“Feed the Birds”
Mary then thoughtfully says: “Well most things, but sometimes, the people we love, through no fault of his own, can’t see past the end of his own nose. Sometimes a little thing can be quite important.” This foreshadows later events. As Mary shows them the snow globe of the cathedral, Jane mentions that their father passes the cathedral every day and he sees it. Then Mary swirls the snow globe around and through a trance-like story, opens up a world and proceeds to put the Birdwoman idea into their heads, and into ours, too.
If never adequately captured by a formula, as psychic adventurer the trickster continues to go where others wish to venture yet fear to tread. He is guide both to actual travelers who live by their wits and to armchair explorers who live by their hopes. A stalking horse of the improbable, the trickster occasions discoveries of the possible while he proffers an exemplar for subsequent imitation. What makes the trickster’s journeys those of a psychopomp is not simply his moving back and forth across the borders of life and death, but his passage and return across the stages and states of life itself. If we are the myths we myth; the trickster myth beckons us toward innovation, he is a psychic guide or hermeneut leading us on through the thickets of personal and social signifiers toward invention of the self and society. (Hynes & Doty, 1993a, p. 210)
Mary, by telling the children about the Birdwoman is indirectly influencing their father, as we will shortly see. Milton Erickson would often put someone into trance by seeming to put another person into trance. In this way, the person who Erickson really sought to influence was less defended, and more able to relax and go into a trance, since Erickson's true target did not think it was happening to him. Mary uses a similar tactic throughout the movie with the children; although she is seeking to influence them as well, she is most interested in influencing George. Hyde (1998) notes that “Trickster myths embody playful and disruptive side of human imagination.” (p. 6). Hyde explains that while tricksters are “lords of in-between,” and are “boundary crossers who cross the line and confuse the distinction,” there are “also cases in which trickster creates a boundary or brings to the surface a distinction previously hidden from sight” (p. 7).
By telling the children about the Birdwoman, Mary is bringing to surface a distinction previously hidden from sight. It did not show up in George’s “cultural clearing,” as we will presently discuss.
The Background of the Song
Songwriter Bob Sherman relates that the song "Feed the Birds" was the first song that they wrote for the movie: “it was all about charity and giving something to somebody that they didn’t ask for but that they could use . . . .” Walt Disney would call the Shermans and ask them to play "it" on Friday afternoons. "It" was his favorite song"Feed the Birds." After hearing the song, he would get misty-eyed and "Yup, that’s what it's all about, have a good weekend boys." "Feed the Birds," also known as “Tuppence a Bag," is, as Richard Sherman explains:
the heartbeat of whole movie. It doesn’t take much to do the right thing, to do a nice thing, to do a kind thing, to give a little love, it doesn’t take much, tuppence. The story of Jane Darwell, the woman who portrayed the Birdwoman, is an example of this. Walt Disney gave that “tuppence a bag” to Jane Darwell. She was old and frail, and it was last thing she ever did. He sent a special car for her, and she criedWalt was so kind to her. (Stevenson, 2004, DVD)
Richard Sherman shares the story of the dedication of the Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse statue that is at Disneyland’s hub in honor of Walt’s 100th birthday. Richard played “Feed The Birds” in honor of Walt, and blew a kiss. During the song, he relates that a solitary bird flew across the sky, briefly landed, and then took off again.
Julie Andrews relates that the song “has nothing to do with birds and crumbs, it has to do with kindness and love . . . . Play that bird lady song again, yep that’s what it’s all about isn’t it . . . . He understood that what they wanted to do” (Stevenson, 2004, DVD). This song was the catalyst that convinced Walt that the Sherman Brothers were the right people to develop the show, and he put them under contract, although they had never done an entire movie before. “Feed the Birds” got to him, he loved it” (Stevenson, 2004). ∆RC[mp31]
The Feed the Birds scene occurs in the middle of the moviein the center of the liminal mandala [LINK]. This central scene is in essence, an imaginal inner pilgrimage to the cathedral. “A limen is, of course, literally a ‘threshold.’ A pilgrimage center . . . also represents a threshold, a place and moment ‘in and out of time,’” (V. Turner, 1974, p. 197). “I tend to see pilgrimage in the form of institutionalized or symbolic antistructure (or perhaps meta-structure) …[which] breeds new types of secular liminality and communitas” ( p. 182). This inner pilgrimage did indeed end up breeding many new types of liminality and eventually communitas!
As the children look at the swirling birds in the snow globe, it helps to fixate their attention and enables them to go into a kind of pre-sleep trance, in order to in order to picture what Mary is talking about.
In speaking of pilgrimage, Malcolm X said “what I have seen and experienced forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held [this rearrangement is a fairly regular feature of liminal experience] and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions…” (V. Turner, 1974, p. 168). Later, we will see much rearrangement. George Banks, however, would agree with Calvin and the Puritans that “pilgrimages . . . were mere peregrinations, wasting time and energy that might be better put to the service of demonstrating in the place where God has called one . . . a thrifty, industrious, and ‘pure’ style of life” (p. 188). But Mary knows better and this inner imaginal pilgrimage is of supreme importance.
Although not a witch, Mary paints eerily beautiful pictures with her words and creates a liminal twilight world with haunting angelic voices-- she is no stranger to nightflying, which Morales (1998) describes as:
The ability to . . . soar above the landscape of daily life, with eyes that can penetrate the darkness and see what we are not supposed to see . . . . Those who can see in the dark can uncover secrets… layers of life normally conducted out of sight. Nightflying requires a willingness to leave the familiar ground and see what is meant to be hidden, a willingness to be transformed. (p. 49)
Mary shows us her curendera side when she sings Feed the Birdsabout the unspoken and marginalized. Morales (1998) discusses the need to be a curendera historian, in order to bring these things into view. Curenderas are the female shamans of Mexico, and they, too, are associated with tricksters. In telling the children about the Birdwoman, Mary acts as a curendera historian, because she tells untold or undertold history, centers women, makes absences visible, and proposes a radically different interpretation, and dramatizes and personalizes the social condition of a group [both interior and exterior] that makes those conditions more real. Additionally, Mary shares the work in ways that people can assimilate (Morales, pp. 26-37), because Mary has made all of these outings fun for the children. Hyde (1998) points out, when talking about tricksters, that one of their functions is to make things visible.
In talking about the birds, Mary is speaking about the homeless, marginalized, unwanted aspects not only of the community, but also of ourselves. The birds are pigeons that turn into animated doves, and the Birdwoman looks like a bag lady. She represents the feminine in society that has been devalued and pushed aside. The birds fly around the cathedral, also symbolizing a spirituality that is dispossessed, and marginalized. The birds’ “young ones are hungry/ their nests are so bare.” These birds gather around the feminine even though she, too, is dispossessed and yet, “All around the cathedral/ the saints and apostles look down as she sells her wares/ Although you can't see them, /you know they are smiling/ each time someone shows that he cares." The birds represent the shadow aspects of this society.
Mary is describing a new world to the children. It opens up on all sides of them. With this song, she is able to shift the horizon or “cultural clearing” as Cushman (1995) calls it. This is what hermeneutics does, too, allowing us to expand our horizons. In the world of their father, a world of material values and patriarchal order, the Birdwoman would not be a major site to be visited. She would not appear within George’s:
what Gadamer called the horizon of understanding. Through our cultural beliefs and personal opinions we unknowingly make it possible in our clearing for certain things to be brought into view and at the same time we exclude other things from showing up.” (Cushman, 1995, p. 302)
Mary is essentially a like psychotherapist who lets a “different world emerge . . . [the] concept of the clearing implies not only the potential for change, but also the very real limitations of givenness” (Cushman, 1995, p. 310). This givenness is the cultural clearing or collective consciousness that exists for their father, represented by the two bank songs. "Feed the Birds" is also a dream, reverie, or trance which illustrates the elastic nature of the clearing or horizon. ∆RC[mp32] The children are able to experience a different reality in Feed the Birds:
“After all . . . what is dreaming if not experiencing of alternative terrains, an experimenting with different realities, a following of unusual rules . . . . Dreams are a realignment of things.” Burka is suggesting that dreaming is thinking the unthinkable, it is an illustration of what we have available to us but don’t know. In dreams we allow ourselves to see what has previously been too important, subversive, or mundane to remember. While dreaming we somehow shift or rearrange the horizon in a deeply imaginative way, unknowingly experiencing, rehearsing or practicing the process of reconstructing the clearing. While dreaming, we play with what is on the dark side of the moon.” (Cushman, 1995, p. 326)
This dissertation, too, asks us to expand our horizons by exploring these collective dreams, these pieces of popular culture, which are marginalized by many, but which may now possibly be viewed in a new way.
The cultural clearing of Mr. Banks and the society has produced “a culture of domination, which is anti-love. It requires violence to sustain itself. To choose love is to go against the prevailing values of the culture . . . .” (hooks, 1994, p. 246) "Feed the Birds" is a call to love and care about others around us and the marginalized within ourselves. bell hooks believes that:
The absence of a sustained focus on love in progressive circles arises from a collective failure to acknowledge the needs of the spirit and an overdetermined emphasis on material concerns. Without love, our efforts to liberate ourselves and our world community from oppression and exploitation are doomed. As long as we refuse to address fully the place of love in struggles for liberation we will not be able to create a culture of conversion where there is a mass turning away from an ethic of domination . . . .
Civil rights movement transformed society [because it was] . . . fundamentally rooted in a love ethic. [MLK Jr. recognized] that a revolution built on any other foundation would fail . . . . King testified that he had “decided to love” because he believed deeply that if we are “seeking the highest good” we “find it through love” because this is the “key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.” (hooks, 1994 pp. 233-234)
Love is more than just some “slipshod sugary feminine thinking” as George Banks would say. M. Scott Peck has defined love, as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth” (hooks, 1994, pp. 246-247). Mary loves the whole family in this way. Love also encompasses compassion and insight. As Buddhist Joanna Macy writes:
With insight into our profound interrelatedness, you know that actions undertaken with pure intention have repercussions throughout the web of life beyond what you can measure or discern . . . . [compassion and insight can] sustain us as agents of wholesome change . . . gifts for us to claim now in the healing of our world. (hooks, 1994, p. 249)
By bringing the awareness of the Birdwoman to the children, Mary eventually changes the lives of the whole community through creative restoration. H. Lorenz and M. Watkins (2000) explicate:
By creative restoration we mean psychologically minded cultural work and culturally minded psychological work that crafts psyche and world in the image of the deeply desired; that provides a healing context where what has been torn can be reimagined and sutured in concert with others. Such restorative work is an act of love and care that has both human and spiritual dimensions. And while it can be suffused with wrong turns and misreadings, sometime it breaks into moments of grace and communitas that allow desired transformations. (p. 16)