by Chris Kenyon
Some thoughts on politics' mix with kids' stuff.
|Movies, Muppets, and Motives, Oh My
“Fish are friends, not food. Fish are friends, not food.”
P.E.T.A. advertisement? Vegetarian campaign motto? Mermaid brainwashing? No - the third best selling kids’ movie in history, grossing $866,592,978 worldwide? Yes. Finding Nemo, released in 2003, is just one amidst a league of children’s movies pushing some form of political and social agenda. But Nemo’s political lacing is, well, child’s play compared to many animated films and media forms designed for kids.
Take Happy Feet. When I first heard the name, I figured it was an anti-obesity kids’ movie about avid Dance Dance Revolution-aries. It turned out to be a movie about Global Warming and human abuse of the environment. In short: penguin is born, penguin colony faces food shortage, penguin discovers that mankind is causing the ecological issue. Individual movies don’t even have to be examined -- since when is “Penguin” a legitimate movie genre? Since Morgan Freeman. Since the hole in the ozone layer. Since the Kyoto Treaty. Since “melting snow caps” became a household geological term, instead of what you find in your pocket an hour after seeing a movie.
The plot of Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (2006) must have warmed the globes of quite a few conservatives: in addition to countless references to evolution and fossil records, the movie contains a storyline based on a rapid warming of the planet, the establishment’s ignorance and futile efforts to address the issue, and the imminent disaster if the ice melts. Quotes include such tactful lines as “Oy, this global warming is killing me!” And if rewinding history didn’t send a clear enough message, Wall-E, released in 2008, portends a future where man’s pollution, overreach into the environment, and destructive tendencies have eliminated intelligent life on Earth.
The issue with these movies is not the meaning, but the manner, of the messages. Concepts and beliefs are not only presented as fact, but are left un-scrutinized and indubitable; theories like evolution and global warming, however likely they are, are assumed and implied, instead of discussed. It’s the difference between a school teacher saying “evolution is how squids became snakes” and “it took a long time for squids to evolve into snakes”.
The effect hasn’t gone unnoticed. Steve Dubner is the co-author of the book Freakonomics. In Dubner’s New York Times column of the same name, he writes “We all know how influential kids can be. Newspaper editors and TV producers and even politicians have kids, and when those kids start obsessing about something, it’s amazing how fast the parents do, too.” And beyond this, once these special interest-infused youngsters turn eighteen, the beliefs their “entertainment” indoctrinated them with become the base for their political and social ideology. The one of humane treatment of animals, gay rights, and global warming.
The influence goes beyond the silver screen. Videogames, cartoons, and books are also sources of contention. In addition, there are movements such as the We Are Family Foundation, a group dedicated to preaching universal tolerance of race, sexuality, and age. The foundation is most famous for its first “We Are Family” music video featuring over 100 famous children’s television and movie characters. While largely embraced, the group has been attacked by some for being subversive and pro-homosexual. Whether you are for or against these ideas being engrained in entertainment, it’s inarguable that the missions of these movements coincide with social issues. Today’s shows fight for gay marriage; back in the early ‘80s Americans watched a black Cosby family live a life similar to those of the white audiences. This seamless integration of ideas, particularly those of pro-tolerance, makes viewers accept what they see almost without question.
Many people feel that you can always infer agendas if you look deep enough into these children’s movies -- that you’ll end up being a conspiracy theorist. If they mention dinosaurs, they’re anti-Christian. If they don’t mention dinosaurs, they’re Christian extremists. Right? Wrong. Because it’s not just about what is said in movies. It’s about time; why are they talking about Global Warming now? Where was The Meltdown in 1972? What museum has the 18th century children’s book about 28th century Earth -- that dark place ruined by man’s environmental slovenliness?
While largely liberal, the biases in youth entertainment are not confined to any particular belief or cause. And the problem is not what’s being said, or who’s saying it. The fault lies in hiding the intentions in between the lines -- the inferences and subtle messages. Still, the full effect of these movies, TV shows, and movements will be seen once the animation-generation graduates from diner booths to voting booths.
Activists, artists, game designers, writers, and film-makers have all found the real seat of power: the high chair.