SUPER-SUPERFICIALITY

As I stared, bemused, at the TV screen, a feature program commenced. The presenters seemed cultured and knowledgeable, as indeed they were duty bound to seem. I thought they would probably proceed as usual, interviewing experts and asking them silly questions without giving them enough time to answer.

They announced that their subject would be hypnosis. Then, instantly, without another word, they showed a clip from the 1976 Disney film The Jungle Book. The clip shows the python Kaa hypnotizing the feral boy Mowgli to immobilize him in order to eat him. The eyes of the python exhibit multicolored concentric ripples (strikingly graphic but resembling nothing in the real world) and the boy's eyes mirror those of the python, with the same concentric ripples.

I didn't think that such an appeal to authority is a prerequisite for a TV feature. Medieval scholars used to begin by quoting Aristotle. Priests begin by quoting the gospels. But TV presenters? And their authority is Disney? The clip of animated cartoon was shown as if it were an authoritative definition of hypnosis. I had seen enough. I turned it off before it could irritate me further.

They could have employed better, more genuine examples. The first that comes to mind is Mario and the Magician by Thomas Mann, but perhaps that is unsuitable because it is literature. TV thrives on "visuals" not "talking heads." Very well, there are other films, for example: The Manchurian Candidate, The Ipcress File, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. I suppose they did not want the example to seem threatening. Better to show the sterilized but flashy Disney cartoon. The trouble is, that the Disney clip is not only irrelevant, but totally wrong on every level.

First things first. The original is The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, published in 1894. It is a classic children's book, based on folklore and superstitions that the author picked up during his sojourn in India. His purpose was twofold: to provide entertaining reading matter, and to teach his Victorian attitudes and ideals. It is salutary for children, certainly better than the Tarzan rubbish. It depicts the lives of wild animals as exotic, thrilling, and noble. It portrays the animals as dealing with moral dilemmas guided by their version of the Ten Commandments, "The Law of the Jungle." As such, it is a beneficial antidote against the view of animals as vermin (in agriculture or hunting) or as expendable sacrifices (in bullfights) or as clowns (in circus acts) or as objects of curiosity (as in a zoo) or as cute cuddly dolls (as kittens and puppies and petting zoos).

Three chapters in Kipling are based on the myth of the feral child, lost in the jungle and brought up by animals. Kipling's hero Mowgli is such a feral child, an exemplar of the "noble savage," superior to normal humans in physique, intelligence, and morals. In reality most feral children were frauds. Some were mentally impaired, some fled abusive parents, some were abandoned by their parents. Some were rescued too late for them to learn language, or walking erect, or the use of tools.

In Kipling's book, Kaa the python is one of Mowgli's mentors, a hundred years old, powerful and wise. When the Bandar-log monkeys kidnap Mowgli, Kaa rescues him by performing the serpentine "Dance of the Hunger of Kaa" which hypnotizes his prey. The monkeys are hypnotized, but.Mowgli, being human, is immune, and they escape. This is also based on a myth. Snakes have no eyelids, so they don't blink and seem to stare balefully. Some snakes move their heads from side to side before striking to home in on the target. Therefore, the superstition has arisen that they hypnotize their prey. They don't need to, because they strike with lightning speed.

In the Disney film Kaa uses eye-to eye hypnosis. In the real world, the method of many hypnotists is to ask the subject to fix his eyes on an some object, not necessarily the hypnotist's eyes. This is not the only method, or even the best. In general, the method is to focus the subject's attention, then to suggest relaxation, then to suggest feelings of acquiescence and compliance. The comic-book satanic hypnotist intoning "Look into my eyes!" is pure superstition.

In the Disney film, not only is Mowgli not immune to hypnosis, but he is in danger of being eaten alive. In the real world, hypnosis is not brainwashing. Especially at the first moment after a subject has been hypnotized, not yet in a deep trance, he cannot be compelled to do something repugnant -- and certainly not to submit to being eaten alive.

The Disney studios, as usual, rewrote, perverted, and emasculated the original. They made the character of Kaa villainous and cowardly and ludicrous. They changed the warning hiss of the serpent to a ridiculous elongation of all his "s" sounds, so that he lisps grotesquely. His attempts to eat Mowgli end in comical failure: In the continuation of the clip shown in the TV feature, the panther Bagheera intervenes, and Kaa ignominiously loses his balance and falls out of the tree. Later in the film, Kaa succeeds in hypnotizing Mowgli, singing the song "Trust in Me" seductively if lispingly, and making the boy sleepwalk along his serpentine body. This time the tiger Shere Khan intervenes. Mowgli wakes up and escapes, and Kaa once again loses his balance and falls out of the tree. In the fantasy world of Disney, danger provides thrills, but nothing bad can actually happen to the characters, or to the customers.

According to my dictionary, a TV feature is one in which a subject is treated in depth. The first moments of the program I have described warned me that, on the contrary, it would be the epitome of superficiality. The fact that the TV presenters saw Disney as the authority for defining their subject compounded the superficiality. Disney in all its incarnations is stupendous in its superficiality. Here, as everywhere, it misrepresents everything on every level. Television, unlike Kipling, is harmful for children, and also for credulous adults. Disney also -- even more so.

It has been truly said, that television is called a medium because it is rare that anything in it is well done