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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Let The Bifurcations Begin

“The Fidelity Fiduciary Bank”

“The Fidelity Fiduciary Bank” is the next song we hear. It is  another bank song, as was the song that preceded “Feed the Birds.”  As discussed previously, in the ongoing themes section, “Feed the Birds” is pedomorphic, taking place in the imagination of the children, and concerns relational and emotional things, whereas both of these bank songs are gerontomorphic in nature.  According to songwriter Richard Sherman, “The Fidelity Fiduciary Bank” was done as a tribute to Gilbert and Sullivan (Stevenson, 2004, DVD), writers of comic operas in the late Nineteenth Century, many of which were topsy-turvy and poked fun at the Royal Navy, English law, and melodrama, among other subjects.  Thus the song’s style and history are a fitting foreshadowing of the topsy-turvy events that are about to unfold (Wikipedia, 2005c) []

The bank is relatively dark and cavernous and its floor has a black and white geometric pattern, perhaps reflecting the black-and- white, binary thinking that goes on there.  Van Eenwyk's (1997) discussion about the difference between calculative thinking and meditative thinking (Heidegger’s two categories of thinking), is instructive.  Calculative thinking is directional, it clings one-sidedly to a single idea or a single course of thinking, and races from one prospect to the next.  Calculative thinking seeks results, does not like ambiguity or conflict and cannot stand the tension of opposites.  Meditative thinking on the other hand, is comfortable with ambiguity and contemplates the meaning that reigns in everything that is  (p. 80). George and the bankers value calculative thinking, because banks are all about calculations, whereas the Birdwoman and Mary Poppins value the in-between realm, the place of both-and and neither-nor.  The Birdwoman’s world is the shadow of the banking world. ∆RC[mp34]

Mr. Banks removes his hat when he enters bank, and Michael, imitating his father, takes his hat off, too.  George and the children encounter the senior officers of the bank in the hallway, and they inquire what the children are doing there.  George replies "They’re here to open an account."  The elder Mr Dawes, hearing something about money totters toward them, noting “tuppence, precisely how I got started.”

The elder Mr. Dawes is sickly, arthritic, and stiff, perhaps the consequence of lots of rigid calculative thinking.  He is a wonderful image of gerontomorphy, and represents the trajectory that George has been on and would be headed for, had Mary Poppins not arrived.  The elder Mr. Dawes asks to see the tuppence and Michael declines: “no I wanted to feed the birds.”    The elder Mr. Dawes replies “feed the birds, and what have you got?  Fat birds.”  He does not see any value at all in this. 

The bankers then launch into song, trying to get Michael to give over the tuppence, by telling him all of the wonderful things of which he can be a part.  The things they sing of are all about technology, engineering, or finance, there is no heart, no soul, in any of them, only colonization and imperialist expansion.  Each of the three times during the song when they mention these things, the bankers are increasingly insistent and zealous, almost reaching a fever pitch:

You see, Michael, you'll be part of / Railways through Africa / Dams across the Nile / Fleets of ocean greyhounds / Majestic, self-amortizing canals / Plantations of ripening tea… You can purchase first and / Second trust deeds / Think of the foreclosures! / Bankruptcies! /Debtor sales! . . . Opportunities! / All manner of private enterprise! / Shipyards! The mercantile! / Collieries! Tanneries! / Incorporations! Amalgamations! Banks! 

As they sing, the bankers are backing the children into the wall and hording around poor Jane and Michael, for the purpose of hoarding money!  They are getting carried away and spinning the tuppence into all of these things, because eventually with compound interest, the tuppence will indeed grow.  “If you invest your tuppence / Wisely in the bank / Safe and sound / Soon that tuppence, safely / Invested in the bank / Will compound,” leading to a “sense of conquest” and a “sense of stature” through expanding affluence and influence. 

Compound interest is an example of the idea of iteration, and we can see that over a period of time, this small amount of money will grow exponentially.  This indeed shows one side of the bifurcation, the choice between alternatives, the fork in the proverbial yellow wood. This is the road that will not be taken, and the other side of the bifurcation will be played out shortly. The children do not understand all of this investment advice, and Michael still persists in his desire to feed the birds.  The tuppence will indeed have an exponential effect, but not this one of investing and compound interest that the bankers desire. 

The elder Mr. Dawes perhaps represents the patriarchy, on its last legs, old, sick, and rigid.  The patriarchy has had a very broad effect, as all of the things they sing about indicate.  The bankers are overbearing and insistent.  The elder Mr. Dawes says “while stand the banks of England, England stands,” and he almost falls over and is tottering.  He continues: “When fall the banks of England, England fall,” and ass he utters this phrase the elder Mr. Dawes actually falls backwards, overcompensating from his previous forward fall and the other bankers catch him.  This perhaps alludes to the precarious and shaky nature of too much order.  George Banks's precious order can be deadly.  Van Eenwyk (1997) notes that

research into EKG and EEG patterns, however, suggests that chaotic patterns provide “a healthy variability that allows the organ to respond quickly to a variety of stimuli.”  Systems lose their capacity to respond to new situations when they are limited to regular patterns that never vary.  The greater the diversity of available responses to changes, the greater the potential to survive the unexpected.  Thus “a healthy physiological system has a certain amount of innate variability, and a loss of this variability—a transition to a less complicated, more ordered state signals an impaired system.”  In other words, chaos provides a richness of response that order cannot . . . .

“Those who believe that healthy systems don’t want homeostasis, they want chaos” cite three advantages of chaos over order.  First, flexibility depends on choices. Second, chaos offers more choices than order.  Finally to the degree that adaptation requires flexibility, chaos is essential for growth.  (pp. 167-168)

Michael is very confused and opens his hand slightly as the bankers end the song.  At that moment, the elder Mr. Dawes snatches the tuppence from Michael who then struggles to take it back. In this struggle, chaos ensues, because others overhear Michael screaming: “Give me back my money,” they decide they want theirs, too; a bank run is the result.

The Chaotic Power of Tuppence

During the melee, the children escape and the bank run proliferates, as more and more people arrive at the bank. The situation has escalated out of control, from one little incident involving a small amount of money.  As melee grows, the bank employees chaotically rush around, too, bumping into each other, and money goes flying. 

This scene is a brilliant example of chaos theory;  demonstrating the ideas of iteration, bifurcations, and the butterfly effect (aka sensitive dependence on initial conditions or SDIC) all occurring at once.  Small initial changes can indeed mushroom quickly out of control and turn into chaos.  The kind of chaos that seems to be taking place here is entropic chaos, that is, chaos that never resolves into patterns, and “simply deteriorates into total disorder, never to return ” (Van Eenwyk, 1997, p. 45).  Deterministic chaos conversely is self-organizing chaos, where patterns appear periodically and then disappear.  The upcoming song “Step in Time,” is an example of deterministic chaos. 

The decision not to give the money back sets up a feedback loop, that feeds back upon itself, an example of iteration.  The more people that the bank refuses to give money, the more people who show up wanting their money, and like the feedback in a microphone, the result is extremely unpleasant. Minuscule differences in the starting point, that is, not letting Michael have his money back, leads to completely different results, and minute changes make enormous differences over time, a small amount of money, tuppence has caused a bank run.  This is a great example of SDIC or the butterfly effect, which was explored in greater length in the "Cosmic Game" chapter, in the "Crash Course on Chaos" section. Had the elder Mr. Dawes given Michael back his tuppence, a very different outcome would have resulted.


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