The Cookie Thief was our children’s introduction to Sesame Street. While they have seen the different characters in toy form, on clothing or in books, this was the first time they had watched them on screen. Needless to say, they were quite enamored with the characters, the songs and the story itself; I, on the other hand, was not impressed. For a children’s program that is designed to educate young minds, some significant teachable opportunities were neglected.
Cookie Monster, Elmo and a couple of their friends were at the Cookie Art Museum for the first time. It was all Cookie Monster could do to refrain from eating the cookie art and when several pieces went missing, the security guard accused him of being the thief and threw him out of the museum forever. Determined to find the real cookie thief and clear his name, Cookie Monster and his crew followed clues and tracked down a chocolate chip cookie who was stealing the artwork. Finally caught, the desperate cookie explained that he only stole because he loved the art so much. The cookie-loving security guard felt bad for him and, with the help of our Sesame Street friends, showed him how he could make his own cookie art. The show ends with everyone happily singing and dancing together.
The plot seems benign enough, but I was concerned about two notable lessons that I did not want my children to learn: 1) As long as there is a reason for doing it, stealing and damaging other people’s property is fine. There was no sincere apology from the thief for his actions nor was he required to make restitution for the damage he had done when committing his crimes. 2) Rules and laws are not impartial. There was an inconsistent standard: the security guard was quick to accuse and punish one person before learning all of the facts and then quick to overlook a crime because of her personal bias.
Children are impressionable and rapidly building their definition of right and wrong. No opportunity to teach them these absolutes should be ignored or overlooked. At a time when they are easily enamored by superheroes, cartoon characters and favorite singers, parents should be all the more discerning to ensure that the messages these popular figures are delivering are strengthening character, not undermining it.
Needless to say, Sesame Street is not going back on our Amazon watch list anytime soon.
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Every year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve my husband and I complete a J.R.R. Tolkien marathon. We begin with The Hobbit and work our way through all of the movies that follow. It takes some determination to finish this marathon at such a busy time of year, but there is something inspiring about a return to Middle Earth as one year fades into another.
While I am a staunch defender of the books being better than the movies, Peter Jackson and his team produced movies that maintained the integrity of their literary inspirations. There were some deviations from the original narrative (e.g. the White Orc in pursuit of Thorin, various romances between characters) but nothing that distracted from the heart of the story. Although the changes may distract the loyal Tolkien reader, they were made to accommodate the modern film-goer. With that said, the soundtrack, the acting, and the cinematography are stunning and do incredible justice to the genius of J.R.R. Tolkien.
There are 3 themes in particular that call me back to this story at every year’s end:
- The Camaraderie: In all of these sagas, there is a group of friends embarked on an arduous journey to complete a daunting mission. The journey and the mission both are larger than life and could easily threaten to overwhelm the individual with danger and dread; however, together they face and overcome every sinister evil and impossible task. Interestingly enough, at certain times the friends are separated from each other and yet neither the journey nor the mission are forgotten or neglected. The friends remain united in their purpose despite the physical separation. Loyalty and commitment such as these are rare these days albeit just as necessary.
- The Hidden Hero: It’s true that Aragorn and Legolas and Boromir and Gandalf and even the party of dwarves present themselves as likely heroes, and in many ways they all were. But it was the hobbits who carried burdens larger than themselves, fought villains impossible to defeat and refused despair when everyone around them succumbed to it. They didn’t pursue heroism; they simply did not hesitate to do what was right. When faced with difficulty or trouble, it is easy to defer to the stronger person, the proven warrior or the skilled guide; and it’s not wrong to do so since they may have been placed in our lives for that very reason. But sometimes facing the challenge ourselves can reveal the hidden hero within our own hearts.
- The Ordinary: It was thoughts of home that bolstered the heroes’ hearts: the cozy firesides, the shelves of books, the cups of tea, the colorful flower gardens and the thick grass under their feet. The simple pleasures of life and home gave them the motivation and the courage to complete their mission and conquer evil, not the desire for fame, fortune or power. In present times there is the tendency to think that newer is better or costly is more valuable; this is not necessarily true. Usually it is the faded traditions and time-worn virtues that are taken for granted that hold the most meaning and value because they have stood the test of time and been proven life-changing. They are what must be guarded and passed down to the next generation for a continued legacy.
And so, as we begin yet another year, I am challenged to seek the camaraderie of those who will stand by me and encourage me through the journey ahead and help me to remember the importance of the quest we share. I will strive to not shy away from danger or the possibility of defeat when life gets difficult, and I will not minimize the importance of ordinary days and time-worn truths.
The Stoning of Soraya M.
Worldviews collide and burning embers fly in this gripping film based on a true story about evil at its worst and courage at its best. Starring Jim Caviezel (Jesus in The Passion of the Christ) and Shohreh Agdashloo (Mary in The Passion of the Christ) this story takes place in 1986 Iran. When he can’t convince his wife, Soraya, to give him a divorce because he wants to marry a 14-year old girl, Ali plots against her and frames her for the crime of adultery. The punishment of adultery is death by stoning. According to Shariah Law, if a man accuses his wife she must prove her innocence, but if a woman accuses her husband she must prove his guilt. With the man’s voice being the only voice given credibility in the Shariah culture, Soraya’s fate is certain.
And yet, in the throes of agony, as lust seems to triumph over innocence and justice falls victim to cowardice and evil schemes, courage shines forth in a divine aspect. When no one else was willing to defend the innocent, Soraya’s aunt plunged forward with all skill of tongue and swiftness of determination to challenge the evildoers about their motives and actions. I could not help but cheer her on for her love and bravery. There are few people in history who have fought as valiantly as she did for her niece.
In a world torn between political correctness and a fascination for lost causes, this movie is a bold undertaking. It is easy to cheer for The Titans, laugh with Kung Fu Panda, or cry during Dear John. But to have to admit that there are still places where women have no voice and brutal murder is an accepted religious custom, does not sit well in a politically correct world; this is especially so when it has to do with a religion that is rapidly growing in western world.
Yet every time someone watches The Stoning of Soraya M., her voice is heard once more. Her aunt promised that the world would know the truth of her life and death.
After hearing numerous reviews about this unique movie I decided to watch it. It is rated R (some strong language and thematic material) but I am finding that some of the most quality films are rated R for the strength of the story. In my opinion there are some PG-13 films that should be rated a lot heavier than R. Anyway, back to this movie. There is another side to America that we often don’t see. It’s the side that is encountering the raw harshness of survival in a society that is quick to help the poor halfway around the world, yet assumes everyone in the USA has assistance when they have difficulties. That is not true, however, and this film makes that point.
Desperation narrated this story: a 17-year old girl who longed to go to school but couldn’t because she was the sole provider for her family after her dad disappeared. If her dad did not make his court date the family would lose their property which he had put up for his bail. She sets out to find him but the road is dangerous. She faces drug lords, beatings, and threats of much worse. Eventually the truth of her dad’s disappearance becomes known and she is hurled into a situation that no child should ever have to experience, yet she manages for the sake of her family.
This young protagonist traverses life with a bearing that every princess could learn from. I would be slow to recommend this movie because of the heavy plot and the harsh language. I will probably not watch it a second time, but it has made me more sensitive to my fellow countrymen in the Ozarks and other parts of impoverished America.
Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events
This movie has been out for quite some time, but I shied away from watching it because I found the previews slightly disturbing. However, this year many of my students were reading the books and encouraging me to read them as well. I reluctantly gave in and began the series. I found them to be thought-provoking and satisfying in content and soon added the movie to my Netflix list.
I don’t know about you, but I have noticed a trend in books-turned-movies. They are often lacking in details and often detour from the original plot. Once again this was my expectation but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself watching a neatly compacted summary of the series, filled with family morals and respectfully heroic child protagonists. It left me with an “Awwww…” in the heart and I now have it mentally assigned to my “must own one day” list.
January 21, 2011
I enjoy watching a wide variety of movies and some of the older TV shows. Netflix is such a handy tool in this regard because they are readily available, even the hard-to-find shows. I remember watching Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman with my family and our neighbors when I was in elementary school and for nostalgic reasons I am watching the entire series once more. Another old favorite is Little House on the Prairie. Now is that a walk down memory lane or what? I read and re-read the book series as a child, have visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, MN, and therefore adore the TV show. Yet as I watch these beloved products of Hollywood, I can’t help but compare and contrast them with each other and more current products of the film industry, such as Date Night.
Let us, for a moment, consider the Ingalls family. Who would not want to be a member of that household, with the daily homecooked meals and the Saturday pies set out to cool on the window ledge; the sun-bonnets and fishing in the creek; the tin pails for lunch and Jack tagging faithfully along behind; and Pa’s faithful arms to run into whenever anything goes wrong in life. And the town! Everyone knows everyone and whenever there is a community crisis all of the men gather together and address the problem in a wise and loving way. It’s not a perfect life, but the foundation is secure and the children always know right from wrong. Family values are valued and passed on as heirlooms and a heritage.
Colorado Springs is not too different from Walnut Grove, though the show that portrays it was written 3o-some years later. Everyone still knows everyone, and children still find loving counsel in the hearts of their elders; but the issues are presented in a shade of gray. Tolerance for all is presented as one of the greatest virtues to defend: everyone has a right to their own opinion, even if their opinion does not align with what is clearly right. Interestingly enough, whereas the men of Walnut Grove were the defenders of the innocent and the sages of the community, most of the men in Colorado Springs are the troublemakers, needing to be put in their place by the women and children. The preacher has a good heart, but is relatively naive and somewhat of a Bible-thumper, compared to the Reverand Alden of the Ingalls community, who sincerely cares about all of his flock though he will not hesitate to reprove when reproof is necessary. Finally, the moral at the end of each story leaves one with more questions than answers. The children of Walnut Grove usually learned a serious lesson about life by the end of their story, whereas Brian and Colleen are more often the teachers in their community, leaving the adults looking just a bit on the foolish side. Yet despite their differences, both shows portray a strong sense of community and the need for family.
Spring ahead another 15 years with the Hollywood perspective on families. There is the unending supply of sitcoms that have absolutely no redeeming quality to them. Yet meager attempts are still being made to connect with the general public’s longing for substance and purpose. Take Date Night, for instance; here is a movie that tells the story of a marriage stuck in a rut. The couple begins to recognize that their relationship is no better than what the average set of roommates might have. Rather than throw up their hands in despair and split up, they decide to make a desperate attempt to regain the romance they once had. Needless to say, this chic-flick/comedy has its share of cheesy adventures and unnecessary humor, and the husband is still portrayed as more of a bumbler than the wife is; however, the moral of the story is clearly focused on the importance of family and honoring the vows of “for better or for worse…”
To sum up my reflection on movies old and new, the honest human must admit that lasting values are valued because they last. Family, commitment, right and wrong, and a natural order of children turning to their elders for guidance and love, are what give society its foundation. Deep inside we all long for a hero and a victory and though times change, that never will.
The King’s Speech
Slip back in time and encounter a powerful person who impacted the world by overcoming his fears. This is the story of King George VI – a gentle man with a stammer that inhibited him from speaking to the subjects of his empire, and the man who helped him conquer his stammer by becoming his friend.
The King’s Speech (rated R for a scene of language that was used to make a specific point, not to be crass for the sake of being crass) truly captured 20th century England, the differences between the common and the royal, and the universal need of everyone for unconditional friendship. The film also juxtaposed the power of good character with the turmoil that lack of character can bring, while also magnifying the damage of indifference towards the children depending on one’s care and good opinion.
A common thread that tied the story together was perseverance. The king persevered in conquering the stammer; his wife persevered in her support of him; his speech therapist persevered in being a true friend; England persevered in standing up against Hitler; the English populace persevered in their loyalty to the king. Finally, the message persevered in being told: never give up in doing what is right, especially in loving the children in your life, for every king was once a child.