Monday, February 27, 2006

Dog Days

The Disney live-action sled dog adventure 8 Below was the top grossing film the weekend it opened, and it is still sitting number two, having made over $45 million in two weeks. Meanwhile, John Grogan's tale of his yellow lab with a brain of cast iron but a heart of gold is #1 on Amazon, heads the NYT hardcover nonfiction list, has sold nearly a million copies, and the film rights have just been bought by Fox 2000.

I saw 8 Below last night with my husband and eleven-year-old daughter. If anyone is reluctant to see the movie because they are disgusted with the descent of Disney into previously uncharted regions of stupidity and bad taste, consider giving this one a try anyway. 8 Below is not great cinema, but it is something just as rare: a movie one can enjoy, without embarassment and without boredom, in the presence of one's children. The action, characterization, and plot are straightforward but believable; the cinematography is gorgeous, and the animals are memorable and engaging.

Maya, Star of 8 Below
Surprisingly, the eight dogs are not overly anthropomorphized cartoons. With one exception, none of the dogs does anything I have not seen echoed in my own Siberian. I don't believe female huskies have the ability to coordinate six males, via short barks and apparent telepathy, to execute a cunning plan to capture seabirds -- with the subtlety of Navy Seals taking an enemy outpost on a moonless night -- but other than that every action is pack behavior familiar to anyone who's ever owned a working dog.

[Spoilers below]

The story is simple, and simply told: as the result of natural forces beyond anyone’s control, Jerry Shepherd, a guide employed by the National Science Foundation Antarctic Research Station, is forced to leave behind his team of eight sled dogs when the station is evacuated. It is impossible to travel to the continent until the following Southern hemisphere summer, and he returns to the States unable to shake off his sense of responsibility for abandoning his dogs. Everyone tells him it is not his fault, he should “let himself off the hook” and forgive himself, but he can’t. Juxtaposed against Jerry's efforts to first forget and then rejoin his pack, are scenes of the dogs' struggles to survive on their own, from the aforementioned seabirds escapade to raiding the Russian station's pantry. Eventually Jerry's stubborn devotion to his dogs snares three others, who were on the station when the disaster happened, into assisting him in gaining the continent to either rescue the team or face the reality of their deaths.

(An aside: to a former NSF staffer, the idea of using an unreconciled surplus in a research grant account as deus ex machina is pretty, well....imaginative.)

Kisa and Anne, stars of Two SidewaysI have not read Marley and Me, but I predict that before long this book will have sold 25 million copies. After all, there are 50 million dog-owning households in the US, and at least half of them will be curious about the intriguing, if improbable, notion that the World’s Worst Dog is not the one sitting on the professionally-clean-only sofa in the next room gutting a hand embroidered silk throw pillow or tearing the cap off a bottle of truffle oil.

Jeeves at Blenheim
In my house The World’s Worst Dog is named Jeeves, he’s a saluki, he crossed my threshold in September 1996, and whatever Marley might have done in his thirteen years, Jeeves has done him one better. The dog has eaten through plaster walls, air conditioners, feather beds, and seat belts. He has stolen and devoured enough meat, bread, chocolate, honey, and peanut butter to eradicate starvation in a smallish African country. He barks at my daughter’s little girlfriends just because it frightens them, and pees on the floor whenever he feels like it. He has awakened me every night for nine years so I can move over and let him get under the covers.

And if he were abandoned and lost somewhere, I would move heaven and earth to get him back, for the same reason that motivates the fictional Jerry Shepherd to cadge a helicopter, ice breaker, Italian Snow Cat and the services of three other science professionals to go after eight dogs that are probably dead anyway. And it's not sentimentality, misplaced anthropomorphism, or the overrefined sensitivity of wealthy, coddled people who have the luxury of treating their pets as if they were children. It is because Jeeves and I, like Jerry and his sled team, have forged a bond based on the pursuit of a common objective. The very qualities that make Jeeves annoying -- his barking, his suspicious reserve with strangers, his hyperactive scanning of the horizon for any perceived threat, from a squirrel to a serial killer -- make him a trusted aide for a woman who spends hours alone each day in an isolated house.

This is not a strict utilitarianism. It is, rather, more like the ties that used to bind families together, in the days when households were centers of independent economic activity, instead of places to sit in separate rooms wired to separate pieces of electronic gear to blow off the stresses of living parallel but separate lives in the global economy. How much of the alienation wives feel from their husbands and vice versa, how many arguments over work schedules, money, child rearing responsibilites, are caused by an economy that pits spouses at odds against each other, instead of harnessing them together like a sled team? I don't know, but I haven't had an argument with either one of my dogs in ages.

17 comments:

Tlaloc said...

Now, see, I thought we were all trying to be nicer...

Deleting posts that are related to the topic and that contain no personal attacks or vulgarity isn't nice. Remember that things got bad last time precisely because of such petty actions.

Are we going to try to get along or are we going to have another post-delete power struggle?

tbmbuzz said...

Ditto, Tlaloc. I happened to read your post early this morning and was real intrigued because with all the hundreds of books I read a year, I had never heard of "graphic novels". Fortunately I wrote down your recommendations and will search them out.

Kathy Hutchins said...

Just for the record, I did not delete any comments from this post. That said, comments section action taken by any RC member is final, non-appealable, no explanation is necessary and none is really desired, as nothing descends into boredom faster than metadiscussions about discussions.

As a general rule, if you want to use a blogpost as a springboard for an only-by-the-flimsiest-thread-is-this-relevant comment, it would probably be more appropriate to simply point to a post on your own blog. I don't think anyone will delete simple hrefs as long as they're not ads for Mexican offlabel Cialis or penny stocks.

That's all I'm going to say about comments policy and any attempts to turn this post into a whingefest will be deleted.

Tlaloc said...

"That said, comments section action taken by any RC member is final, non-appealable, no explanation is necessary "

Which is fine as long as you then accept that I can repost the material with precisely as much concern.

The point being that rudeness is a sword that cuts both ways.



"As a general rule, if you want to use a blogpost as a springboard for an only-by-the-flimsiest-thread-is-this-relevant comment, it would probably be more appropriate to simply point to a post on your own blog."

As an alternative a lot of blogs have "open threads" in which people may then begin discussions on any topic. Something you might consider.

S. T. Karnick said...

I'm going to jump in here.

It is not rude for us to delete irrelevant comments. It is stated in our comments policy that we wil do so; hence, anyone posting a comment should be careful to post only statements that are in a spirit of comity and do not divert the discussion in unproductive ways. Given that we have stated our policy openly and clearly, reposting a deleted post is not only rude, it is a breach of trust.

Many blogs are forced to turn off comments altogether because of such activities. The fact that we allow comments at all should be respected instead of abused. Please try to bear that in mind. This is certainly not an unreasonable request.

Tlaloc said...

"It is not rude for us to delete irrelevant comments."

Funny, I thought it was.


"It is stated in our comments policy that we wil do so; hence, anyone posting a comment should be careful to post only statements that are in a spirit of comity and do not divert the discussion in unproductive ways."

An argument I can easily turn around to say: I've stated clearly that I'll repost any comment of mine that is deleted for spurious reasons, hence anyopne deleting a comment should be areful to do so only in the case of posts that are clear violations of obscenity/spamming/personal attacks.

See what I mean about it swinging both ways? You feel free to define your policy. Great. And I define mine. Now we can coexist nicely or we can get all mean.

This thread was about recommending a movie. My post was about recommending a movie. The connection isn't exactly tenuous. And TBMbuzz (who isn't exactly my bestest friend on the site) agreed that what I had to say was interesting.

Now if you weren't interested in the post you certainly could ignore it. But deleting it is simply petty. And it is rude. Regardless of your declaration that you can be rude about posts.



"Many blogs are forced to turn off comments altogether because of such activities. The fact that we allow comments at all should be respected instead of abused."

Let's be clear about one thing: you have comments because it helps you not me. If you decide to turn them off your site traffic is going to go down. That being the case what you are doing is abusing your audience. This isn't a house you've invited us into, it's a show you are putting on. The goal is to raise the prominence of your views. That's not going to happen if the audience is turned off by your door policy.

S. T. Karnick said...

I saw your post, and I agree that it was an item of self-promotion on your part and not an appropriate comment on the subject at hand. As Kathy Hutchins said, you are welcome to point to a post on your own blog.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming ...

I want to thank Kathy for the spoiler warning as I do plan to take my kids to this movie.

On a related topic, if you have kids between about 3 and 7 years old, Curious George is another great choice (Jack Johnson does the music as well ... very tasteful).

connie deady said...

I have had Huskie mixes in the past. Good dogs.

Families as team units is a good concept. I stayed at home and helped my husband build his business while my daughter was growing up.

I think that the culture of consumption is most responsible for women working. If we evaluate success by material goods, then we'll ever strive as a society to increase our material wealth and sacrifice many intangibles which also should form part of our lifestyle and aspirations.

S. T. Karnick said...

I think you're right about a culture of consumption causing more women to work and having an overall deleterious effect on the family (if that is what is indeed implied by juxtaposing that thought after your previous paragraph). (I think most people would prefer to work less and have more leisure time.) Do you see any organic alternative to our present-day consumer culture, meaning one that doesn't rely on imposition of restrictions or "incentives" by the state?

connie deady said...

I think it's partly driven by a capitalist society. Certainly corporations have incentive to push people to desire to purchase their goods.

What's sad is when the values equate with consumption - that having new cars, certain brands of shoes, etc. become measures of a happy life.

I know that only a couple of kids when I went to high schools had their own cars. Seemed like at least half the kids in my daughter's school had their own cars, and they weren't beaters. We bought my daughter a 10 year old Dodge Shadow. But cars, computers, I-Pods, etc. all are "required" items for teenagers these days.

Our standard of living can absorb it for the middle class for now, but we sacrifice a lot in the chase for the dollar to simply have bigger and better consumer items.

tbmbuzz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Matt Huisman said...

Connie, I think the key phrase from your earlier post is 'evaluate success'. People want to have a sense that they are doing well, but get confused when trying to figure out what that means. It is here where the culture of consumption jumps in to help with a 'solution'.

You seem to have pretty good self-awareness on this issue, but I think personal valuation can get especially difficult for women (due to issues surrounding motherhood). Not to say that the boys don’t have their problems - we just don't have legitimate reasons for them.

While some people may ask "Are Men Necessary?", I still think we're fairly relevant. It seems to me that one of my primary responsibilities as a husband is to help my wife define success and to help her in pursuit of it.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

It seems to me that one of my primary responsibilities as a husband is to help my wife define success and to help her in pursuit of it.

... and vice versa!

Personally, my family is at a crossroads. My wife has been offered a job, one which utilizes her two college degrees, but she is reluctant to accept it because of her attachment to "staying home with the kids".

On the other hand she has told me that she feels bad because I choose to drive a rusty truck ... in a neighborhood that has a couple BMW's and mostly new cars.

I'm walking a tightrope! I want her to decide, and will support her in her decision, but I don't want her to take the job so I can have a new truck.

My head hurts...sorry if OT, but the words "family" and "economic" were used in the last paragraph of the original post. :)

connie deady said...

I might like Maureen Dowd, edgy as she is, but life without mean would be awfully dull. Course, I'm a sports fanatic, too.

The woman's movement, like other minorities has to go through certain growing pains. Ideally every human should have opportunity to live life to his or her potential and happiness.

The first step in greater opportunities for woman was a divorce from traditional female roles and definitions. So women first strive to be more like men. Real liberation comes from embracing who you are, giving freedom to others to be different and making who you are considered a good thing.

When women as mothers and nurturers is is considered valuable AND when women are free not to be so, then we'll have accomplished something. We're past the first step of rejecting traditional roles, I think we're starting to swing back to appreciation of them as well.

(If I'm making any sense).

Lisa Carson said...

Kathy! I don't get what all those other comments are about, but--do you love salukis, or what?? I had a roommate who had some, and I think they are beautiful dogs. She brought some back from Turkey. (Along with an Anatolian shepherd dog that frightened me.) I housesat, and they pushed me out of the bed too. But aren't they gorgeous???

Lisa Carson

Kathy Hutchins said...

Lisa, so good to see your comments here! Salukis are indeed one of the most gorgeous breeds ever. It's a good thing, as their personalities can be a challenge. Worst Dog comments aside, I love Jeeves deeply. But I have to admit that the little husky in the other picture is my most favorite dog ever, and I've had a slew of dogs over the years. Not that she's a very "good dog" either, but she's so sweet and gentle and affectionate. She follows me around the house all day long like a duckling, and especially loves to listen to me practice my harp. She was supposed to be Rachel's dog, but she got imprinted on me instead.