By Kyle B. Stiff
Uh oh guys, looks like the right-wing fascists at Disney are set to release a remake of The Lion King, a tale of authoritarian goose-stepping that would surely be seen as problematic to the left-wing saints gently guiding us toward utopia. In the interest of guilt-tripping everyone, I thought it might be fun to take a look at the original version of The Lion King from the perspective of the modern culture war.
The Lion King begins with a celebration of the hierarchy. Every animal species has their place in the circle of life, and the animals who are willing to submit to the hierarchy are incredibly happy. The land is fertile and green because everyone is doing what they were born to do. The elephants are stomping around and making that weird wet trumpet sound, the mice are hippety hoppeting and trying not to get squished, the ostriches are being dumb and not even attempting to fly – all is right with the world.
It feels nice to think about the circle of life, but of course, there’s an animal at the “top” of the circle, so savvy veiwers will note that it’s more of a pyramid than a circle. Mufasa is king and he’s got a rack of ho’s tending to his business. He’s the king because his genes are absolutely incredible. He has the chin, the power, the lush mane, but he’s also a “stable genius” who never has a nervous breakdown, always wakes up early and clocks out late, and doesn’t screw over one animal to make friends with another. He is in charge, and rightly so. He’s not a tyrant, but nature chose him to be on top. This is a tough pill to swallow for the egalitarian mindset, especially since most of Mufasa’s good qualities weren’t really earned, but were given by nature. Can we rationalize why nature chose him to be king? No, that’s just how it is. Sorry, equality enthusiasts!
The cycle continues with Simba. He’s just a dumb baby at the beginning of the story, but he’s being cheered simply for existing. This public spectacle is the very thing that drives people like Scar nuts… why shouldn’t people be cheering for him instead of Simba?! Hasn’t he suffered enough to earn a little applause?! Dealing with resentment is a big struggle in the life of every living thing. Those who allow the resentment to fester in their heart eventually succumb to a form of possession. Their souls are mutilated (thus the name “Scar”) and they cease to be beautiful. On the other hand, those who submit to the whims of nature, like the animals in our opening scene, get to sing and take part in the grand tapestry of civilization and the big story we are all working together to write and play in. Some of us will have big roles, but most of us will have small roles. If you can accept that, then the birth of Simba and the promise that a good life in a good land will continue will truly be something to celebrate.
Unfortunately we soon find out that Simba doesn’t really understand what it means to rule. He’s the sort of person who thinks that ancient kings used to sit around and shout orders while being served heaps of food and fine wine; the reality is that leaders shoulder a burden that would crush normal people. Most of us would do anything to wiggle out of accepting responsibility. It’s absolutely terrifying. Simba thinks he’s going to continue to be adored just for existing, and in his very first song, he gets everyone dancing just to have them all pile up on top of each other and fall over like some kind of literal pyramid collapsing under its own weight. The kids in the audience are laughing but it’s ominous as hell.
Things get even worse when Simba tries to throw his weight around in territory outside of the hierarchy. Note that just because you have a powerful hierarchy with a rigid social structure, does not mean that that structure rules perfectly everywhere. There are always areas for societal dropouts and fuckups to hang out and torment one another with their hard luck stories, an “underworld” of decay filled with the screams of the emotionally unstable.
This is where Scar hangs out. Even though he’s a lion and occupies a high station, it’s still not enough for him. He wants to be praised for being the best, but since he isn’t the best, he has to buddy up with a bunch of scavengers and promise them the world. Free this, free that, oh, and also… revenge against those assholes who didn’t give you all the free stuff you deserve!
Scar pulls some strings and Mufasa gets trampled by the mainstream media. Simba must live in shame and Scar, being unable to win votes on his own merits, opens the borders and lets in the hyenas, thus creating a reliable voting bloc. Hyenas will always vote for Scar. The hyenas have no place in the hierarchy because they have no long-term stake in the realm. They live on decay and short-term gain. Why not loot the economy? They could have nothin’ right now, or they could have SOMETHIN’ right now. Makes sense!
Scar gets Simba to forget who he is, or rather, what he’s supposed to be doing with his time. Simba becomes the jungle equivalent of a stoner blasting fools on Xbox with a frozen burrito thawing on a table cluttered with empty Monster cans and a surprisingly well-thought-out collection of vape pens and flavors for his e-cig habit. He’s fallen off the hierarchy and has achieved ultimate freedom. He’s a consumer, the final genetic stop in a long line of ancestors who fought to survive so that Simba, the last of his kind, could ragequit a Soulsborne game and stalk Nala on instagram. He lives in a dark pit of shame but he buries the rage by (quite rationally) pointing out how great the world is; there are plenty of bugs to eat, so why worry? Never mind that he’s a nervous, anxious wreck… that’s probably just some genetic thing, right? Surely it can’t be helped, right???
Simba eats bugs; he’s the very definition of a bugman. And Scar would have gotten away with it, too… if it wasn’t for Rafiki!
Rafiki is the jungle equivalent of someone who keeps a constant rotation of Alex Jones episodes playing in the background while browsing articles about what the Great Pyramids of Giza were REALLY made for (impossible not to click because there’s a pic of Nikola Tesla looking real smug). Rafiki lives alone; why would he not? He’s intense, he talks to himself, he mixes herbs with his colloidal silver tonic, he has giant plastic jugs full of rice in the basement, and he’s extremely opinionated regarding his conceal carry technique (and if you’re an officer of the law who stops to ask about his open carry, believe me Rafiki KNOWS HIS RIGHTS and THEY WILL NOT BE INFRINGED).
The thing about Rafiki is, as crazy as he looks, he was actually made to occupy one of those non-corporate public servant positions that calls for unyielding moral rectitude and the ablility to fearlessly give advice to those who typically aren’t open to criticism. His mind can go anywhere; he can talk about military or legal matters one minute and aliens or zero-point energy the next. He will never be uncomfortable no matter the subject, and is invaluable for a real king to have on his side.
That’s also why he’s perfect for radicalizing Simba.
Simba had to get his ass beat by a girl to realize he’s not a man, and that set him on the path to listening to Rafiki’s twelve-part YouTube series (right before it was taken down) on What REALLY Happened to Mufasa (Unbelievable Disclosure!!). Halfway through the series Simba realized the things he used to think were extreme now make total sense. When the hierarchy breaks down, only force matters. Simba sees his father and all his noble ancestors smiling down on him from the heavens as he repeats that there comes a time when the tree of liberty must be watered with blood (or however the saying goes). He arms himself and goes on the offensive.
Now that his eyes have been opened, Simba sees the truth about his home. It is an absolute dump, full of foreigners working in black market economies. The female lions either work as prostitutes or cower in their caves, afraid to walk the streets and become a statistic. People don’t like to talk about it, but the once peaceful realm has somehow become the rape capital of the savannah. Honor killings are common. Zazu, once an upright public figure, has been reduced to virtue signaling on Twitter to the applause of a bunch of blue checkmark hyenas.
In the end, Scar is devoured by his own constituency, and Simba reclaims his dump of a home. There are no cheers for the new king as he ascends to a throne overlooking a wasteland filled with hunger and despair. There may be no applause, but at least there are roars. The people cry out, again and again, roaring like animals, silenced and shadowbanned for so long that all they can do is roar and rage and hope that future generations won’t make the same stupid mistakes.