Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Change in Perspective - Too Soon?

Anybody who knows me knows that I am cinematically illiterate. (I’m not sure if I just created a word, but it sounds reasonable) I have never been the person to sit down and watch movies, and as a result, I don’t have a thorough knowledge of movie history. However, last night I found some time to watch the children’s comedy “Megamind” with some friends. I really did enjoy the movie.

For those who haven’t seen it, the central character is Megamind, who is a villain who has battled his entire life with a childhood companion, Metroman. Megamind continuously loses to Metroman and he begins to believe that he is meant to be the villain. Without giving away the plot, Megamind comes to have control over Metro City. The rest of the movie focuses on Megamind’s internal struggles between the villain that he believes he is and the good that is inside of him.

It’s fascinating when movies take the perspective of what would typically be the antagonist of a standard plot. Many works have done this and been wildly successful commercially as well as giving an insightful commentary on our society. Some examples are the musical “Wicked”, “Phantom of the Opera”, and the TV series “The Sopranos”. I enjoy these divergent perspectives and believe they serve a valuable purpose in artistic productions. I do, on the other hand, wonder about the wisdom of presenting this in the same manner in children’s movies.

My favorite movie growing up was “The Lion King”. The focus of that movie was Simba fighting his uncle Scar. It’s a classic story of good vs. evil. To be sure, there are reasons and rationales for why Scar ended up in his current situation, but the focus of the movie is on a good, honest, and decent Simba overcoming personal challenges and evil at the same time.

In Megamind, Megamind is presented sympathetically and you can’t help but root for the little, evil underdog. The same situation arises in the other productions that have the villain playing the lead role. You can almost find yourself saying, “If only X would have happened differently, Megamind would be a good guy!” This is typically true, which is why I enjoy seeing art presented in this manner. However, that needs to be qualified. There are two critical points here: processes and events.

The process involve the years, situations, and unfortunate circumstances that led to Megamind’s decision to become evil. The event is Megamind deciding to destroy Metro City. We should be aware that life is complex. Many factors contribute to the success or failure of anything in life. We should not, however, confuse the process with the event. Once a person has chosen something dangerous to the welfare of society, good and decent people everywhere must unite to stop it. A person can change, turn a new leaf, and if they do so, I applaud them! Actions still have consequences, even if they have been turned away from, and we must always remember this. Children especially need to know this, because many decisions they make as youth will have ramifications for them for the rest of their lives.

Knowledge has always been developed much like a pyramid, one level at a time. First, we need the knowledge of good and evil. We need to have a surety of what we know to be right and what we know to be wrong. Then, and only then, can we interpret motives, processes, and try to correct them. (Yes, I know there are other things to be taught as well…just simplifying to stay concise) If we do this backwards, we start creating a morally relativistic society that sympathizes with terrorists, criminals, and drug dealers because “we (society) failed them”. Many people may have failed the “villains” of our society today, but they are the only ones who chose to pursue that path and as a result are the only ones who can be blamed for their decisions. And as soon as they chose that path, they also chose the consequences. First, children need to know that good decisions have good consequences and bad decisions have bad consequences. After they’ve been thoroughly taught in this basis of personal living can we move outwards to defining motives of others.

I believe that as a society we need to look at the reasons why certain events take place. While we do this, we must remember more central features of our human condition: 1) We all control our own choices, 2) While there are many grey areas in the world, there are still clear rights and wrongs, and 3) We must adjudicate our society based on the first two points. My hesitation in presenting movies and other artistic productions to children in the manner of Megamind is that we’re putting the chicken before the egg.

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