Ya Like Jazz?

Percival Everett’s Zulus intervenes in the kind of social tensions that Jerry Seinfeld outlines in Bee Movie. More specifically, the poems exists in conversation with Bee Movie, suggesting the impossibility of liberty from our external realms.

In the world of Bee Movie (2007), bees receive their jobs as soon as they graduate from college. They are assigned niche roles in the honey-making factory, “Honex: A Division of Honesco:  A Part of the Hexagon Group” (Seinfeld 8). According to Trudy, who guides Barry and his friend, Adam, around the factory, “Most bee jobs are small ones. But bees know that every small job, if it’s done well, means a lot. There are over 3000 different bee occupations. But choose carefully, because you’ll stay in the job that you pick for the rest of your life” (Seinfeld 10). Barry panics when he realizes that he will be in the same job forever, questioning whether the Honex will “just work us to death,” to which Trudy cheerfully replies, “we’ll sure try” (Seinfeld 10).
Honex operates much like a typical company, internal strife indicated by Barry quipping that “they say we don’t need vacations” (Seinfeld 6), the headline across a bee newspaper that “Bee Goes Berserk:  Stings Seven Then Self” (Seinfeld 11), and the bees not having much freedom to choose how they spend their short lives (Seinfeld 10). Honex is not a utopia. It is, however, is a well managed factory that allows the bees working within it to live well without job competition, a stock market, or any of the components of an individual-driven, capitalistic society.

Zulus of re: f (gesture) posits a similar viewpoint about our collective knowledge. Everett makes use of abecedarian structure, a form of poetry which indicates alphabetical order, or the antiquated association of abecedarian with “one learning rudiments of something.” This form categorizes concepts from the poem by letter, placing different influential people and ideas within the framework of an alphabetical archive. Such an archive could be one indexing the rudimentary knowledge of our culture, and highlighting those who shape our idea of it. As a society, our knowledge of figures such as “Aristotle,” “Goya,” and “Chandler” (Everett 15, 17, 21) defines many of our ingrained social perspectives, even if not every individual has heard of each influential figure. These figures, while being a part of “canon,” may prove unsatisfactory to the modern reader. Chandler, for example, sings a song about African American enslavement “before twenty-three thousand/ white faces while black men/ wait to play ball” (Everett 17). Chandler was a powerful member of the public, having been a Governor and Senator of Kentucky, a state border state that eventually became Confederate during the Civil War. Similarly to how each bee has a role in its society, Chandler’s performance in the context of his whiteness and political power is representative of the larger, racist functions of the society in which he performed. Is it possible to expunge such people from our social history, and if one does, will society improve for it, or will people simply lack a means of representing how they have been influenced by the continuing impact of other time periods?

Bee Movie asserts that society should not be driven by individual will, but by collective good. Barry B. Benson, however, is dissatisfied with this system. He begins to wonder if “maybe things work a little too well around here” (Seinfeld 10), and harbors an ambition to become a “Pollen Jock” (Seinfeld 11), a member of the hive who is allowed to leave and roam the dangerous world outside the hive in search of pollen. Barry’s society, however, only allows bees to become Pollen Jocks if they had been “bred for it” (Seinfeld 12). Barry therefore decides that he wants to seek his own happiness rather than following convention, and leaves the hive to compete in the human world. While learning about the realm outside his hive, he discovers that humans eat honey, and is stunned. “Bees don’t know about this. This is stealing. A lot of stealing! You’ve taken our homes, our schools, our hospitals. This is all we have. And it’s on sale? I’m going to get to the bottom of this” (Seinfeld 53). Barry, viewing the bees’ product as private property, sues the human race–and wins, demanding that “we [the bees] want to get back all the honey that was ours to begin with” (Seinfeld 95), forcing humans to empty their stores and factories of honey and return it (Seinfeld 96). However, the consequences of his actions are dire: the bees possess more honey than they know what to do with, and stop pollinating flowers (Seinfeld 99). Vanessa, his “good friend” (Seinfeld 86), explains that “you take away the produce, that affects the entire animal kingdom.  And then, of course…[the human species]” (Seinfeld 103). The apocalypse is therefore caused by competition and a lack of cooperation. The long term solution is to return the bees to work while acknowledging the change in relationship between human and bee society. Barry B. Benson bee-comes an attorney who has built a rapport between humans and bees, calling upon the Pollen Jocks to help Vanessa with her flower shop, and this rapport causes the system to become rebalanced, the animal kingdom no longer being in danger (Seinfeld 128). Bees and humans serve different roles in the animal kingdom, and those roles are important for the perpetuation of life on Earth. While Barry can alter relationships between humans and bees, he cannot destroy the foundation of this relationship, bees pollinating flowers and creating honey.

Within the poem, individuals are inseparable from others, such as Zeus, whose influence over “Leda” (Everett 20), and Ganymede (Everett 21), represents a through line of rape between the two consecutive poems. This through line suggests that other ideas in these two poems, such as “Grab your ankles, America” (Everett 21), might be about America being controlled by a similar “force majeure” as the one which penetrated Leda (Everett 20). Although Zeus is an Ancient Greek god, he, like Barry B. Benson, is able to reach into another society and serve as an expression of its power dynamics. As it is impossible to ensure that Barry B. Benson’s lawsuit only changes alters the dynamic between bees and humans, it is similarly impossible to confine the power dynamics Zeus engages in to Ancient Greece. Everett therefore portrays the “basics” of our society and what causes it to continue, which is the combined impact of our contributions across time and culture. It is impossible to remove our contemporary world from the forces which have shaped its functions. Learning of the relationship between older beliefs and our current society will therefore allow members of society to build a more productive rapport between the past and present.

Although Zulus and Bee Movie suggest that removing oneself from all societal influences is impossible, these works serve as a call to action. Zulus and Bee Movie propose that one, or a collective doing small jobs, can influence the status quo for the better. These works urge their audience to create a better relationship between societal forces and those living within a society without claiming separation from the world.


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