Monday, September 23, 2013

If Russell Brand Keeps This Up, I Might Start to Like Him

My first exposure to British actor/comedian Russell Brand was when he hosted the 2008 MTV Video Awards. I was an instant – well, whatever is the opposite of “fan.” As time went on and I saw more of him, and occasionally read his op-eds in the Guardian, I liked him even less – or rather, I didn’t like his politics or his comedy (when did it become the aim of comedians to offend rather than entertain? Note to self: future article topic). However, a couple of recent incidents are forcing me to reconsider Brand in a different light.

Earlier this summer Brand appeared on the MSNBC show Morning Joe to promote his current comedy tour, The Messiah Complex – which, as he explained to the trio of unprepared co-hosts, deals with the ways in which the images and messages of such iconic figures as Jesus and Che Guevara have been exploited through history. Although I suspect I would find much of his take on the subject to be wrongheaded, I give him credit for building a comedy show around such an unusually deep and rich topic.

Anyway, Brand finally tired of the MSNBC hosts’ painfully awkward jocularity and asked them, “This is what you all do for a living?... You’re delivering news to the people of America?” They appeared terrified by his intellect and his unwillingness to play the part of Shallow Celebrity Guest Plugging His Latest Gig.

When the male co-host joked about coming to work dressed in rock star mode like Brand, the comedian pounced again: “That’s superficial. That’s the problem with current affairs: you forget about what’s important, you allow the agenda to be decided by superficial information. What am I saying, what am I talking about? Don’t think about what I’m wearing. These things are superficial.” The interview video went viral and garnered Brand raves. I confess that even I respected him for calling out the hosts on their silliness and unprofessionalism.

More recently, he confounded expectations again when he was given a rather fluffy award at a Hugo Boss-sponsored GQ bash. As he wrote afterward in the Guardian, “These parties aren’t like real parties. It’s fabricated fun, imposed from the outside,” and Brand “just wasn’t feeling it.” So he decided “to treat the whole event as a bit of a laugh.”

Wahlberg & Sheen Finally Get HS Diplomas – But Which One Earned It?

You often hear success stories in which high school dropouts like Walt Disney, Richard Branson, and Elton John go on to win fame and fortune, but you don’t often hear about those rich dropouts then going back and collecting that diploma. In an interesting coincidence this week, celebrity news sources reported that two forty-something stars finally picked up their long-delayed high school diplomas – but in quite different ways.

Mark Wahlberg, 42, dropped out of school in the ninth grade after being charged with attempted murder (that’s right, attempted murder), then broke through to stardom by way of Calvin Klein underwear ads and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch videos. He went on to acting acclaim in Boogie Nights, The Departed, and The Fighter, in addition to producing TV shows like Entourage. He’s married and a committed Catholic with four children by his ex-model wife.

With all that personal and professional success, nothing would have been easier for him than to dismiss his unfinished education as pointless. But Wahlberg was motivated to graduate by his children. He told People magazine, “I didn’t want the kids saying, ‘You didn’t do it, so why do I need it?’ They are all wanting to do things in their future that require an education.”

So Wahlberg began quietly taking online classes and hired a tutor, even studying between takes of his movie Two Guns and keeping it a secret from costar Denzel Washington. In June he was finally awarded his diploma, which he calls “a huge accomplishment” and “a huge sense of relief.” At an event for the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens, where he presented scholarships to Taco Bell employees, he told People, “It’s so much harder at 41 going back and trying to do all these difficult tasks.”

And he’s still not done with his education. “I would love to go to USC and study film. I don’t want to become a veterinarian or anything, [just study] things that further my career and broaden my horizon.”

The Mindset List: What the Next Generation Thinks is Normal

“Every year at school,” teachers say, “we get older but the students stay the same age.” The corollary to that is, every year the teachers’ cultural frame of reference stays the same but that of the students changes. As every new generation enters college, they bring with them a new set of assumptions shaped by a brave new world that is not the one in which the professors grew up.

Ron Nief and Tom McBride decided that it’s useful for professors to educate themselves about what their students consider normal – the reality that they take for granted – in order to adjust their own cultural references and find common ground with the beginning freshman class.

In 1998 Nief, Emeritus Director of Public Affairs at Beloit College in Wisconsin, and McBride, Beloit English professor and Keefer Professor of the Humanities, fashioned a “Mindset List” of what has “always” or “never” been true for entering first year college students, as a window into their world view. They began with the members of the class of 2002, born in 1980, and have produced a new list every year since.

“What started as a witty way of saying to faculty colleagues ‘watch your references,’ has turned into a globally reported and utilized guide to the intelligent,” says the Mindset List website. It is read by thousands, reprinted in hundreds of publications, and even led to a book, The Mindset Lists of American History: From Typewriters to Text Messages, What Ten Generations of Americans Think is Normal.

What are their conclusions about the Class of 2017, now entering college? “The current generation, I predict and I hope, will be called The Sharing Generation,” McBride writes. Why? They share everything from information (“it is a generation that has grown up with the electronic cut and paste and forward”) to knowledge (“it’s a generation that has not grown up with the lecturer… but with the facilitator”) to themselves (“it’s a generation that is constantly ‘chatting’”) to spiritual values (“it’s a generation that is… spiritual but not religious in the sectarian sense”).

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Disconnectedness of Being Connected

This morning I awoke to discover I had no internet access. I don’t mean that after a leisurely breakfast and shower I eventually sat down to my computer and couldn’t get online. I mean I literally “awoke to discover” it, because the first thing I did when my eyes opened was to grab the cell phone from my night stand and check my emails. My inability to do so immediately left me as agitated as a junky in need of a fix, highlighting for me just how addicted I, like countless others, have become to being perpetually connected to the outside world through my phone.

Except that it doesn’t really connect me at all; if anything, my phone disconnects me from the outside world. Yes, it links me to a multiverse of information and distractions. But there is something about experiencing the world through the addictive central portal of a smartphone that creates a psychological and spiritual distance from the experience and from the world itself.

Recently I saw a two-minute film being shared on Facebook called I Forgot My Phone. In it we follow a young woman through a day in which she is surrounded by friends but ends up feeling alienated and alone even in the midst of them. It’s an amusingly familiar but ultimately bleak picture of how smartphones in today’s mobile age change the way people experience each other and the world.

She wakes up in the arms of her boyfriend (husband?), but rather than sharing the intimate moment, he scrolls through his cell phone. She’s at lunch with friends when the chatter devolves into silence as everyone focuses on his or her phone. She’s bowling with friends and looking for a high five, but her teammates leave her hanging because they’re immersed in their cell phones. She attends a concert in a small club where people are watching the band – on their cell phones. She’s at her own birthday party, which everyone experiences indirectly through their tiny phone screens. At the end of the day she’s back in her boyfriend’s arms; she turns off the light, only to have her face illuminated by the light from his cell phone, which he is scrolling through. He is connected to an illusion of innumerable places and people and possibilities, and completely disconnected from what should have mattered most, the woman in his arms and their moment together.

“Anarchaqueer” Proudly Destroys College 9/11 Memorial

Last week at more than 200 colleges and high schools across the nation, students came together to arrange memorials on campus featuring thousands of flags representing each victim of Islamic terrorism on that date. Who could find that gesture offensive? Five student protesters at Middlebury College in Vermont, brainwashed by multiculturalist nonsense, that’s who. 

“The 9/11: Never Forget Project has been an annual nonpartisan event at Middlebury College for the past ten years,” writes Hillary Cherry, Program Officer of Public Relations there. The flags have been posted at Middlebury annually in a joint effort between the College Republicans and Democrats. “By participating in the 9/11: Never Forget Project, students honor the victims of the attacks, as well as honor the American principles for which they died.”

There had never before been a problem until Ben Kinney, president of the campus conservative club, caught five vandals last week in the act of ripping up the flags and bagging them like trash. They refused to stop and told him they were “confiscating” the flags in protest of “America's imperialism.” They also claimed that the flags were desecrating an Indian burial ground.

Two of the students, Amanda Lickers (who admitted instigating the vandalism) and Anna Shireman-Grabowski, later published statements proudly taking responsibility for their despicable action. I encourage you to read them in their entirety to get the full impact of the intolerant, multiculturalist lunacy that inspired them, but here are some revealing excerpts. First, from Lickers, complete with grammatical errors:

i am a young onkwehon:we, a woman, a member of the turtle clan and the onondowa'ga nation of the haudenosaunee confederacy…

for over 500 years our people have been under attack. the theft of our territories, the devastation of our waters; the poisoning of our people through the poisoning of our lands; the theft of our people from our families; the rape of our children; the murder of our women; the sterilization of our communities; the abuse of our generations; theuprooting of our ancestors and the occupation of our sacred sites; the silencing of our songs; the erasure of our languages and memories of our traditions

i have had enough.

So had I, but I kept reading anyway.

i was invited to middlebury college to facilitate a workshop on settler responsibility and decolonization. i walked across this campus whose stone wall structures weigh heavy on the landscape. the history of eugenics, genocide and colonial violence permeate that space so fully like a ghost everywhere descending. it was my understanding that this site is occupying an abenaki burial ground; a sacred site.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Chivalry and Gay Men

Slate’s Katy Waldman posted a short piece Thursday commenting on an Advocate article by Neal Broverman which raised a question about gay men and chivalry. The gay Broverman described an incident in which a trio of apparently straight men held an elevator door open for him to exit first, and it prompted him to wonder if he were being treated like a lady by these knights because of his sexual orientation. Was this seemingly polite gesture “closer to a backhanded slap?”

This led Waldman to propose a “new world order” of “pan-chivalry” that knows no boundaries, and in which we are all – male and female, straight and gay – both knight and lady in the equation. Sounds great, except that what she’s describing is simple courtesy, which is not chivalry, although the former arose from the latter.

Chivalry has come under fire in recent decades, decried as an outmoded, sexist relic of the medieval knightly class. Today’s “liberated” women – and unfortunately, “liberated” too often refers to women who are merely emulating the worst qualities of men – resent chivalry’s implication that they are what used to be called the “weaker sex.” Even a courteous gesture like opening a door for them is viewed as a condescending, gender power play. Waldman herself writes that such acts of politeness like what Broverman experienced were “harder to swallow when you remember they’re predicated on your supposed weakness.”

It’s revealing that whenever chivalry is discussed today, holding a door for a woman is always the example that leaps to mind, as if that is chivalry’s quintessential expression. Sadly, that is what the ideal has been reduced to in our soft, civilized, and – dare I say it – emasculated twenty-first century America.

The Muslims Are Coming!

This Friday marks the Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles premiere of a documentary called The Muslims Are Coming!, which features a band of Muslim comedians touring middle America “to explore the issue of Islamophobia!” The exclamation mark is there to let you know that the show is going to be great fun! And all just in time for the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks (as they say in comedy, timing is everything).

As the film’s website explains, this project arose in a context in which “Islam has been duly tarnished by the mainstream media.” Actually, it has been duly tarnished by the barbarism of Islamic fundamentalists, and duly defended and whitewashed by the mainstream media. “We are so many years out of 9/11,” the website continues, “and Muslim fear-mongering hasn’t dissipated.” Yes, 9/11 was so long ago and yet the Islamophobia inexplicably never ends! When are we Americans going to get over it and realize we have nothing to fear from Muslims?

As FrontPage Magazine has pointed out many times, “Islamophobia” is a Muslim Brotherhood construct to paint legitimate concern about the demonstrable threat of fundamentalist Islam as bigotry and “Muslim fear-mongering.” That threat didn’t end on 9/11 – it is a continuing danger not just on our own soil but worldwide, as the most cursory look at history and current events will show. It is offensive and dishonest to claim that the media are to blame for Islam’s bad reputation and that 9/11 is in the distant past. The day that the victims of 9/11 stop living in American hearts will be a day of shame and surrender for this country.

The movie description on the website goes on to say that “the idea that Islam is somehow antithetical to American culture just won’t go away.” I wonder why that is. Could it be because the foremost clerical authorities on Islam keep openly declaring that the faith is antithetical to Western values? Could it be because the Muslim Brotherhood’s stated mission is the elimination of Western civilization? Could it be because sharia law is unquestionably incompatible with our Constitutional rights and freedoms?

The description continues: “If all you’ve ever heard about Islam”

is that it’s a dangerous religion, that women cover themselves, and that those shifty eyed Muslims have evil ulterior motives, this movie wants to give you a new stereotype. Yeah, this movie is going to convince you that Muslims are just a bunch of hilarious people.  By the end of this movie, you’re gonna love the pants out of Muslims.

That is just pathetic.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Subverting the Cultural Occupation

In a recent National Review piece, Jim Geraghty pondered the alliterative question, “Can Conservative Comments from Celebrities Change the Culture?” He’s worried that by touting two celebrity quotes that espoused conservative values, the right is wading into the shallow waters of pop culture and degrading the serious business of politics. His concern couldn’t be more misdirected.

A few weeks ago, rock star/globetrotting activist Bono asserted that capitalism pulls more people out of poverty than aid does. As if this concept emanating from such a pop icon weren’t refreshing enough to conservative ears, hip actor Ashton Kutcher gave a Teen Choice Awards acceptance speech around the same time, in which he stated that opportunities for success arose from hard work and personal drive; it was an inspirational antidote to the left’s “you didn’t build that” message, delivered to a young, impressionable audience (this video of that speech has garnered over 3.6 million views).

The right, aware more than ever before of the importance of reclaiming the culture (although many simply pay lip service to that), pounced on these statements as hopeful signs that our ideas were beginning to breach the wall of the left-dominated cultural stronghold. This made Geraghty squirm:

I’m still chewing this over, and trying to decide whether this represents a necessary tactic in an era of celebrity-obsessed pop culture, or whether it’s just the latest version of the conservative tendency to instantly adopt and celebrate any celebrity who happens to echo some of our arguments.

After all, when we say it’s shallow and silly and superficial for Democrats to emphasize their Hollywood star supporters at their political conventions, and to hold campaign events with Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z and such . . . we’re not wrong.

Politics may be entertaining at times, but politics and governing are supposed to be distinct from entertainment. Not everything in life is supposed to be a fun show! Sometimes the country’s problems and potential solutions are complicated, detailed, involve trade-offs, and require a bit of thinking to evaluate.

It’s disheartening that after losing two elections to the most celebrity-obsessed and pop culture-connected President in history, too many on the right still dismiss this most critical element of political war. As I’ve written before, conservatives lost in the political arena last November because for decades the radical left laid the groundwork for it in the cultural arena, while we turned our backs on it. Disengagement isn’t how you win a culture war.

“If you’re going to try to transform every aspect of the public’s evaluation of public-policy decisions into a flashy, glamorous, sexy, exciting thrill,” Geraghty joked, “pretty soon we’ll see campaigns rolling out Katy Perry in a latex dress!” – which of course is exactly what the left did, and her candidate won (and if you don’t know who Katy Perry is, you’re part of the problem, not the solution).

UN to US: Get Zimmerman

With nothing more important to do than make pompous pronouncements on an already resolved criminal case in Florida, a United Nations sub-group on racism called on the United States government late last week to finalize the ongoing review of the case involving the controversial shooting of black Trayvon Martin by the media-designated “white Hispanic” neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman.

The United Nations Working Group of Experts of People of African Descent (the UN needs to put together a Working Group of Experts on Creating Group Names That Make Better Acronyms) released a statement calling upon “the US Government to examine its laws that could have discriminatory impact on African Americans, and to ensure that such laws are in full compliance with the country’s international legal obligations and relevant standards,” said “human rights expert” Verene Shepherd, who currently heads the group of experts (the UN News article mentions quite often that they are experts, to reassure you that as experts they are surely qualified to lecture the least racist nation in the world about how racist we are).

This comes after a trial in which Zimmerman was found innocent of all charges, and after a separate FBI investigation found no racism in Zimmerman’s motivation. That wasn’t enough for the experts at UNWGEPAD, who must have their hands full keeping up with trials involving people of African descent in every country around the world. Nor was it enough for Attorney General Eric Holder, who is mulling over a federal civil action against Zimmerman, and who instituted a tip line for Americans who want to act as Holder’s informants and dig up some useful dirt on Zimmerman.

“The Trayvon Martin case has highlighted the importance of the need to review those existing laws and policies that can have a discriminatory effect on the basis of race, as African Americans become more vulnerable to such discrimination,” pontificated Ms. Shepherd. Her statement didn’t specify which American laws and policies are discriminatory, although she may have had in mind the ‘Stand Your Ground” law that sparked so much misplaced outrage here in the States. That law had nothing to do with the Martin-Zimmerman case; it was invoked by neither the prosecution nor the defense. It’s unclear how, as an expert, Ms. Shepherd overlooked this detail.

“States are required to take effective measures to review governmental, national and local policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever it exists,” added Mutuma Ruteere, the UN’s “Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance” since November 2011 (I don’t know how he gets all that on his business card). Thanks for reminding us from your office in Switzerland of something we already know, Mr. Ruteere, but as an expert, surely you are aware that the United States has already been spectacularly effective at eliminating racial discrimination. We have a black President.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why Do America’s Manliest Actors Come From Somewhere Else?

Last week a male Facebook friend of mine posted the status update, “Just watched ‘How the West Was Won’ starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Gregory Peck, and Richard Widmark. I feel like a woman by comparison.” There was a time when Hollywood was brimming with such American stars who were real rough-and-tumble men’s men, rugged leading men who could knock you to the ground just by squinting at you. Who are the big-screen men’s men of today? And why do so many of them seem to come from somewhere else?

Lamenting the rumored, quiet acting exit of Jack Nicholson, Christian Toto at Big Hollywood describes him as “a handsome gent but hardly in a metrosexual manner. He’s a man's man on screen, and even when he flashes his tender side one raised eyebrow reminds us the devil lurks not too far from the surface. That sense of danger is missing in many male actors today, regardless of all the iron they pump to prep for a part.”

Nicholson isn’t the only Hollywood man’s man riding off into the sunset: the heydays of Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, and Bruce Willis are behind them as well. Who is there now to fill their well-worn boots? George Clooney? Close, but too urbane. Tom Cruise? He plays some tough guys, but one never gets the sense that he actually is a tough guy. Will Smith? Likeable, but zero sense of danger about him. Leonardo diCaprio? Terminally baby-faced.

This is not to knock anyone’s acting chops. Popular American actors today like Johnny Depp, James Franco, Tobey MaGuire, and Shia LaBoeuf simply lack the two-fisted, virile presence of, say, Steve McQueen, Kirk Douglas, Lee Marvin or James Coburn. Imagine MaGuire aiming a .44 Magnum one-handed and growling, “Go ahead – make my day.” I’m not sure he could even lift a .44 Magnum.

Sure, we have some red-blooded leading men with an aura of danger about them: Denzel Washington, Ed Harris, Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson – all on the downslope of their careers. Who will replace them? Bradley Cooper? Ryan Gosling? Channing Tatum? Jake Gyllenhaal? Fine actors but metrosexuals all. None of them – yet – has the world-weary toughness of Humphrey Bogart or Robert Mitchum, that sense of danger Toto wrote about, or that Wild West ruggedness which emasculated my Facebook friend.

Hollywood Would Rather be Pro-War Than Appear Anti-Black

President Obama may be meeting with a lot of resistance as he pushes for military action against Syria, but it doesn’t appear that he will be facing any from the anti-war crowd among his moneyed friends in Hollywood.

Prior to our invasion of Iraq under George Bush, the anti-war movement in Hollywood was alive and well, with an all-star cast featuring West Wing TV President Martin Sheen, dictator Hugo Chavez’ close friend Sean Penn, rich anti-capitalists Ed Asner and Matt Damon, Democrat fundraiser extraordinaire Barbra Streisand, new MSNBC host Alec Baldwin, former M*A*S*H TV surgeon Mike Farrell, and naturally, angry unwashed hipster Janeane Garofalo (of course, if they were truly anti-war, they would be protesting both sides of a conflict, but they always seem to reserve their outrage for the American government).

But where are they now that Obama is possibly uncorking World War III? The Buzzfeed website posted a satirical piece last week called “14 Principled Anti-War Celebrities We Fear May Have Been Kidnapped,” about the absence of entertainment industry protesters against impending war in Syria. Their list includes the usual anti-war suspects like Sheryl Crow (“The best way to solve problems is to not have enemies”), Sean Penn (“I think we’re past that point in human evolution where there’s such a thing as winning wars”), Susan Sarandon (“Let us hate war in all its forms, whether the weapon used is a missile or an airplane”) and George Clooney (“You can’t beat your enemy anymore through wars; instead you create an entire generation of people revenge-seeking”). “The only explanation for their continued silence,” mocked Buzzfeed, “must be a large, organized kidnapping.”

If only. But Ed Asner, 83, best known as Mary Tyler Moore’s grumpy-but-lovable sitcom boss, and M*A*S*H’s Farrell, 74, recently gave The Hollywood Reporter some other explanations for the absence.

our editor recommends[3][4][5][6][7][8]

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Weirdest Things About America

Beset as we are by the gloomiest, doomiest economic forecast in living memory, if not since the Great Depression, it’s easy to forget or take for granted the blessings America offers its citizens and immigrants. So it’s occasionally helpful to get a foreign perspective – like that of Mumbai-born Aniruddh Chaturvedi.

After two years in the U.S., Chaturvedi, a computer science major at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, found certain aspects of American society weirdly surprising; he jotted down comparisons and contrasts with his native India, which were then posted online last week at Business Insider (which also links to a previous, similar post by Chaturvedi elsewhere last year). His observations, while subjective, highlight some positives for which Americans should be proud and grateful.

Prominent among the things that shocked Chaturvedi was his experience with food – “the pervasiveness of fast food and the sheer variety of products available,” for example. “The typical supermarket has at least a hundred varieties of frozen pizza, 50 brands of trail mix, etc. I was just astounded by the different kinds of products available even at small gas station convenience stores.” 

The abundance didn’t end there. “American serving sizes are HUGE!” although “Americans waste a lot of food and a lot of money on their obsession with coffee,” lining up in Starbucks every morning for a $6 mocha grande. Not to mention the fact that “the concept of virtually unlimited soda refills was alien to me, and I thought there was a catch to it, but apparently not.”

Hand-in-hand with that abundance is an “over-commercialization of festivals,” which exists in India, “but America takes it to a whole new level. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc., and an almost year-round sale of Christmas, Halloween, Easter, etc. items.”

At work in the tech field, Chaturvedi found that “everyone is highly private about their accomplishments and failures. Someone’s performance in any field is their performance alone. This is different compared to India where people flaunt their riches and share their accomplishments with everybody else.” And yet he encountered a surprising willingness to offer patient guidance: “People will sit with you patiently till you get it.” He observed the same attitude in school: “Students were highly collaborative, formed study groups, and studied/did assignments till everyone in the group ‘got it.’”

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Should Museums be More Entertaining?

James Durston at CNN Travel recently penned the thought-provoking piece, “Why I Hate Museums,” in which he lamented that the hallowed institutions have become musty old tombs for objects that too often lack a human connection. They’re “like libraries,” he writes, “without the party atmosphere.” He proposes a notion heretical to many: that it’s time to find ways to make museums more engaging, perhaps even – gasp! – entertaining.

Durston loves museums and acknowledges that they are invaluable: “They provide an umbilical link between our planet and our history to the future.” He doesn’t question their educational and economic benefits. But their current setup is “anathema to an engaging experience.” Visits there provoke in him “a shrug of ennui.” How uninspiring it is, he complains, simply to wander from notecard to notecard that dryly read, for example, “‘Vase: Iran; circa 15th century’… as if this is all I need to know.” Where’s the vitality, he wonders, the “theater,” the “joy” in all these vast collections of totemic fragments of human endeavor?

He may be in the minority; statistics show that museum attendance was up in 2011 and 2012 in the United States (and around the world) despite our struggling economy. But he has a point about the funereal ambience (apart from special exhibits); after all, you can’t spell “mausoleum” without “museum.” His description of the typical museum atmosphere – “Their cavernous rooms and deep corridors reverberate with the soft, dead sounds of tourists shuffling and employees yawning” – is all too familiar.

He points out that many museums have programs and displays, some interactive, that spark the curiosity and excitement of children – why not for adults? Why should “the significant majority of museum-goers be subjected to stiff, dry, academia-laced presentations as if fun were a dirty word?” Instead of tours led by bookworm-y docents or impersonal audioguides, Durston wants to feel “the ghosts of the past grab me by the hand and walk me around.” He wants the history to come alive. “Give me a story,” he pleads.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Are Movies Falsely Inflating Children’s Self-Esteem?

Luke Epplin’s recent piece “You Can Do Anything” in The Atlantic accused computer-animated children’s movies like Kung Fu Panda, Ratatouille, Wreck-It Ralph, Monsters University, and the newer Turbo and Planes of “infecting” children with “the belief that their greatness comes from within,” of encouraging youngsters to follow personal dreams to the detriment of society. It doesn’t seem to occur to Epplin that the pursuit of personal dreams benefits society.

He points, for example, to the story of Turbo in which a common garden snail “toils in a tomato patch during the day and dreams of racing glory at night.” His brother, a safety supervisor in the snail colony, puts a damper on such fantasies: “The sooner you accept the miserableness of your existence, the happier you'll be. Dreamers eventually have to wake up.”

Turbo predictably proves the pessimists wrong, like the main character in Planes, a crop-duster “who yearns to break free from his workaday existence and compete in the famed Wings Around the Globe race.” He is determined “to achieve his far-fetched goal, arguing that ‘I’m just trying to prove maybe, just maybe, I can do more than I was built for.’” And of course, he does.

Epplin links the message of such movies to the “cult of self-esteem” in our narcissistic era in which we are encouraged to “follow our bliss,” as mythologist Joseph Campbell once famously urged. The “restless protagonists of these films… sneer at the mundane, repetitive work performed by their unimaginative peers.” They never have to wake up to reality; “[i]nstead, it's the naysaying authority figures who need to be enlightened about the importance of never giving up on your dreams, no matter how irrational, improbable, or disruptive to the larger community… Their attitudes are all part of an ethos that privileges self-fulfillment over the communal good.”