Animated Movies and the "Me" Generation
- Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Stop me if you’ve heard these lyrics before:
When you wish upon a star,
Makes no difference who you are,
Anything your heart desires,
Will come to you.
Jiminy Cricket’s famous song When You Wish upon a Star became the anthem for an entire generation (or two or three) of kids. Themes like "Believe in yourself," "Never give up," and "Anything is possible" are pretty appealing to kids, and ever since Pinocchio, children have been brought up on films featuring a steady diet of self-esteem. This diet, according to some, has wrought some serious problems. Authors like Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me, argue that a constant stream of encouragement in movies has created a generation of narcissists.
In the wake of Miley Cyrus’s sexually-charged VMA performance, this idea has gained momentum among Christian parents. And over at The Atlantic, Luke Epplin's article, "You Can Do Anything: Must Every Kids' Movie Reinforce the Cult of Self-Esteem?" makes observations like:
"The restless protagonists of [films like Turbo and Planes] never have to wake up to the reality that crop-dusters simply can't fly faster than sleek racing aircraft. Instead, 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."
But as a true Wishing Star optimist, I cannot quite bring myself to agree with authors like Twenge when she complains that younger generations "simply take it for granted that we should all feel good about ourselves, we are all special, and we all deserve to follow our dreams." Don't get me wrong, it's true many current kids' movies bend reality to favor the protagonist and overly ding authority figures, but if the alternative is teaching children that the key to humility is accepting how boring, ugly, and utterly inconsequential they are (cf. the above Atlantic article's suggestion we look to Charlie Brown as a role model), I think I’d rather err on the side of narcissism.
Are today's (and yesterday’s) "self-esteem" animated movies really so damaging?
What I've come to conclude from watching most animated movies of the last several decades is that the lessons of encouragement they dole out aren't so much bad as they are broad. A child could interpret them in any number of different ways, but in order to get the true message behind the movie, they would likely need someone's guidance. Someone like… a parent, perhaps? To help families better understand the morals behind many animated movies, and to restore the image of one of my favorite brands, here are three invaluable, non-narcissistic lessons every parent can teach their kid while watching a classic Disney movie.
Don’t Follow Your Dreams, Work for Them
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. – Colossians 3:23
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