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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Sowing the Seeds of Chaos

A Few Words with Mary Poppins—"A British Bank" . . . [The Life I Lead tune]

George Banks is still cross and angry when he returns home that evening, ignoring Admiral Boom, George is a man on a mission.  The children are waiting for him at the door, and try to tell him about their day and the joke about the wooden leg, which he does not get:  “We don’t know anyone named Smith,” he says, because he is so distracted that he either did not hear that it was a joke, or he did not care to play along.  George dismisses the children who are rambling on about the day, while Mary is coming down the stairs. George tells Mary he wants to speak with her. Everyone in the household knows what is coming, they have seen it before.  Winifred is on her way out to a rally, but George insists that she stay and begins the discussion by saying that he is partially to blame for letting the children spend time on “worthless frivolities” and that “it is high time they learn the seriousness of life.”

Mary has been honoring the imagination.  Through her tricky ways, with her games and outings, she has helped the children learn new things through these playful and play-filled experiences.  George does not see any value in this.  He does not allow any irrationality into his life.  He holds fast to his persona, his social mask, and is very threatened by the changes he sees going on all around him, although they are positively affecting the rest of the household: 

Flights of the imagination may threaten deeply rooted attitudes or moods. Such attitudes are comfortable, and they impart a sense of familiarity to everyday living.  We feel their rightness, and so we may find it disquieting to open ourselves wholeheartedly to the irrational play of the imagination. (Combs & Holland, 2001, p. 136)

Because of George’s rigid one-sidedness, he does not play, as Winifred so astutely mentioned earlier in the day, in the discussion about the piano.  Nor does George play at anything else, it seems.  George is possessed by his social self-image, a British banker, serious to the utmost.  In order to play, to let our imaginations run free, we need to

lighten up from time to time . . . . To do this we must relax rigid attitudes or moods, even perhaps our concepts of morality…. Putting aside your culturally created and therefore limited conception of reality, including the reality of your own self.  The trickster can then reveal aspects of ourselves that are hidden from our scrutiny . . . but if we allow the trickster to be our guide and follow his play consciously, we are given the very real possibility of expanding our lens of who and what we are.  Allowing true freedom to the imagination requires that we take the courage to bare ourselves to an insecurity that comes with giving oneself over to the irrational. (Combs & Holland, 2001, p. 136)

George is not prepared to do this.  He is trying to restore the prior order, which Jung would call "retrogressive restoration of the persona."  Instead of going with the changes, George is trying to fire Mary Poppins, who is at the heart of the changes.  ∆RC[mp30]

When George says that Jane and Michael need to learn the seriousness of life, Winifred reminds him, “But George, they’re only children,” and yet he continues. Almost as forewarning Winifred asks him, “are you certain you know what you're doing?”  George answers that he believes he does and then proceeds to discuss the household in term of the bank. This patter song is to the tune “The Life I Lead” and the hiring of the nanny song, and “tradition disciple and rules” are again spotlighted: “A British bank is run with precision, a British home requires nothing less.  Tradition discipline and rules must be the tools, without them, disorder! Chaos! Moral disintegration.  In short you have a ghastly mess,” [emphasis added] George patters, reminding us of the supreme importance of Saturnian seriousness.

George explains that the children must learn that “life is a looming battle to be faced and fought” and then he tells Mary Poppins that outings should be “frought with purpose, yes, and practicality,” which in his eyes her outings have not been.  When George says that they must learn the honest truth despite their youth . . .”  Mary Poppins chimes in, finishing his sentence, “about the life you lead” to the same tune.

Mary is establishing rapport by matching his voice patterns. Then she goes on, seemingly on the same page as George, at least to him, to embrace his view of the world. She gives several examples of things that are important to him in his world that the children ought to learn, thus creating what is called in Ericksonian hypnosis a “yes set.” Mary has entered George’s model of the world and by mentioning these truths as he sees them, she paces him and after building a bridge and keeping in rapport with George, she is able to lead him where she wants him to go.  She is interested in what is truly best for the children and the whole family, and on some unconscious level he realizes this, and yet consciously, he is resistant.  His conscious mind is the problem and so by agreeing with that part of him, she keeps his conscious mind occupied and onboard so that transformation can occur.  Although she is agreeing that these things are important to him, she does not necessarily agree that they are important in themselves.

George agrees with Mary as she continues, after all, what she is saying is true in his eyes.  After all of this pacing, which has a slightly different tune, Mary sings the last stanza to his signature Saturnian theme, the same “The Life I Lead” tune as he has been singing, and he continues to agree:

Mary: It's time they learned to walk in your footsteps,
George: My footsteps,
Mary: To tread your straight and narrow path with pride,

George: With pride,
Mary: Tomorrow just as you suggest, pressed and dressed, Jane and Michael will be at your side.  [She leads him with the suggestion.]
George: Splendid, you’ve hit the nail on the . . . . At my side, where are we going?
Mary: To the bank of course, exactly as you proposed
George: I proposed?
Mary: Of course.

Before he can reconsider, Mary excuses herself to see that the children “have a proper night’s sleep."  George then asks Winfred, “did I say I was going to take the children.”  Winifred replies, “It certainly sounded that way.”  Then, as before, George goes on to make the idea his own, trying to restore his rigid, in control, order-oriented, persona: “Just the medicine they need for all this slipshod sugary female thinking,”  which is a sort of bizarre twist on the spoonful of sugar idea.  George proposes cold, hard, bitter reality as medicine, to counteract sweetness in life.  “Quite right, good idea, quite right, good idea” he mutters.

Mary returns to the nursery and the children believe she has been fired.  She dissuades them of this notion, saying she is “never sacked” but that they need to go to sleep because they are going on an outing with their father in the morning.  The children remark that he has never taken them anywhere before, much less on an outing. Then Jane, very perceptively, asks how Mary Poppins managed “to put the idea into his head.”  Mary replies, with a tricksterish twinkle in her eye and a fleeting smile on her lips, which subtly acknowledges the astuteness of Jane’s comment: “What an impertinent thing to say, me putting ideas into people’s heads, really!” The children are excited that they will be going to the city, and that their father can point out all the sites to them.

“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 cried—Walt 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]

Inner Pilgrimage

The Feed the Birds scene occurs in the middle of the movie—in 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 Birds—about 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)

H. Lorenz (2000) notes that “depth psychology has always been a decentering dialog between dominant cultures and silenced cultures, conscious and unconscious, self and other” (p. 239).  Mary helps the others individuate, defeat their egos and “see through” the world:

Jung conceptualized the individuation process more as a process of resistance and destabilization to collective norms that would transform both the individual and the social environment . . . . As the individual is not just a single separate being, but by his very existence presupposes a collective relationship, it follows that the process of individuation must lead to more intense and broader collective relationships and not to isolation. (Jung, 1971, p. 448) (H. Lorenz,  2000b, p. 230)

Through “Feed the Birds,” Mary has increased the children’s consciousness.  Gloria Anzaldua’s term conocimiento shows how Mary accomplishes this:

those who produce new conocimientos have to shift the frame of reference, reframe the issue or situation being looked at, connect the disparate parts of information in new ways or from a perspective that’s new . . . . The work of conocimiento—consciousness work—connects the inner life of the mind and spirit to the outer worlds of action.  I see conocimiento as a consciousness-raising tool, one that promotes self-awareness and self-reflectivity.  It encourages folks to empathize and sympathize with others, to walk in others shoes, to place oneself in a state of resonance with the other’s feelings and situations… to relate to others by recognizing commonalities.  Con conocimiento—speaking, listening.  Receptivity is the stance here, not the adversarial mode, not the armed camp.  (Keating, 2000, p. 178)

The increased awareness of the children, allows them to see what their father misses, and on their way to the bank, Jane and Michael see the Birdwoman and point her out to their father, asking “you do see him, don’t you father.”  He replies he sees her, “Do you think I can’t see past the end of my nose?”  Mary used this expression the previous evening.  Although George physically sees her, he has no appreciation for her, because he does not value her.  ∆RC[mp33]

When Jane, Michael, and George Banks see the Birdwoman, they are at the corner, a crossroads, trickster territory.  Crossroads, as Slattery (1995) reminds us are where little things happen that end up being very important. George hastens toward the bank, but the children want to stop and feed the birds.  Although Michael is persistent, George forbids it, and once he makes this fateful decision, we hear a blaring noise, a kind of orchestral “uh oh.”  George tells Michael, that when they get to the bank, he will show Michael something he may do with his tuppence, that George, at least, thinks is interesting.

This corner is a bifurcation point, literally and figuratively.  There are two competing decisions, two different alternatives or paths that can be taken.  George’s single-mindedness and disregard for relationship are about to blow up, beyond all proportions. 

We will shortly see how the seeds of chaos were sown with Mary’s imaginal “Feed the Birds” pilgrimage.  It will prove to disrupt George Banks’s identity and send him hurtling headlong into a very deep nepantla.  Fortunately, Bert, Mary and even his children—directly and indirectly provide mentorship and guidance that will help George to transform and individuate. 

As we break away from the older collective consciousness normalized in the era of colonialism, formerly unheard narratives and dialogs can rupture identities and speed up processes of individuation and differentiation.  By participating in this process, we will necessarily discover new, and sometimes disorienting, territories to explore in imagining both ourselves and others.  Hybrid rituals and postcolonial pilgrimages can then begin to create the cosmopolitan communities of the future. (H. Lorenz, 2000b, p. 232)

But all of this is in George’s future. The bank awaits, and the bifurcations have only just begun—George’s decision not to allow Michael to feed the birds will be a costly one.


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