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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Communitas—The Power of Connection

Communitas is characterized by spontaneity and immediacy, and is not usually long lasting.  Spontaneous communitas is a “direct immediate and total confrontation of human identities,” which, when experienced makes you “think of mankind as a homogeneous, unstructured, free community" (V. Turner, 1974, p. 169).  V. Turner (1969) notes that “communitas emerges where social structure is not” (p. 126), and so the liminal period, when the normal social structure is temporarily absent would be a logical place for it.

V. Turner (1969) notes that “communitas has also an aspect of potentiality; it is often in the subjunctive mood, relations between total beings are generative of symbols and metaphors and comparisons; art and religion are their products rather than legal and political structures.” V. Turner felt that “we may catch glimpses of that unused evolutionary potential in mankind which has not yet been externalized and fixed in structure” in the works of prophets and artists, who tend to be liminal and marginal people (pp. 127-128). ∆RC[mp8]

In Mary Poppins, communitas is present in “Jolly Holiday,” “I Love to Laugh,” the “Rooftops of London” adventure, “Step In Time,” and “Let's Go Fly a Kite.”   The spirit of communitas is most truly portrayed however in the liminal lullaby “Feed the Birds,” which songwriter Richard Sherman (Stevenson, 2004, DVD) notes is the heart of the movie. During the scene-play, we will explore this in greater detail but "Feed the Birds" was Walt Disney’s favorite, because Sherman explains, "it summarized what to him what life is all about, humankindness."  V. Turner (1969) explains the importance of communitas:

the notion that there is a generic bond between men, and its related sentiment of “humankindness,” are not epiphenomena of some kind of herd instinct but are products of “men in their wholeness wholly attending.” Liminality, marginality and structural-inferiority are conditions in which are frequently generated myths, symbols, rituals, philosophical systems and works of art.  These cultural forms provide men with a set of templates or models, which are at one level, periodical reclassifications of reality and man’s relationship to society, nature, and culture.  But they are more than classifications, since they incite men to action as well as to thought.  Each of these productions has a multivocal character, having many meanings, and each is capable of moving people at many psycho-biological levels simultaneously.  (pp.128-129)

Mary Poppins is a liminal mandala, which begins and ends in the twilight skies over London, and contains different “loops” or complementary scenes that open and then close around this central scene of “Feed the Birds. [link to liminal mandala] Mandalas according to Jung were symbols of wholeness, and before he came upon the mandala term, he used the term kaleidoscope (de Marrais, 2003, unpublished manuscript).

Mary Poppins was trying to create conditions for communitas, and this is also what Disney himself was trying to create in Disneyland. Disneyland combines two different parts of antistructure: commerce and communitas, because the marketplace Bakhtin (1963/1968) notes was a place of liminality especially in ancient and feudal times, as well as of communitas, because differences did not make as much difference when commerce was concerned.

As Hansen (2001) remarks “the bonds of communitas are antistructural in the sense that they are undifferentiated, equalitarian, direct” (p. 57).  Hansen explains that such situations can occur spontaneously but they can also be organized as in initiations and rite of passage.  As an example of spontaneous communitas, Hansen notes that V. Turner mentions the hippies of Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in the 1960s. Hansen adds that drugs facilitated destructururing of consciousness (p. 57).


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