The Lion King: Is Simba the VILLAIN? – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on The Lion King!
Written by: Tommy Cook & Alec Opperman
Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Directed by: Michael Luxemburg
Edited by: Mark Potts
Assistant Editor: Andrew Nishimura
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Emily Dunbar
The Lion King: Is Simba the VILLAIN? – Wisecrack Edition
Hey, Wisecrack! Jared, here, As you grow older, you come to learn some hard truths. Santa isn’t real. Cereal makes you fat. Space Jam is a bad movie. It’s a natural and inevitable course, but that’s why I’m here — to bury your childhood completely. That’s right, your childhood’s last, happy gasps of excitement will be drowned out by the ‘plump plump’ of dirt slowly encasing it. So, get ready to become a hardened alcoholic with three mortgages and an angry ex-wife because I’m here to tell you that The Lion King is cinema’s cutest advocacy of totalitarian ethics. Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on the Lion King. And as always, spoilers ahead — but seriously, who hasn’t seen this f**king movie?
While The Lion King is one of the most beloved films of the Disney canon, the animal kingdom’s political landscape also happens to be eerily similar to some of the worst ideologies of not only the 20th century, but arguably, of all time. The Lion King tells the story of Simba, a young lion ordained to succeed his father, Mufasa, as King of the Pride Lands. Mufasa teaches his young son all about proper rulership and the delicate balance of nature that a king must uphold. However, Mufasa’s brother Scar covets the throne, gets Mufasa killed and convinces the young Simba that it’s all his fault — “Simba, what have you done?” — before claiming the throne for himself. Simba lives out his shame with some carefree hippies, before returning to the Pride Land to reclaim his rightful throne.
Also, it’s based on Hamlet. If Lion King were just the story of a king, his prince, and a jealous brother, there wouldn’t be much to say. But it isn’t just that. In fact, the film posits two principles which have been justifying the world’s worst despots since before despots even existed. The first is seemingly the most wholesome: that the beautiful balance of nature is the basis for politics, or as the film memorably calls it, “The circle of life.” The film’s famous opening number displays the majestic nature of the African savannah and the glorious natural order of things. Mufasa establishes that Pride Rock is run on basic natural tenants. “Everything the light touches is our kingdom.” “Wow!” “A Kings’ time as ruler rises and falls like the sun.”
Hell, the sky opens up and shines a halo over Mufasa’s newborn son, the heavens literally marking the lions as the rightful, natural rulers. The imagery couldn’t be any clearer if they tacked on an chyron stating ‘Obey Mufasa’. And while you may wonder what it means for a society that is ruled by someone, like a lion, who eats his subjects, don’t worry, the circle of life is beautiful. “Dad, don’t we eat the antelope?” “Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass, and so we are all connected in the great circle of life.”
Even though, to be more scientifically accurate, it’s more likely that, for the antelope at least, their fully digested brothers and sisters will be excreted by the likes of Simba to fertilize the grass which they’ll eat. So it’s like cannibalism with extra steps! And while it seems like a message even an environmentalist could get on board with, this is where it gets dark. All the monkeys, elephants, and giraffes seem to happily accept their place in society, hailing the birth of a creature what may very well eat them one day. Even Mufasa’s faithful servant quickly gets over the fact that he’s assaulted and humiliated as prey, because, well, he is prey. But not everybody is happy with their lot in life. The Hyenas are at the bottom of the food chain, presumably because they’re scavengers. “Look at you guys. No wonder we’re dangling at the bottom of the food chain!”
It’s clear that Hyenas aren’t welcome in Pride Rock, so they’ve been relegated to starve in an elephant graveyard. So that’s principle one: that there is a natural order to things that must be adhered to. Those who are at the bottom of the food chain must accept their place for the greater good. This whole vision of rulership as maintaining harmony is not new – it was advocated by Plato. But according to philosopher Karl Popper, also known as K-Pop, it’s pretty much responsible for everything terrible that’s happened in Western history since. Popper calls this general framework “holism” – the idea that the whole of a society is more important than the individual, and what’s good for society is usually defined by some incontrovertible law. – whether it be natural order, racial purity, or the laws of history. Popper explains, that, for Plato, “To keep one’s place is a virtue,” and Popper goes on to explain that, in this view of the world, an individual’s goal is to be a perfectly crafted cog in the great clockwork of society. Different cogs will have different roles, “but the virtue of keeping one’s place will be common to all of them; and it will at the same time be the virtue of the whole: that of being properly fitted together — of being in harmony. To this universal principle Plato gives the name ‘Justice.’” “Justice?” “Justice.” “Justice!” “Justice.” “Justice.” “Justice.”
This theory of justice, Popper argues, is totalitarian morality in a nutshell, if the individual is simply a cog, then ethics is nothing but how to make them fit there. And, to get all historical, Popper pointed out that Plato, a denizen of Athens, seemed to have a boner for Sparta, which, when you think about it, is a cruel, eugenics-driven military dictatorship. And, for Popper, Plato’s politics have been ruining the world ever since – inspiring everyone from petty tyrants to big bad totalitarian nightmares. To break this harmony, for Plato would be chaos. Or, more specifically, democracy. No, seriously. Plato’s whole view of democracy was that it gives right to rule by those who have no business in doing so: the poor, the landless, and the stupid. Sound like anyone? “What? Ed!”
We’ll call this scary principle 1.5, because it fits into the larger holism piece. Democracy, for Plato, is a sort of a ‘Catch-22’ where, sure, all the people are equal and free to do whatever they like; but because most people are self-interested dicks, society will quickly collapse as everyone pursues their own short-sighted goals. “There’s no food and no water.” “Yeah! It’s dinner time, and we ain’t got no stinkin’ entrees!” In a Democracy, the lower class grows bigger and more emboldened They break the law with impunity, run naked in the streets, and then form their own YouTube channels… or whatever the equivalent was back then. Now listen, I’m not here to say that we should all collectively worship at the altar of democracy and freak out whenever we run into a well-reasoned criticism of it. It’s certainly not an infallible system. “I like him. He looks me in the eye.” “I’d like to have a beer with him. I’m voting for him.”
But, well, there’s a difference between reasonable criticism and pro-authoritarian propaganda. Scar and the hyenas aren’t exactly out for democracy, but they are out for equal footing. “A new era, in which lion and hyena come together in our great and glorious future.” They’ve been relegated to the Pride Land’s equivalent of New Jersey, where they’re doomed to starve. They’re being manipulated by Scar, who wants to be king for his own ends. And this mirrors the way, as Plato predicts, democracy inevitable ends in tyranny: with demagogues making false promises to the poor and hungry. “I will be king. Stick with me, and you’ll never go hungry again!”
And Scar fully embodies Plato’s quintessential tyrant. Per Plato, a tyrant is the worst type of man, a man so consumed by his own “lawless desires” that he will do anything to achieve them – even murder. “Long live the king.” And when you have tyrants who have not achieved internal harmony, they go de-harmonizing everything around them. When Scar takes control of Pride Rock, for some inexplicable reason, the rivers run dry and the bright, lush pride lands are reduced to a barren, gray wasteland. And Scar is supposed to be the smart one. “And he’s absolutely right.” If the Pride Lands are suffering, it’s because Scar has usurped the natural order of things. And, if you dare question your natural lot in life, well, you must be a villain. It’s an argument that would be well received in the halls of any monarchy or dictatorship. And, to bring abundance back to his homeland, Simba’s ghost dad reminds him to restore the natural order. “You must take your place in the circle of life.”
And, like magic, once Simba sends the usurper Scar to his death, rejuvenating rains fall on the pride lands, bringing abundance and prosperity once again. “The circle of life!” The second, more creepy principle that film espouses ist isone less associated with Plato and more, uh, every sociopath ever: might makes right. this dismal view of society holds that all morality isn’t governed by reason or the exchange of ideas, but brute force. And weirdly, the film just seems to go right out there and admit it. “As far as brains go, I got the lion’s share, but when it comes to brute strength, I’m afraid I’m at the shallow end of the gene pool.”
Scar’s intelligence is connected to his deceitfulness, whereas his brothers strength is connected to his nobleness. This view is of a favorite of not only Nazi Germany, but pretty much any country trying to invade the shit out of their weaker neighbors. So what do you guys think? Have we successfully ruined your childhood, or have we gone straight for the tinfoil hats? Let us know in the comments, and thanks for watching, guys! Peace.