Academic journal article Antipodes

Multi-Nationality and Layers of Mouse in Peter Carey's the Unusual Life of Tristan Smith

Academic journal article Antipodes

Multi-Nationality and Layers of Mouse in Peter Carey's the Unusual Life of Tristan Smith

Article excerpt

IN INSIDE THE MOUSE, JANE KUENZ QUOTES AN INTERviewee who tells the story of "the first Mickey Mouse," the first man hired to wear a mouse suit at Disney World. He has been assigned elsewhere in the company because he has a bad skin problem. He has cancer of the skin. He got it from wearing the mask of Mickey Mousethe headgear. His mother sued for him-he'd never been married-and he has a job guaranteed with Disney for the rest of his life. He's in his late fifties at least. But he has to be behind the scenes because of his skin. Nobody wants to look at him (Kuenz 116).

This incident suggests the duplicity of Disney's "face": it provides entertainment and conceals exploitation. The Mouse costume covers the face of a man disfigured by the costume itself. It layers a Disney identity over that of the man inside, and this external layer has lingering ideological and material influences. Even when he no longer wears the mask, the man remains complicit with Disney's illusions and its enforcement of the appearance of happiness. He also continues to rely on Disney for a job. He does not protest his poor treatment (note that it is his mother who protests).

In The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, Peter Carey writes about Sirkus, a corporation like Disney, and how it is used neo-colonially. He examines Voorstand, its use of Sirkuses in its colony Efica, and their effect on one colonial subject in particular: Tristan Smith. Carey dresses Tristan, his physically disabled and grotesquely malformed Efican protagonist, in a Sirkus mouse mask and, later, in a full mouse costume. Tristan's experience echoes the above image of damaged skin inside a Mickey Mouse, although here Carey's costume signifies Bruder Mouse, one of Voorstand's founding fathers and a Voorstandish god. Carey admits that Sirkus is based on Disney and that Saarlim, Voorstand's capital, is "really New York" (Willbanks 14). Efica is a bit like Australia, Voorstand is a bit like America but Sirkuswith its seductive combination of video, hologram and acting-is Disney writ larger than it already is in life. Carey shifts his focus away from the legacy of British imperialism. He implies the neo-colonial nature of America's involvement in Australia in the explicitly colonial relationship between Voorstand and Efica. America's hotly contested military installation at Pine Gap in Australia is fictionalized as Voorstand's installation of miles of "navigation cable" in Efican caves. Alleged CIA involvement in the overthrow of the anti-American Whitlam government in 1975 becomes Voorstand Intelligence Agency (VIA) involvement in the overthrow of an anti-Voorstandish Efican government. Carey shows how "old" colonial rhetoric persists, but is modified by the nuances of a new colonial order based on cultural imperialism. The old distinctions between colonizer/colonized, or self/other are no longer simply black/white. Tristan becomes an example of how national identifications are increasingly layered in this new colonial world.

Tristan is mired in contradictory national constructions, both those of what we would recognize as an older colonial rhetoric and those of the complex neo-colonial fiction Carey creates here. Thus Tristan's extreme whiteness refers back to "old" colonialism's preoccupation with epidermal difference. His deformities illustrate how the right appearance marks acceptability, the wrong alienation. Class appearance (beauty and wealth) becomes yet another way to mark national otherness. Here again Carey plays with perceptions of America (and of prejudice within America). He highlights that nation's tendency to conceal power and privilege in its suggestion that health and wealth are available to all, while the appearance of illness or poverty replaces skin color as a criterion for exclusion. To be from Voorstand is to have money, beauty, and health. To be poor, ugly, or disabled is to be other than a Voorstander or even other than a human being. The old typologies of the "racial other" as less than human are replayed when Tristan is described as "a monster" and "a mutant" (156, 157). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.