My current status: emotional whirlwind. A week after the polls have closed, I almost still can’t quite believe that we won the referendum to repeal the 8th. A landslide no less. I think it’s going to take a while for that to sink in. There has been many media/internet opinions on how the campaign was won – many, sadly not emphasising the grassroots feminist aspect, and ignoring the importance of donuts, or correctly folding t-shirts. But today, I am not going to give you another hot-take – instead, in another attempt at using writing as personal therapy, I’m going to talk about genies, ants and growing up.
I grew up watching Disney movies. Although I’m glad to say I never internalised the Disney idea of romance (thank fuck, kissing people you’ve never met when they’re asleep is sexual assault FYI), they were a pretty big influence on my childhood. Up until recently, my Mum still had a bunch of our old VHS tapes. I remember the ones for Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty were in larger boxes than the others, for no good reason. I remember the Lion King pajamas my brother wore; I remember being scared of the drunk sequence in Dumbo; I remember climbing onto a parent’s lap when Ursula the sea-witch looks like she’s going to come out of the screen. I remember thinking the old-school princesses were boring because they didn’t talk much. I know I saw James Earl Jones in the Lion King before I saw him in Star Wars. And I still remember all the words to Aladdin: it was my favourite. (There’s a whole thing to be said here about racism in childhood problematic faves, but that’s another piece). I also remember which character was my favourite: the Genie.
Even though I didn’t know it, Robin Williams was my favourite actor when I was a kid. He was funny and kind and a little bit sad, and did a bunch of things I wanted to do: got lost in a board game, ran a toy factory, got to go back to Neverland (another story for another time). And he was the best part of Aladdin. I could write a thesis on why I love that movie, but I’ve already rambled. Aladdin himself is a great character because he’s not always good. He shares his bread with the kids, but he also yells at Apu. He *consistently* lies to Jasmine. He doesn’t keep his promise to the Genie and nearly causes the destruction of Agrabah. For me, Aladdin’s redeeming feature is that at the end, he doesn’t use his last wish to get the girl. He sets the Genie free. As he fucking should, obviously. But for a Disney movie to get our hero to pick friendship over romance? That was a revelation to 7 year old me. And right now, one week on from May 25th, I’m free, and it hasn’t quite hit me yet. We’re all free.
I’m waiting for someone to ask me for the Nile so I can laugh at them.
Now, to ants. Many of you have probably forgotten that 1998 was the year that brought us TWO animated movies about ants (And two movies about the end of the world. What’s up with 1998, Hollywood?). For those of you who don’t remember, there was Antz, in which Woody Allen played the hero, and A Bug’s Life, in which Kevin Spacey played the villain. 20 years later, there is so much to unpack in that sentence that I’m just going to leave it there. Neither of them are particularly great movies, but nevertheless I’m going to briefly talk about A Bug’s Life. Short plot overview, ants work hard but grasshoppers are stealing their food, the plucky hero accidentally hires circus bugs instead of warriors to help them, a zany plan is hatched and good triumphs in the end.
Even though I didn’t internalise the Disney concept of romance, I absolutely did internalise that the good guys win in the end. Many kids have a strong sense of justice and injustice, and my mum would tell you that “it’s not fair” was probably one of my top childhood statements. What I learned was that with a few friends and a plan, you could overcome anything. In fairness, many other feel-good grown-up movies have the same underlying thesis. I learned this lesson so well that I spent much of my youth really struggling with the extent to which good people sometimes just get shat on – sometimes even when you do all the right things, and work hard, and try, it just doesn’t work out. That mostly, life isn’t fair. Sometimes that led me down to “so why even fucking try”, which is a slippery slope to somewhere I’m not going back to. But anyway, back to ants.
There’s a scene at the end of Bug’s Life where Kevin-Spacey-grasshopper threatens our hero ant, who says: “Ants are not meant to serve grasshoppers. I’ve seen these ants do great things, and year after year they somehow manage to pick food for themselves *and* you. So-so who is the weaker species? Ants don’t serve grasshoppers! It’s *you* who need *us*! We’re a lot stronger than you say we are… And you know it, don’t you?” There’s a rustle through the ant-crowd watching, and slowly they all link arms. And together, they run down the grasshoppers. Standing together, they win. Right now, we’re standing with over 1,429,981 others. It doesn’t feel real – it feels like a movie sequence. But sometimes, life is like a movie, and it’s still real, because we’re stronger than they said we were. Because mostly, there are more good guys than bad guys. And sometimes, the good guys are all standing together.
Lastly, to growing up. Tomorrow is my birthday. Yesterday was my brother’s birthday. He is 5 years and 363 days younger than me. Clearly, as any right thinking child would, I presumed that I got a younger brother around the time of my sixth birthday because he was my birthday present. He has been, generally speaking, a pretty decent present. Myself and my sister got away with dressing him up like a doll when he was little, and he’s managed to survive that and everything else. He was an adorably chubby baby, and an absolute dote of a younger brother. He used to hide our birthday presents around the house, and set us treasure hunts to find them. For my 30th, he managed to engineer one of those from the other side of the planet. But I digress. This year, I’ve absolutely infuriated him (and the rest of my family) by saying that the only thing I wanted for my birthday was the repeal of the 8th Amendment. Well, looks like I got what I asked for. This is possibly an even better present than a little brother.
In seriousness, birthdays and the like make me pause and reflect and think about life and stuff. When I was young, I believed the good guys would always win in the end. As I grew up, I saw that they didn’t, and I got really disengaged from trying to change that – as well as clinically depressed. But now? Now?! Now I need to remember that the world is changed by the people who show up. Yes, right now this feels like a ridiculously cheesy movie ending and I keep crying on the bus. But this wasn’t a plucky band of heroes and a zany plan. Years of hard work by a phenomenal number of people brought us here. And the struggle is not over. But that’s okay too. Because what I’ve learned, from all of this, is that we *can* change the world. I think I stopped believing that for a long time. I know I did. I grew up believing that good guys could change the world, but somewhere along the way I lost that belief. I thought I could only change the world in little ways. It felt like big sea-changes didn’t happen anymore. Like someone else was holding all the cards and we weren’t getting dealt in. It doesn’t feel like that any more. It feels like we can change the world.
Because we already did.