Philosophy Sunday

Continuing (here are links to Part 1 and Part 2) with the moments of transformation in Zootopia, we come to the most prominently featured (prominent insofar as a driver in the storyline) area of them all: hidden bias.

And Judy is as full of it as her antagonists.

The importance of this cannot be overstated. Even though she’s battling Chief Bogo’s views of her, she’s just as susceptible. Even though she just witnessed overt discrimination in the ice cream parlour, she calls Nick a fine dad and articulate. Ouch. She pretends she’s over Gideon’s treatment of her as a young bunny, and that her parent’s warnings don’t hold sway over her, yet, there she is, with that, saying that. And then, it blows up even more spectacularly at the press conference.

Inside our biases, things make sense. It makes sense to Judy that the predators are all that much closer to reverting to their feral ways. That they could go feral, at any time. Notice how she says what she says at the press conference – she says earnestly and with clinical “certainty.” She doesn’t realize that she’s speaking from a biased world view. “I just stated the facts of the case! I mean, it’s not like a bunny can go savage,” she says. In that moment, it seems… correct.

I cannot give enough props to the directors and the writing team for this. Because the brilliance here is the very important demonstration of how we are all full of hidden biases. All of us. Even when we don’t think we are. Even when we may be battling biases ourselves. Even when we may outwardly rail against them. Even when we’re offended if someone accused us of having them. That is, of course, why they’re called hidden biases.

More importantly, however, Judy’s biases are also a demonstration of the fact that we not bad people, or stupid, or evil, or damned for having them. Often, we get them completely without conscious intent. It’s just what we do. We get biases.

And when we discover them, we can do something about them.

For Judy, she gets to see the impact of her bias. Nick leaves her. The city devolves. Fear ensues. She resigns and goes home. It takes her a little while to know what to do. Gideon’s apology opens up the space. Realizing that bunnies CAN go savage opens up another. And as she jets off into action, she recognizes that the first thing she needs to do is apologize to Nick. It would be inauthentic and a huge disconnect to try to repair the rend in the city without first healing her friendship with Nick.

We cannot have peace between nations if we do not have peace with our friends and family.

Words will forever fail me in trying to emphasize how profound the scene at the Natural History Museum is, on so many levels. It is the ultimate culmination of both the story threads and, more importantly, of Judy and Nick’s philosophical journey. That Judy let Nick take her neck between his teeth is an expression of just how completely Judy has let go of her bias. And this moment, more than Judy’s (and Nick’s!) acceptance on the police force, more than the city enjoying the concert at the end, more than anything, this moment is the example that lets us know just how completely hidden bias can be overcome. Judy might have won the police over with her success. Everyone may behave around Gazelle because it’s a good time, or a heavy security presence. But here, it’s just Judy and Nick, and Judy was willing to put her life on the line because she transformed her bias and let herself trust a fox.

Her willingness becomes a metaphor of what’s actually possible for us in the world. If that level of “logical” and even ingrained bias can be transformed, then what can’t? Nothing is intractable. We can come overcome, and we can come together.

The truth shines through: we are not objects, set in stone. Neither are the problems in the world, and neither are the “that’s just the way things are” views that hem us in. Judy is us. Nick is us. They’re good people who had hidden biases. But there’s no shame in that. Through their journeys of transformation we realize that we, too, can take those steps, and that we, too, can make our world a better place.

It’s not always easy. And we may screw up. But we can get the impact of it. Delve deep. Deal with it. Complete it. Go forward and clean things up. Apologize. Forgive. And create a bond and a world that was even stronger than before.

“I thought this city would be a perfect place where everyone got along and anyone could be anything. Turns out, life’s a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Real life is messy. We all have limitations. We all make mistakes. Which means, hey, glass half full, we all have a lot in common. And the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be. But we have to try. So no matter what kind of person you are, I implore you: Try. Try to make the world a better place. Look inside yourself and recognize that change starts with you. It starts with me.  It starts with everyone.”

(For more posts exploring the philosophy of Zootopia, click here)

6 thoughts on “Philosophy Sunday

  1. shadowcheets March 28, 2016 / 19:44

    This one lesson is the most important from the movie, in my mind. So often, if you do anything that seems racist, or sexist, or anything-ist, you are immediately a bad person. The end.

    Thus, people get defensive and hurt and frustrated.

    “I know I am not a horrible person, therefore I cannot have been X-ist. They must be wrong. How dare they accuse me of being a bad person?”


    “Wow, I’m just a terrible person. I guess that’s it. I suck.”

    The acknowledgement that all of us are flawed, and that we all have to start somewhere is the first requirement for improvement. Accepting that we are all flawed is the foundation of accepting feedback that can shine light on our own blind spots.

    There is so much potential for wonderful things if the ideas in that movie can be spread and learned.

    • Kannik March 30, 2016 / 00:30

      Well said. The extreme outcomes of outright rejection or outright self-deprecation is common. We put a lot in making X-ism “bad” in hopes to have people not act that way, but that shaming has created its own (and perhaps now even greater) problems. Shame rarely works out positively in the end.

      Switching the societal context of bias to one of universality, understanding, and an impetus to learn and alter your views, is much more constructive.

      Thank you for the comment!

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