Thursday, September 8, 2016

Four Thee Birds

Chipper, Bully, Snob & Neurotic
I recently had the opportunity to see an old friend thru new eyes. The object of my affection is the Pixar short film For the Birds and the new vision came as a result of seeing it in 3D. What I wasn't expecting was the change in perspective which resulted from having written a post about workplace bullying and mobbing.

Disney has been reminding us that there are many sides to any story and villains are sometimes heroes in disguise.  So, it was with some retrospection that I began to consider a story behind the story of the primary characters in For the Birds.

If you aren't aware of their names, don't be surprised. They're not mentioned anywhere in the credits. Although you might infer them from their behaviors.

(Pixar stories usually have a detailed backstory. Parts of this one can be found on the Pixar animation website, but I must acknowledge that I'm pushing the storyline a bit further in this posting.)

A bird called Bully arrives first and starts to settle in. Chipper lands and stretches, bumping into Bully, who becomes annoyed, pecks at Chipper and starts an argument. Snob lands next, sees what is happening, moves away, while looking up and rolling his eyes in disgust, until Bully bumps into him, at which point Snob starts to argue with Bully, who gestures at Chipper as if to place the blame there.

In the mean time, Neurotic has landed. Snob bumps into Neurotic and gives him a peck. Four other birds arrive and soon everyone is involved in their own personal squabbles. All this takes a mere 20 seconds. It's just another day at the office.

The small birds' similarity and familiarity would seem to indicate that they are all members of the same, long established, flock. They may not like each other exactly, but they do know how to function in a group. They have their order and places and don't even object to the occasional outbreak of pecking. It's all normal behavior. No one specifically encourages it, but neither does anyone cry foul or try to stop it when one bird argues with or attacks another.

It isn't until something unusual happens that things start to turn in a different direction.

Under Attack or Paranoid?

The arrival of the Big Blue bird causes a moment of concern. This intruder isn't like the members of the flock. The corners of Bully's beak are not raised in a welcoming smile and the rest of the birds stare in wonder. What is this huge blue creature? What are its intentions? Is it friend or foe? Are we soon to be its lunch? What are we to do?

With a bully at the head of the group, the next move is fairly predictable; Big Blue's friendly gesture is met with derision and soon everyone is on board and fully engaged in the critical pantomime repl . This fluffy foe is no threat, quite the contrary, he's crazy, ineffectual and to be ignored.

Hi Five

 This is a pivotal moment in the story. With odds of 15 to 1 and no advocate inside the flock, Big Blue doesn't stand a chance of inclusion. In spite of Big Blue's wiggled pen feathers, Bully and Snob poke fun and then snub him. The group joins in and soon everyone is poking fun at their huge, although now less threatening, interloper. The group gags have reduced him to a fluffy blue target of derision.

Poking Fun

Undaunted, Big Blue continues to attempt a connection. Another High Five makes no difference.  The group, again led by Bully, turns their collective backs, moves away on the wire and begins to gossip. Leaning in to hear the chatter, Big Blue almost seems to stumble, then recovers and flies over to try and join the group. Landing on the wire, he gets the Evil Eye from Bully, although everyone else just looks shocked and bug-eyed.

The Evil Eye
At this point physics intervenes as Blue's weight stretches the wire and gravity forces everyone together. Blue seems pleased at this turn of events, although it's clear that no one else is. This may be where we realize that in spite of being birds, they aren't speaking the same dialect. The little birds are probably all yelling Get off the wire! but Big Blue doesn't understand.

Time to get nasty

Next, Bully goes on the offensive, driving his beak deep into Blue's side, causing him to jump and fall, although still holding onto the wire, which drags the whole group back down. The little birds still aren't happy and Bully decides to try and finish the job of getting Blue off the wire by pecking at Blue's toes. Soon the group joins in and the effort to kick Big Blue off the wire and out of the group kicks into high gear.

On the verge of reality
While this arguably leads to the funniest part of the story, it is also where the fantasy kicks in, as Blue will eventually end up laughing and OK. The moment when the last toe slips and the wire launches the flock skyward, simultaneously exposing Bully, Chipper, Snob, Neurotic and the rest of the flock for the selfish, naked cowards that they are, doesn't typically happen in real life. More often than not, and at an earlier stage of the gradually increasing processes of harassment, the Big Blues of the world sense that they are not wanted and leave. Of course, history is written by the victors, so Blue gets painted as an irregular outcast, or worse, a monster, invader, and unwelcome past guest.

On the surface, For the Birds may not seem like a tale of bullying and discrimination, but once you peel back the veneer, its' all about how we abandon, marginalize and minimize others out of existence, or at least out of a job or school or club.

It's a sad and funny at the same time, which makes it all the sadder.

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