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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Dysfunctional Dynamics

Both George Banks and Winifred Banks enter their homes singing about their self-involved lives.  They are at different ends of the spectrum, and their songs reflect this, not only in content, but also in style and choreography.  George sings a patter song that glorifies the patriarchy, unrelated to anyone.  Patting his invisible children on the head as he sings about his orderly schedule, he is very constrained, not moving much, and not engaging in a relational way with others.  Winifred, on the other hand, energetically sings and dances, including the domestics in her revolutionary cause and song.  The dynamic between Mr. and Mrs. Banks reflects the notion of gerontomorphy and pedomorphy, respectively  [See Gerontomorphy-Pedomorphy Table] The dynamic between them also mirrors the cultural milieu of the 1960s, between the establishment and the counterculture.  Mary Poppins appeared at this time, and her character metaphorically offers another position, a third choice, holding the tension between the two opposites, similar to and what Jung (1958/1973) called the “transcendent function.”  While beyond the scope of this dissertation, I see a more in-depth exploration between play and the transcendent function as an area of future research.

These two songs set up the need for Mary Poppins to be there, as Richard Sherman relates: “The parents were so busy doing their own thing, they weren’t paying attention to their children and that would be the key to the story.”  (Stevenson, 2004. DVD).  As Marshall McLuhan (2003) synchronistically noted in 1964: artists are “the antenna of the race.” Sherman notes the film-makers originally thought of having the father be physically absent, but then realized that he could be absent emotionally, while still being physically present in the home. The dynamics of the Banks family, the problem of absent parents who are physically present yet emotionally absent from their children’s lives, is a very real problem in today’s world, much more so than when the movie premiered in the mid-1960s.

Cuomo (1995) sees George Banks as a “failed patriarch,” his wife is an inattentive, subversive suffragette, and his children are errant and out of control.  In Cuomo’s feminist reading of the story, Mary Poppins is a “spinster in sensible shoes,” a witch, whose “magic opens up worlds of possibility,” and a “rebel nanny without a feminist cause.”  Cuomo faults the movie for “merely agitating but never truly upsetting gender roles and social configurations” (p. 214).  She notes that Mary never interacts with Winifred, and takes Mary’s lack of onscreen interaction or overt support of Winifred’s cause to mean that Winifred is insignificant; the message, Cuomo argues being that men can save the family.  Cuomo asserts that the movie Mary Poppins is all about men being the bastion of the home, and that “men can have it all.” 

I see it differently.  I believe that Mary focuses on George Banks because he and his routine are the problem.  Winifred is most likely overly concerned outside the home as a compensation for and rebellion against her stern, strict, patriarchal husband.  Cuomo notes that Winifred gives up her suffragette sash at the end of the movie for the kite’s tale—implying that she has given up the cause.  But as we have seen, Winifred had several such sashes and giving up one of them is a healthy way of indicating her becoming more balanced, but lets us not get ahead of ourselves.


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