animation and in animated avatar games, such as Second Life. At any rate, here is his short piece of writing, in the hope it has some relevance to your topic of ‘animalities’. Yours Truly, LGB Habnegnal writes: … Faunaphilia in mainstream Hollywood animation obviously goes back at least to early Disney and Ub Iwerks of the 1920s, and subsequently Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes, but the recent animated film Happy Feet, by the Australian company Animal Logic and Australian director George Miliotis Miller (author and director of the Mad Max series and Babe, which starred a talking pig) breaks some interesting new ground. The plot winches around a conventional ‘nature versus industrialisation’ dualism, in which the fish are being over-trawled by massive factory ships, thereby reducing the food supplies of the penguins. The flock singles out Mumble, one of its own mutant fledglings, as the source of the crisis since he cannot sing like the other young penguins (‘A penguin without a heart-song is hardly a penguin at all,’ proclaims the penguin singing teacher). Instead of singing, Mumble (presumably a pun on ‘mambo’) tap-dances R&B numbers in the style of Vaudeville and Broadway (‘I wouldn’t do that around folks, son. ... It just ain’t penguin,’ his Elvis-crooning father admonishes). The elder penguin leaders assume Mumble’s aberrant behavior must have caused displeasure to ‘The Great Penguin’, leading to the shortage of their staple, fish. Mumble is also anatomically idiosyncratic: perennially immature and covered with fluffy down well after the other young penguins have grown adult feathers (an immaturity reminiscent of—though not selfimposed like—Oscar in Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum, who also relies on rhythm to communicate). His tap-dancing produces disgust, then awe, then finally recognition and acceptance from all the penguins. While penguin ‘speech’ is frustratingly indecipherable to humans, the percussion of ‘happy’ penguin feet on ice does seem to transmit emotions of affinity (and apparently complex ecological data as well) across spec-ial borders. Mumble is convinced that the ‘aliens’ (humans) with their massive ships are the cause of the disappearing fish, and sets out on a ‘mythichero’ journey of self-discovery and survival (with echoes of Road Warrior and countless stories of teen prodigality) to prove his hypothesis. Meanwhile, the homo sapiens are oblivious to the mounting environmental disaster. The penguins serve in the story as stand-ins for the proverbial canary in the mineshaft, but instead of the canary’s sudden silence alerting miners to the presence of gas, it is Mumble’s rhythmic tap-dancing in an aquarium that alerts the humans to their profligate over-consumption of fish.

Having fitted him with a transmitter, a group of scientists follow Mumble back to his ‘people’, presumably to see if R&B tap is a mutation in one individual, learned or instinctual behaviour of the whole colony. With his re-entry into his social milieu, Mumble’s rhythmic tap-dancing, which had been culturally denigrated as subversive to both the community’s traditional culture and religious beliefs, suddenly catches on to become a mass behaviour. All the penguins dance for the human scientists, with Mumble implicitly taking over as the new leader, and the Christian gospel roots of R&B displacing the former conventions of belief in ‘The Great Penguin’. For their part, the scientists are duly amazed that tapdancing has been adopted by a colony of Antarctic Emperor penguins, and somehow get the vibe that the Busby Berkeley number is a signifier for human overharvesting of the fish and looming starvation for the penguin colony. This sudden opening of communication between the two species leads to a ban on open-water fishing at the UN. On the one hand, the mass choreography is reminiscent of mass rallies—Nuremburg, May Day in Red Square and Tiananmen Square, the American Rose Bowl and the Singapore National Day Parade. On the other, it calls up scenes of white explorers ‘discovering’ the ritual celebrations of ‘primitive’, generally black cultures, depicted in films such as King Kong—a trope also used in the cartoon, Madagascar (2005). In this case, the scientists are portrayed as utterly benign and curious, and the survival needs of the penguins are represented as consonant with global ecological science. But we must assume that the sudden appearance of homo sapien at a penguin colony also augurs the end of their ‘wildness’ and inaugurates a new period of human domination. When the electronic tracking device on Mumble’s back is detected by the other penguins, one of the elder penguins accurately assesses the coming subjugation of the colony: ‘You led them here? You turned them on your own kind?’ Survival trumps self-determination—a position faced by many of the world’s endangered species which have been ‘colonised’ and placed in reserves or zoos. Writing here in Lahore, a global nexus where First-World desire for selfdetermination collides with Third-World pacification, my interest in this film takes the form of a two-fold inquiry into the manner that we use representations (such as animation) to interpellate other humans and animals cultures. In the case of the animals depicted in our cartoons, we do this by conferring (human) subjectivity upon them—in effect nailing them to the very cross of identitarian interpellation upon which we find ourselves crucified daily. It is through our submission to this process of representing identity that our subjugation/subjection/subjectification is accomplished, and it is through animation, film, art and literature that this same condition is so effectively imposed upon other species. Secondly, I am interested in an ontological inquiry into the relationship between Bergsonian notions of duration and vitalism that attached themselves to the early technology of ‘moving pictures’ at the birth of the film age, and the anima (Latin: ‘soul’ or ‘life force’) at the root of the term ‘animation’. Vitalism, soul and life force of course lead to related inquiries into the phenomenology of fascism on the one hand and the parallel performativity of cognitive life-forms and cyborg/avatars (and their relationship to earlier screen culture) on the other. I will leave these ontological issues for another time, and focus for a few minutes on the epistemological issues of faunaphiliac animatalities (that is, the animated representations of human love for other animal species) and subject formation. When watching Happy Feet, I found myself musing that a year after accepting Christ as their personal saviour, the Emperor penguins have now discovered that they got soul (or two souls to be precise: ‘Soul’ in the sense of black soul music, and

anima). Did one epiphany lead to the other? A close reading reveals that beneath the saccharine personifications afflicting the Emperor penguin (aptenodytes forsteri) in this cartoon are three significant cultural issues: first, the manner in which (homo sapien) subjectivity is conferred upon another species; second, the economics of that conferment; and third, the use of music (rhythm) as the medium of conference. Penguin subjectivity is grounded in economies of consumption, as they fit into the food chain between the larger Southern Ocean predators: leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx), southern giant petrels (Macronetes giganteus), skua (Catharacta maccormicki) and orca (Orcinus orca) on the one hand; and their source of food, sub-ice fish, (Pagothenia borchgrevinki. or Bald notothen) on the other. Curiously, the larger predators are provided with the attributes of individuation and agency by the human animators (corresponding presumably to our human view of our own alpha-predator position in the food chain), while the fish are denied both of these attributes. Rather than being subjectified, they are objectified and abjectified, providing the material base upon which the spectacle of subjectivity as cultural superstructure can be mounted and displayed. In many of the new 3D animal animations, Hollywood’s obsession with optical mimesis carries in its wake other corresponding realist attributes. For example, to be ‘real’, the animal-protagonists being anthropomorphised also need to be seen to eat, shit, sleep and desire (well, maybe not shit on screen). But it would be potentially horrifying for small children in the audience to be subjected to Nemo, for instance, in the film Finding Nemo (2003) tearing into and gulping down smaller life forms that also have individual personalities, calling forth nightmares of adults engorging themselves on their kids. This taboo of the cartoon jungle was almost broken in Madagascar, when Alex the lion, used to being fed steak on a schedule by his zoo handlers, almost consumed his friend Marty the Zebra when they found themselves shipwrecked on the ‘wild’ island Madagascar. The problem of Alex’s desire for raw meat was resolved when a group of penguins introduced him to sushi, once again positioning fish at the anonymous base of the food-chain. Of significance to the topic of animalities is this categorical tendency to subjectify superstructures and to reify the base. In Happy Feet, the problem is resolved in a similar manner, by conferring subjectivity onto the penguins and larger creatures, but not onto the smaller fish who are massified as the common food source, even when caught individually. Penguin predation is made palatable through the reification of their food. All the fish look the same; they lack personal attributes, do not speak and presumably have no language. And when they die we never see emotions, expressions of pain or blood. But this template runs into an interesting paradox at its extremity. In one revealing scene, the fish are revealed as totalised commodities when Mumble fights off a group of petrels and skua for the remains of a small fish that he then presents as a gift to his loved one, Gloria. For those of us who have already been conditioned to the subjectification of fish by Finding Nemo, it is difficult to now accept a hierarchy in which fish are treated as dead gifts and bird feed. Rather than simply swallowing the death of the fish as the demise of an anonymous cartoon trope, the audience may be inclined to see this ingestion of a member of a previously subjectified species as an assassination. There may, however, be an upside to this tendency. Our awareness of it might productively lead us to the recognition of animal branding as a pragmatic (if ideologically problematic) methodology in the fight to preserve endangered species. Once individuated, a species obtains in our mind a ‘culture’ and thereby migrates from base into 'superstructure’ in the manner of the ‘charismatic mega-

fauna’ (the big cats, elephants, whales, etc.). We value the songs of whales, the intelligence of apes, the loyalty of wolves, or now, the family values of Emperor penguins. These cultural signs indicate that we have distinguished these species from the base and have assigned them some degree of anthropomorphic subjectivity. But adopting commodity reification as method also diverts abjectification toward yet another smaller species, less charismatic species such as plankton. Will we next see a film about heroic plankton, perhaps defending their children against huge ravaging Bald notothen? But there is another ethical problematic in this algebra of survival and representation. The unspoken subtext of these animal representations are of course the discourses of identity: gender, sexuality, race, class, colonialism. Perhaps it would have been more honest if Mumble took off his penguin mask to reveal a black dancer, after his tap numbers that so entertained the predominately white audiences in the aquarium and the white scientists in Antartica. His subjugation/subjectification was both physical and linguistic, providing a spot-on illustration of Lyotard’s notion of the ‘differend’, in which the abject are simultaneously interpellated and forced into silence by a cultural, physical or economic differential that reduces communication to unisonance. Mumble is appropriately named after the mumbling child who is developmentally constrained from speech; the slave or servant economically constrained from ‘talking back’. Lyotard argues that ‘[t]he differend is the unstable state and instant wherein something which must be able to be put into phrases cannot yet be.’ His examples of this condition include revisionist denial of the reality of the Nazi gas chambers because of the absence of survivors offering eyewitness accounts, and the dilemma faced by a group of Australian aboriginals constrained by ritual traditions from speaking for land rights in court. Indeed, as an Australian production, the about-to-be colonised penguins in Happy Feet recall Aboriginal and Pacific Island colonisation, in particular the cultural indoctrinations into white language, music and beliefs applied to the approximately 100,000 ‘stolen generation’ of Aboriginal children between 1910 and 1971. Applying the lessons we learn from Happy Feet, perhaps if the Jews had learned to tap-dance mutely in the gas chambers they too might have been saved. ... v.o.a. ... Yar Habnegnal BIOS With a chequered past reputed to include roles as student radical, CIA agent, white supremacist-queer performance artist, and most recently, insurgency expert advising the current administration of George W. Bush, Yar Habnegnal’s critical writings appropriately focus on the semiotics of power in popular culture. He currently resides in Lahore, Pakistan and Singapore. LGB (Lan Gen Bah) holds a Chinese passport but lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and researches cognitive temporality, extreme emotive states, ideological and sexual interpellation.