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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Mary Poppins’ Strategic Moves

These dynamic are also at play within Mary Poppins: George represents the gerontomorphic strategy, while Winifred and the children would be pedomorphic.  Mary adapts her strategy accordingly; with the children, since they are in what Shulman (1997) would call a more “melting” chaotic environment, Mary provides more structure and thus brings them closer to the optimal edge of chaos where she resides.  With George, however, through disruption and confusion, Mary “melts” his more “frozen” way of being in an attempt to get him closer to this edge of chaos as well.  Mary would represent a form of “optimal pedomorphy… a dynamically fluctuating state which reformulates itself” according to environmental needs: 

Westcott thought of the state of pedomorphy as a kind of atavism in the service of regeneration: “may be metaphorically described as a kind of evolutionary gamble, whereby groups of organisms “deliberately (so to speak) take one developmental step backward in hope (as it were) of being thereby enabled subsequently to take two steps forward.” (Shulman, 1997, p. 148-149) 

Westcott also believed that the superior species would resemble a “rejuvenated elder” who could enjoy the benefit of his experience with a zest for life, as opposed to a “prematurely senescent youth” who lacks both experience and zest (Shulman, 1997, p. 149). Dr. Shulman, who taught my first class in depth psychology, specializes in liminality, truly, the "queen of in-between." Between order and chaos lies another realm, the edge of chaos, which is where healing can happen.  This realm goes by many names and has many liminal residents, one of which is the divine child archetype. The divine child archetype is a symbol of the Self, that is, the balancing structure corrective center of the psyche.  Shulman discusses the Self as the divine child saying that it unites opposites, and is both young and old. Shulman quotes Jung who notes that the child archetype motif

represents not only something that existed in the distant past but also something that exists now; that is to say it is not just a vestige. But a system functioning in the present whose purpose is to compensate or correct, in a meaningful manner, the inevitable one-sidedness and extravagances of the conscious mind . . . our differentiated consciousness is in continual danger of being uprooted; hence it needs compensation through the still existing state of childhood.  (Jung, 1951/1990, pp. 162-163, para. 276)

Mary Poppins does precisely this; she is constantly using the pedomorphic play of childhood to compensate George’s one-sided gerontomorphic qualities.  Mary is a healer, and as Shulman explains, the healer combines qualities of both the pedomorphic child archetype and the gerontomorphic wise old man or woman archetype.  In discussing the healer archetypes in Greek mythology, Shulman notes that Jungian analyst C.A. Meier thought that Chiron, the wounded healer, might represent a healing possibility of the irrational combined with the rational. Chiron was a centaur who was accidentally wounded by Hercules.  Shulman also mentions in passing that Asclepius is accompanied by his daughter Hygiea, who is associated with a serpent and sometimes by hooded dwarves.  We will see the healing power of irrationality play out with the mended kite at the end of the scene-play.  ∆RC[mp2]

Shulman (1997) asks the very important question: “Had gerontomorphic ‘civilization’ broken off the possibility of some kind of pedomorphic healing ritual?” (p. 158). I believe that the answer to that question is yes, however, there are pedomorphic healing rituals available in our culture, though they are found mostly on the margins.  Grof’s work with nonordinary states would be a classic example of a pedomorphic healing ritual, and other examples would be the different embodied forms of therapy, many of which were pioneered at Esalen during the 1960s. 

Shulman notes that a worldwide survey of cultures done in the 1960s by anthropologist Erika Bourguinon, which sought to determine the prevalence of the use of what Grof would call holotropic nonordinary states of consciousness. The survey found that “of 488 cultures studied, in 437 (89%) of them such states were institutionalized” (Shulman, 1997, p. 171).  Many of these cultures have watched the decline and fall of “high civilizations,” and their ability to renew and balance their cultures through these ritual pedomorphic states has led to their longevity.  In the West, we have essentially banished these states, and Shulman posits “It may be that extremely high-grid [many social rules and structures] societies are too one-sided to allow human survival over the long run” (p. 172).

George Banks was a "high grid" kind of guy and he did not fare well when his precious order was interrupted.  Western society's quest for rationality and order has paradoxically led to its irrationally become too one-sided. Van Eenwyk (1997) notes that when the psyche becomes too one-sided, it seeks to rebalance itself by bringing in the opposite exiled qualities. We saw this in the Cosmic Game chapter. Jung noted that " 'at bottom' psyche is merely 'world,' " (Jung, 1951/1990, p. 173, para. 291) and so we can expect similar dynamics to occur in the world. ∆RC[mp3]

As we have seen, George is gerontomorphic while Winifred and the children are pedomorphic.  Mary appears a bit more gerontomorphic than Bert, but together especially they represent the healer/divine child archetype and are easily able to tack between these two strategies as the situation calls for.  The household staff, Admiral Boom, and Constable Jones are more gerontomorphic, but they are not as fixed in this one mode as George. Uncle Albert and the chimney sweeps are more pedomorphic, while the elder Mr. Dawes, is the poster child for gerontomorphy. The other bankers and the bank itself are also gerontomorphic, while the Birdwoman, although an elder in years, is pedomorphic. The cathedral location, as depicted by Disney, is pedomorphic, too. [see table]

In the movie, the songs themselves also reflect this dynamic.  

Structurally, the pedomorphic song "Feed the Birds" is intriguingly set between two gerontomorphic and colonizing songs about banks--"A British Bank" and "Fidelity Fiduciary Bank."  Anzaldúa (1999) tells us of the importance of being between two banks:

But it is not enough to stand on the opposite river bank, shouting questions, challenging patriarchal, white conventions.  A counterstance locks one into a duel of oppressor and oppressed . . . both are reduced to a common denominator of violence . . . . All reaction is limited by, and dependent on, what it is reacting against.  At some point, on our way to a new consciousness, we will have to leave the opposite bank . . . so that we are on both shores at once and, at once, see through serpent and eagle eyes . . . . Or we might go another route.  The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react. (pp. 100-101) ∆RC[mp4]


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