Snow and Glacier Themed Animated Film ‘Abominable’ Fuels Geopolitical Controversy

A half second blip in the newly released animated kids film “Abominable,” was all it took to aggravate a decades-old geopolitical controversy in Southeast Asia in October. The film—about a lovable yeti and his child companions’ journey to the Himalayas—has been banned in Vietnam and Malaysia, and boycotted in the Philippines, because of a map shown in the film that depicts China’s disputed territorial claims in the South China Sea. To some, the film also glosses over the yeti’s physical and cultural connection to Tibet and Nepal. 

DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio’s “Abominable” has aggravated a longstanding controversy despite positive reviews. Credit: DreamWorks Animation LLC

Abominable” is a joint production of Dreamworks and Chinese company Pearl Studio, and tells the story of a young girl—named Yi—in Shanghai who stumbles upon a frightened, but friendly, yeti hiding on her roof. After patching up a wound on his arm, feeding him pork buns, and other fuzzy-feeling-inducing moments, Yi and the yeti embark on a journey away from the megalopolis of Shanghai to get him back to his home in the Himalayas.

The scene that has been the cause of so much international ire is a split second glimpse of a map on Yi’s wall, that very prominently (if you’re from Southeast Asia) includes China’s infamous “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea. The “nine-dash line” is a vague demarcation that China has insisted represents its historic territory in that body of water. Vietnam, Malaysia, The Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei all claim portions of this same area.

Clip from the film that shows the disputed “nine dash line.” Credit: Twitter

On a map the dotted line—literally made of nine dashes—plumes out from the Chinese mainland and covers nearly 90 percent of the resource rich South China Sea. There is no legal basis for this claim, which also violates the international principles of freedom of the high seas.

The film also neglected any mention of Tibet or Nepal—the cultural home of the yeti. “The yeti is…naturally and inherently a being from the Tibet-Nepal Himalayan region,” social scientist and Himalayan expert Galen Murton told GlacierHub. Yet in “Abominable,” even its home, vaguely referred to as “Everest,” is also depicted as just another part of China.

“What is missing is what’s really important—it vaporizes the issue of Tibet,” said Murton. China’s claim of sovereignty over Tibet has been challenged for decades, most notably by Tibet’s exiled leader, the Dalai Lama.

Coincidentally, the Himalayas have also been the subject of territorial disputes between China and its neighbors, especially India. The much disputed border there—known as the Line of Actual Control—cuts through thousands of miles of mountains and glaciers. The two countries fought a war in 1962 over two particular sections that remains unresolved. Things again turned heated in the summer of 2017, when China attempted to construct a road through contested territory and was blocked by Indian troops. The event culminated in a standoff between hundreds of Chinese and Indian soldiers.

Despite political undertones, “Abominable” captures the fascination people have with mountains and glaciers and remains popular in the US.
Credit: DreamWorks Animation LLC

“Abominable,” for its part, is mostly just a kids movie about family, adventure, and compassion for other living creatures. It also highlights the mysterious power that snowy mountains and glacier environments have on people. This is embodied in the friendly yeti, who can magically change the environment around him when he hums deeply. The movie has also been praised by some in the US for the inclusion of an all Asian-American cast, and has done well at the box office.

Even so, the presence of the nine dash line and other geopolitical framings in the film are likely not “totally innocuous or accidental” according to Murton. “I don’t think there is anyway it could’ve been overlooked,” he said, explaining that films shown in China must abide by censorship rules. “I think it’s intentionally inconspicuous. It sort of buries the controversy in an image or illustration that just normalizes it.” 

Roundup: Geopolitics in South Asia, “Last Chance Tourism,” and Antarctic Fjords

Glacier Geopolitics In South Asia

From the Daily Times: “India threatens Pakistan to stop its water flow from the Beas, Ravi, and Sutlej [Rivers] to Pakistan. In response Pakistan said that they are not concerned if New Delhi diverts its water from eastern rivers. India has already withdrawn the most favored nation (MFN) status to Pakistan and increased the duty import up to 200 percent. This all is due to the Pulwama attacks in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK), where a suicide bomber killed more then 40 CRPF troops on 14th of February.”

Read more about the geopolitical dispute here.

“Last Chance Tourism”

From the Annals of Tourism Research: “With reference to virtue ethics and ethics of care, this paper discusses ethical challenges of tourism consumption and the last chance tourism marketplace … findings extend current discourses on last chance tourism by situating visitors’ lack of care for climate threatened destinations as a response to a tourism market that normalizes the consumption of socio-ecological decline.”

Read more about “last chance tourism” in the research article “Place stewardship among last chance tourists” here.

Paradise Bay, Antarctica (Source: Michael Morris, Flickr)

Biological and Optical Properties of Glacial Meltwater in Antarctic Fjord System

From Plos One: “As the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) region responds to a warmer climate, the impacts of glacial meltwater on the Southern Ocean are expected to intensify. The Antarctic Peninsula fjord system offers an ideal system to understand meltwater’s properties, providing an extreme in the meltwater’s spatial gradient from the glacio-marine boundary to the WAP continental shelf. Glacial meltwater discharge in Arctic and Greenland fjords is typically characterized as relatively lower temperature, fresh and with high turbidity.”

Learn more about Antarctic fjord systems and the associated biological and optical properties here.

Hovgaard Island, Antarctica (Source: Steven-ch, Flickr)

 

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