Bad messages in good movies

Geekdad on Wired has an article up today about the messages in movies. I was not surprised to see one commenter claim that “art is not meant to convey a message.” This person has no clue about art or even movies. All stories (including those portrayed in film) have a message. The idea of movies is to entertain in order to convey that message.

Geekdad is right on in recognizing it. I just disagree with the messages he takes from some of the movies (Wired leans largely to the liberal side).

10. If you’re not born with special abilities, you’re never going to be any good at some things, no matter how hard you try (from the Harry Potter movies, and, of course, books).

He missed this one. The squibs and muggles may not have wizarding abilities, but the good wizards do not look on them as worthless.

The real bad message is:
If you are the chosen one (e.g. Harry Potter) then the rules do not apply to you. For example, Harry disobeys his teacher by flying on a broom when unsupervised and ends up getting rewarded by getting to play the most important position, “Seeker,” on the Quiddich team.

9. No matter how appallingly bad conditions on Earth get, so long as there is one tiny plant on the planet, it can still be restored to its former beauty and sustainability (from WALL-E).

Wrong again. Earth took 700 years to be able to support that plant – and a few others we learn right before the credits. The plant shows the ability of the planet to heal itself.

However, that is not the main message of the movie. People abandoned the earth in the movie and have lived in space for 700 years. They lost their humanity during that time by pursuing only their own entertainment. Humans do not even raise their own children (work left to robots), and the movie even suggests humans do not even procreate.

The robot Wall*E is the most human of all characters. His humanity was developed over 700 years of working on earth. So the message is, humans need to work on earth to maintain their humanity.

8. Technology is fundamentally evil (from lots of movies, including the The Lord of the Rings trilogy). This message comes pretty much unchanged from the books, but it’s much easier to see it in the movies.

He pretty much gets this one right. J.R.R. Tolkien fought in World War I and his son in World War II. He thought industrialization was a negative influence on man.

7. Arrogance, brash self-confidence and having had a heroic father are much more indicative of a competent leader than are experience and knowledge (from the 2009 Star Trek movie).

I did not see this one, but it is consistent with the original Star Trek.

6. Kissing sleeping women you don’t know will wake them up and lead to them falling in love with you (from Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). We don’t really need to explain this one further than that, do we? I mean, we all know the stories.

Well, to be fair, both Snow White and Rose (in Sleeping Beauty) met their suitors prior to been bewitched. Still, the message that infatuation is the basis for a life-long commitment is a bad one.

5. If you’re a really good person, but in a lousy situation, simply wait around and eventually good things will just happen to you (from Cinderella).

I agree and disagree with this. My Catholic perspective says that suffering has purpose. Then again, we can take actions to change our circumstances. In the end, Cinderella did take advantage of opportunity when it presented itself.

4. Unconventional creative play is very, very wrong (from Toy Story). Sid, the kid next door, is portrayed as basically evil. The movie makes him out this way because he pulls toys apart and reassembles them in strange ways, and likes to blow things up. In other words, he’s a geek. If the toys weren’t alive — and Sid can probably be forgiven for not realizing that they were — his behavior would be perhaps a little extreme, but not in any way wrong, especially for a boy his age.

Could not be more wrong here. Geeks hack things to improve them or to make new things. They take things apart to learn how they are made so they can create their own designs. Sid is not a geek; he is a bully who steals from his sister and destroys her toys. He takes beautiful things and makes them ugly. He delights in destruction.

3. Even tough women who aren’t afraid to fight aren’t as important as the men they fight alongside (from the Star Wars movies).

Wrong. Leia is a princess and demonstrates leadership throughout the first series. Padme is a leader also. She doesn’t vanish as Geekdad says. Rather she assumes her new role of mother while she is pregnant (who sadly dies in childbirth). Padme’s decision to not fight while she is pregnant is not weakness; it is wisdom.

2. It’s OK to completely change your physical appearance and way of life for the person you love, even if he makes no sacrifices at all (from The Little Mermaid).

Wrong message again. Ariel’s transition is a secret to Eric, but when her life is in danger, he risks his own to fight the Sea Witch.

The real bad message is that it is OK to disobey your parents because they will apologize to you in the end. The message is amplified in Little Mermaid 2. This is coupled with the “infatuation is love” message of early Disney movies.

1. If you’re not a member of the elite, you’re basically inconsequential, even if you die heroically trying to save your people and your way of life (from the Star Wars movies).

Not really. This can be said of all adventure movies. The movie focuses on a few specific people. Obi Wan’s reaction to the destruction of Alderaan shows that non-elite people do have worth. (OK, he gets over it pretty quickly but it is a movie after all. He can’t mope forever).