Wolf’sbane Media

January 18, 2012

Liam Neeson’s new film, “The Grey” sparked conversation and controversy among friends of wolves these past few weeks. Here is the trailer for the film:

A related advertisement for Direct TV was cited by several animal rights groups, including Defenders of Wildlife through a petition on the Care2 site which has generated over ten thousand signatures in protest.

DIRECTV: Take Down Anti-Wolf Ad and Join the Fight to Save Wolves ! PLEASE SIGN ! As petition authors note:

Wolves mainly avoid contact with humans and wolf attacks on humans are exceedingly rare. But that hasn’t stopped DIRECTV from propagating the myth that wolves are dangerous man-killers with their new commercial depicting a man fighting for his life against a wolf in the arctic.

It might be worth our while not only to sign this petition but to create a petition related to this film….it will not pull it from the screens, but might tie into wolf protection using the high profile moment of this trailer’s appearance on multiple screens.

When author, researcher and activist Cristina Eisenberg (author, The Wolf’s Tooth) posted the link on the Black Earth Institute listserv, several Fellows weighed in on the topic of wolf mythology in popular culture and its impact on real wolves in the wild. Here is the conversation that followed:
Cristina Eisenberg:

I received word of this from an environmental ethicist who has worked with wolves. The film is about a group of men who are stranded in Alaska after a plane crash and then must survive. A good portion of the film involves them being attacked by a pack of hungry wolves–and their attempts to ward off this pack.

This looks like a piece of vicious anti-wolf propaganda that has the potential to set back wolf conservation in a huge way by striking fear of wolves in the hearts of audiences. What were you thinking, Liam!

Annie Finch:

This is very sad and disturbing to see, Cristina! Thanks so much for sharing it. Still I think it may be an opportunity, and a necessary one, to bring the fear and ugliness towards wolves out into the open so it can be cleansed, addressed, dissipated, and healed through venting, catharsis, education, discussion, sharing. I not only think but feel this quite strongly, as I noticed in the Youtube comment stream not only the awful violence and rudeness of many comments, but also the tangible shame and discomfort that the violence masked.

Deep down in even the most anti=wolf humans I am convinced there exists a memory of the archetypal respect and honor our ancestors held for the wolf, along with discomfort and shame about our current desecration of wolves. But only if the violence finds expression can the shame come out as well—and finally, the healing.

I will be working on every level for this outcome.

Many blessings for your heroic work, Cristina; your inspiration is needed now more than ever, and may you find some relief and joy in the opportunity for your message to reach a still wider audience that this movie may well open up.

Richard Cambridge:

Viewing the clip made me think of a movie I haven’t thought of in a very long time, and one that had a profound effect on me: “Wolfen,” based on the novel by Whitney Streiber. I don’t know if any of you have seen it, but it was very violent, (the wasteland was NYC and the wolves as predators were taking back their ancient land from the humans who had laid waste to it.) In the movie we see through the wolves eyes/consciousness and a Native American one as well (in the character played by Peter Coyote, I believe.) In the end the balance of Justice favors the wolves. I know this is a different movie than “The Grey” yet it provoked a healthy debate, and a recovery of lost consciousness of a more nature-centered existence.

Kathleen Sweeney:

I was struck by the strange mythic violence of this big bad wolf story which as Annie points out has its primordial roots. I do think it ties in to the fascination with werewolves and vampires (a la Twilight, Buffy and that lineage)…but here we have not a fantasy landscape, but a “real survival” story that taps into those ancient fears.

Marcella Durand:

This all reminds me that last weekend the American Museum of Natural History had an event where children got to experience a “live wolf encounter“. We didn’t go, for various practical reasons, but I wondered what your opinions are of these sort of “domestic encounters” with wild animals.

Of course, there’s the stress on the wolf being surrounded by kids. Then Ismael happened to see a snippet of Planet Earth where a wolf killed a sheep, and when I asked him if he wanted to see the wolf at the museum, he said he was afraid, so we talked about how carnivores hunt and eat
meat–and that we do the same, we eat lamb–and that is good for the world because they keep the deer and sheep and such from eating all the plants (yes, I’ve been reading your book Cristina!). But he was still afraid–almost a primal fear. So I started wondering how to teach a healthy respect for that fear and that wildness, one that doesn’t involve stuffed animals and anthropomorphizing and zoos. I’ve been struck by how much of children’s experiences are translated through animals–so many children’s books feature walking, talking animals–and I wonder if there’s some sort of destructive schism that occurs later when people realize that animals are not little people with fur suits on.

Annie Finch:

I always figure that children liked talking animals because the animals serve a totemic, mythological, archetypal function for them?

Marcella Durand:

Well, you know, I used to think that, until I was deluged with all the anthropomorphized animal representations in books, cartoons, movies, clothing, stickers, whatever, most of which I began to find horrifying after a while. So many of them don’t seem to refer to real animals whatsoever–like “Arthur,” which features basically unlikeable (my opinion)
children with long ears and teeth. (Oh, how I loathe Arthur.) Weirdly, the majority of child-animals seems to be rabbits or mice–go figure. (Maybe that explains why children may develop fear and hatred of top predators later on in life?) It’s rare to encounter a wolf as totem animal. Sometimes there’s a book or something from a tiger’s point of view. Lions are often
heroes. Never cougars. Coyotes and foxes are traditionally tricksters (not that I’ve seen many contemporary representations of such). Rats seem to be becoming more popular (Ratatouille), as are pigeons.

Patricia Spears Jones:

Fables explore the powerful strands of positive and negative features in humans, thus those crafty foxes and gentle lambs. Wolves are feared and rightly so. The film seems like a re-tread of The Call of the Wild (man, beasts the weather, survival). It may well be useful to build awareness of the necessity of wolves and at least the men aren’t ranchers fighting for their cattle or sheep. Kathleen’s idea makes sense to me. But there is great fear in this nation, wolves are simply one more item on the fear mongerers list.

Cristina Eisenberg:

It is essential for our culture to address the issues of fear–part of the healthy process of growth. However, when this happened in Alberta, in response to a book that struck similar chords as the film Grey, there was a heated public debate in rural Alberta communities, and the outcome was that within three months of those public forums, 75% of the wolves in the area had been shot by ranchers, in response to the fear that had been raised by the public conversations. This was in response to a book about wolves killing humans in Europe. The book was not based on fact, and played on the fear factor, but it was presented as a scholarly work. The alleged human-eating wolves were in reality (per recent DNA analysis) wolf/domestic dog hybrids, which in Siberia during the 1800s killed many humans.

I wish there were a way to have these essential conversations that allowed people to talk through their fears and be open. But films such as Grey and books such as the one I describe end up doing much damage and result in hundreds of dead wolves.

I am so grateful for all of you, for your multifaceted intellectual/mythical/sociological/and oracular arts perspectives on this topic, which I see as emblematic of so much.

The power of myth is profound. We need our stories and myths, but we also need to reinvent them if we are to grow and heal.

Judith Roche:

It is so true that the power of myth is profound- for good and for bad. It is deep, deep within us, our psyches and our unconscious. As one who has drawn on myth deeply for my work I know this. But, when it it countraindicated by the truth of knowledge, we must learn from the knowledge and rise above it. Maybe what we (some of us) are learning is that everything in our deepest mind and archetypal memory is not true. Possibly there’s some truth in it (yes, we, humans were threatened and killed by other predator species in the dim past), but it probably was never wolves and we need to learn from the science you and others are doing now. I understand the fear of wolves is part of the fear of the wild in ourselves and pushing it down, part of our own apex predator species part in trying to control the wild outside of us (including forests and prairies) , and, inside of us. But what we need is to honor the wild, both outside and inside of us.

Michael McDermott:

The trailers for Grey are showing on TV and are meant to instill fear. Fear works, just look at the way fear is successfully manipulated against Islam. Since European conquest of the Americas wolves and wildness has been met by fear and a program for further conquest. Civilization and development must be supreme. In the area of Black Earth creek eagles are now seen routinely, out from their usual place along the nearby Wisconsin river. We have had a bear and puma around the house and hundreds of wolves are back in northern Wisconsin.

Wildness is needed for the health of the land and human well being. What wildness means changes over time and culture. For “settled” areas wildness is the liminal space that connects with broader nature. Wolves, eagles, cougars and bears are part of the mystery of that broader connection. In cities deer and coyotes extend human consciousness and more show both health and destruction of habitat. Wild means wilderness areas but also breakdown of a sharp limit between settled areas ,city or rural, free of nature and controlled and a broader nature and consciousness. This consciousness is part of the legacy of feeling the power of spirit in the world and even more of spirit whether humans feel it or not.

If we don’t let wild in there will be catastrophes whether deer eating all the vegetation and exterminating songbirds or the wild of animals that resurfaced after explosions at Chernobyl.

“The Grey” is meant to frighten and denies of our legacy of nature and spirit. It denies the balance of the world. Wild cannot be somewhere else. It must be part of our lives. It must be done safely and with consciousness or it will come back anyway to bite us in the a**.


By Michael McDermott

On December 30 this year, 2011 Patricia Monaghan and I hosted a script reading and party at Brigit Rest, our home and retreat center in Black Earth. We and guests read “It Can’t Happen Here”, the play by Sinclair Lewis adapted from the novel of the same name as part of the Federal Theater Project of the WPA during the depths of the depression. The novel and play present a story of the development of a fascist state in America and the resistance to it. Like much of Lewis’s work it reads and sounds like it was created for today. When it was released in 1936 scores of companies performed the play. Recently in October the play was performed all over the U.S., in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Federal Theater Project.
Patricia and I have been fascinated by Lewis’s work. He was a master portraying the corruption and venality of elements of the grasping middle class and their aspirations to become the rich and powerful. His vivid expose’s of preachers in Elmer Gantry, corruption of science and medicine in Arrowsmith, and the emptiness and ultimate futility of small town boosterism in Main Street all spoke to common concerns of his times. His art walked in the muck and mire of his times while hailing the honest and courageous individuals who raised above all this.
Though neglected to this day by many critics who found in him a lack of literary style he won a Pulitzer (he refused it) and Noble prize. He was the first and one of ten Americans to be awarded a Noble. No Americans have received this award since 1993 when Toni Morrison won. Why, one might ask, has no American won for 19 years, the longest dry spell since Lewis’s award in 1930?
A glance at the winning Americans helps. Going backwards in time the winners were: Toni Morrison, Czeslaw Milosz, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Saul Bellow, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemmingway, William Faulkner, Pearl S. Buck, Eugene O’Neil and Lewis. All of their art was rooted in social and political conditions and often reflected social activism. Many were activists themselves or participated and chronicled important social movements of their time. Even those writing of more personal issues did so against the backdrop of the forces that shaped their suffering protagonists. In a word reflecting discussions of our time they had a subject. Most importantly they had a subject other than themselves in their own suffering.
Many leading writing programs these days suggest or demand that there is no subject other than the self. Great writing shows otherwise. Art must strive for excellence of style and craft but to be important is must speak to the issues of the day and time. The Black Earth Institute and its fellows are dedicated to this path.