Pinocchio just might be the most underrated movie of all time. Watching it as a child is one thing but having it dissected by a psychology professor is something else.
Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning
Excerpt from lecture on Pinocchio
I’ve been watching the Maps of Meaning lectures from the University of Toronto by Dr. Jordan Peterson. Peterson has published a book by the same title.
The first four lectures are about Pinocchio and run a combined 10 hours. Peterson goes through the entire movie but I want to focus on the scene from Pleasure Island.
Watching the scene as an adult is an entirely different experience and the symbolism is quite obvious yet accurate. Everything on Pleasure Island is free. The sugar is free, the cigars are free, the beer is free, the rides are free. It is full of nothing but items and activities which could be considered distractions. It’s a lot like the app store that way, except we actually pay for some of our distractions.
At one point the boys are tearing apart a building which looks like a museum. They trash a grand piano and later we see the Mona Lisa lying on the ground with a rip in it. In order for distractions to triumph, high culture and the existential meaning it brings must be silenced and destroyed.
You know the rest of the story. The boys turn into jackasses after drinking the island beer and are then forced to lead lives of meaningless toil under the whip of the Coachman. We see one jackass who can still speak and the Coachman slings him back into his cage because he’s not ready yet. He still has a voice which means he still has thoughts which are his own. He needs more time to become the voiceless drone the Coachman wants him to be.
Distraction becomes a tyrant and a tyrant removes free speech which is a removal of free thought and thereby a destruction of the foundation of Western Culture, which is the individual.
As Peterson points out, early on in the movie we see Geppetto give Pinocchio a mouth. Gepetto, the good father, gives Pinocchio a voice. He wants Pinocchio to become a real boy, an authentic individual. In the next frame we see Jiminy Cricket standing next to a wood carving of a frowning king. This is the tyrant who is not happy that Pinocchio has been given a voice. The juxtaposition of these images is quite brilliant.
Can we or can we not observe this process playing itself out in our culture? We have seen a war on high culture in the form of mass, mindless media over the past 70 years or so since Pinocchio was made. Disney itself has become Pleasure Island, or something worse, in many ways.
Thoughtful culture is finally beginning to push back thanks to the demise of network radio and television and the efforts of individuals such as Peterson but is it too late? Is there an audience for the opera in Gen X? Will the Millennials show up for Beethoven or Tchaikovsky? They won’t unless classical music and opera take the offensive and starts proselytizing.
Most people are open to classical music but they’re not going to go find it on their own, especially if they’re stuck on Pleasure Island and in the process of becoming complete jackasses. Once that happens there’s no going back.