Monday, August 04, 2008

To Catch A Yeti

I'm housesitting for a friend of mine these days and he has cable TV, so basically that means, whenever you think of me these days, I am probably covered in a blanket and watching cable TV. Right now there's a movie about Leonard Cohen on, and I have it on in an attempt to finally like Leonard Cohen. Much like sushi and coffee, Leonard Cohen is one of those things I managed to avoid, with no particular purpose or reason for doing so, until well into my adulthood. Well, it's 2008, I have had about a dozen cups of coffee this year alone (yeah!), about a dozen little sushi-bits just this week (EFF yeah!!), so why not give Leonard Cohen another try?

But listen Internet, this blog post isn't about Leonard Cohen. This blog post is about the movie on another station at the very same time, a movie I cannot watch because the so-called "friend" I'm housesitting for doesn't subscribe to it. Or, he had it blocked before he left town, because he knew that doing so would crush my spirit just a little bit, and that's the sort of thing dudes do when they are friends with each other. The movie in question is called TO CATCH A YETI, and the TV describes it thusly:

"A hunter (Meat Loaf)--"

And I have to stop right there for a second, because dude! Even if it wasn't called TO CATCH A YETI, I would pretty much watch any movie that begins with that description...

"A hunter (Meat Loaf) is hired by a New York businessman to capture the Abominable Snowman. (Action/Adventure, 86 minutes.)"

And even though it's on a station I can't get, I've decided this must be the best movie that's ever made. And I swore, on the spot, to make it my goal in life to see TO CATCH A YETI. But I can't give in and Netflix it, I can't do it the easy way -- TO CATCH A YETI will be my white whale, the thing what propels me through the next several years of my life and yet isn't a) a girl I like, or b) something that costs me tons and tons of money, a la graduate school. I will find you, TO CATCH A YETI, someday on my TV -- like a John Cusack romantic comedy, I trust and believe that we will one day find ourselves in the same grocery store discount VHS bin.

A little googling came up with this, as if a love note written specifically to me:

"Hunter Big Jake finds the fabled Himalayan Yeti -- the Big Foot of legend. But what he really finds is a cuddly, furry animal the size of a large teddy bear -- with enormous feet! And when Jake brings the Yeti to New York it becomes the pet of a spoiled son of a multi-millionaire. Only a little girl... Hunter Big Jake finds the fabled Himalayan Yeti -- the Big Foot of legend. But what he really finds is a cuddly, furry animal the size of a large teddy bear -- with enormous feet! And when Jake brings the Yeti to New York it becomes the pet of a spoiled son of a multi-millionaire. Only a little girl named Amy can set the poor Yeti free."

Hunter Big Jake! The Big Foot of Legend! Only a little girl!

Watch out, Meat Loaf!


Samantha said...

I watched this last night and it was the best movie ever. There is this really mean boy who wants a yeti because he wants something to relate to but the yeti is nice. So he hurts it. And the little girl wants the yeti back. And meatloaf is a creepy hunter. And Blubber is his not so smart sidekick. The yeti snowboards and skateboards. And has brown eyes. And his name is Hank.

Anonymous said...

In both “the black stallion” and “to catch a yeti,” the characters' deep and unresolved sexual drives propel the film’s narrative flow. these sexual drives to “possess the Other” represent the sexual undercurrents of colonialism, underpinned by racial stereotypes.

the stallion, like the yeti, is an "eastern" animal. both the stallion and yeti are captured by white men. in both films, white children "steal" the animal from the white men who capture (and in "to catch a yeti", who attempt to capture) this ("exotic"- anyone who's read edward said will recognize the connotation) animal. In both films, the yeti and stallion are stand-ins for the orient, as a land, a people, and a living (just out of reach!) fantasy- to be learned about, possessed, and conquered.

The orient is often imagined as a wild, untamed place in the western imagination. the yeti is (like the arabian stallion in "black stallion" of whom the wise, black coachman says, "you let that horse stay wild. it's his soul") a wild creature, with a wild nature. It is this wildness that is so attractive to the children in the two films, as well as to the adults who admire the yeti from afar. But only the children can get close. The children are symbolically more primitive, closer to nature, and thus better able to relate to these oriental animals. It is the approximation to the other (the sexual drive, represented by alec’s urge to ride and race the black stallion, the little girl’s urge to hug the yeti, and the little boy’s urge to hurl darts- a phallic symbol if ever there was one- at the yeti) that seems to offer the possibility of possession (satisfaction).

both the sadistic ny boy and the tender and needy little girl want to make the yeti "their own." the boy attempts to do this through physical torture from which the boy derives pleasure (without a safe word!) while the girl attempts to do this through domestication (naming the yeti "hank" and placing him in feminine locales such as the bedroom and kitchen, even sleeping with him.)

in the black stallion, alec conquers the stallion through gentle mastery. the horse (“black”) is won over when alec frees him from rope that binds the to the rocks on the desert island. These same ropes were put on the horse by the cruel arab men who used to own him on the ship, before it capsized. The horse is also conspicuously seen stomping on sand- another image of the orient. This is a key symbol of the triumph of Western man’s fantasy of freeing The Oriental from the ropes that bind him. The ropes are imagined innate backwardness and primitivism- and the knife (phallic symbol which alec learns to wield better and better, as he is shown to become “a man” in the narrative) is Western Civilization that frees him. As soon as the black stallion is freed from the desert rock and the ropes that bind him, he gallops away. Alec will need to master him (overtaking the cruel arab masters- hello colonial administrators) for the story to continue, or have any meaning. This mastery is depicted as a loving domination- the perfect pair of unequals.

The notion of “loving mastery” is problematized once in the movie. Alec tells the black coachman that his horse is sad, doesn’t want to play, and that he wants to race and show everyone he’s the fastest horse in the world. the black coachman tells alec not to domesticate the Arabian stallion (who is also black, and his name, given by alec, is “Black”). The coachman warns alec that the horse’s soul, his very identity is his wildness, insinuating that to domesticate him would be to kill him. The slave trade was, recall, a key economic force and motivator, justified by ideas of the Savage African, of colonialism.

In the good old days, the Western project of civilizing the Oriental Other was the “colonial” project, and now it is the Freedom and Democracy agenda.

Possession in “to catch a yeti” is more pronounced in its problematization. The hunter, big jake grizzly, for all his power and prowess, cannot catch the small creature. Yetis are valued for their imagined size, and yet this yeti is tiny and cute, not at all like the abominable snowman imagined by westerners. Can it be that possessing the orient (with all its political turmoil, et cetera) is no longer as attractive, once the actual place and people is “seen” and it’s no longer a Babylonian garden where oil flows freely and belly dancers wiggle, but a real and complex place? Not unlike a sexual fantasy vs. actual/messy/emotionally complicated encounter. Each child attempts to control and keep him; neither really succeeds. Finally, the little girl’s father convinces the little girl to return the yeti to the wild.

Perhaps “to catch a yeti” symbolizes an older generation’s growing cultural consciousness of the mistakes of colonialism. the father entreats the daughter to consider that the yeti will always be hunted in the united states (wanted for money, for the pleasure it can offer, as a thing) and that it perhaps has a family in the Himalayas (i.e. the yeti has its own identity, its own social world, and cannot therefore be a commodity). The first plea is based on practicality, the second on morality. There is also a more advanced understanding of the Oriental Other, which perhaps is the lynchpin of this consciousness- in the black stallion, the horse is named for what it looks like “black”, not unlike how in America people ARE white and black, which takes for granted and reinforces the idea that a person’s very identity is determined by the constructed category of race, which was the cultural justification for imperialism and colonialism. in “to catch a yeti” the little girl names the yeti “hank” symbolically categorizing the Other as closer to the Self. Both children impose their identity and world upon their adopted animals, but only one, at the insistence of her father, will understand that love is not about possession.

While “to catch a yeti” further problematizes colonialism and possession, key ideas of the old order are reinforced. It is the older white man who “gives” the yeti his freedom and asserts his power over his daughter- and thus the white patriarchal system survives not only in tact, but with deeper moral legitimacy, proven by its ability to choose to let go of what is wild- for now.

- Elena Stewart

Anonymous said...

I would like to scrutinize two points from the previous post.

First, it was not darts but rather balls from a ball-gun that the boy taunted the Yeti with. Fortunately for the author’s argument, the phallic imagery remains, perhaps even more blatantly, as the launching of the balls resulted from an unsustainable amount of back pressure brought about by the boy’s literal pumping of the gun- an obvious allusion to masturbation. However, accuracy is imperative when drawing cultural realities from an Ontarian film made for kindergarteners.

Second is the author’s statement that “key ideas of [colonialism and possession] are reinforced” at the end of the film. Ms Stewart bases her conclusion largely on the fact the Yeti was “given” his freedom from the “older white man.” However, she seems content to forget that while the white man was a linchpin in the emancipation of the Yeti, he was so only as a result from the aid his friend- a black man of similar age. As there is nothing in the movie to suggest otherwise, we can assume that the friendship between the white man and the black man was based on reciprocal respect and understanding - if anything the relationship between the men represents an inverse of the paradigm as the black man, by virtue of being the town sheriff, occupies the dominant position of power. It follows substitutionally that if the white man can see beyond the “otherness” of the black man and black man and the Yeti are both forms of the other, then the white man can just as easily see beyond the “otherness” of the Yeti. Wouldn’t this seem to tear down the constructions of race and identity rather than reinforce them, as she seems to suggest the film does? If we accept the black man to be a manifestation of the “other”, though perhaps a more familiar one, then we should conclude that the Yeti’s freedom was brought about not by patriarchal caprice, but rather from a mutual recognition of the inherent right to self determination between all creatures- even those that are D-list Jerry Seinfeld look-alikes and those that are discarded prototypes from the Jim Henson workshop.

-P. Veikko