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Does movie violence affect the viewer?

In Books, Movies and Television on September 28, 2012 at 4:22 am

Does movie media violence desensitize?

I heard this question asked the other night.  I didn’t think so.  The reason is that I have been exposed to a lot of media violence.  I have played Counter Strike and Call of Duty for over 10 years and have watched a lot of movie violence.  Even after all that, when I see an actual act of violence, I have an instant significant emotional, even physical, reaction to it.  The 1968 execution of Captain Bảy Lốp is one example.  I saw it once.  It affected me profoundly and I will not willingly see it again.

Based on this evidence, I would suggest that all my exposure to violence has not desensitized me to actual violence.

The person to whom this question was addressed claimed there is no doubt that movie violence affects the viewer.

In one sense this is certainly true—one of the purposes of film, indeed all art, is to affect the viewer.  I think, though, that behind the statement was the tacit assumption that movie violence has significant negative effect.

I wouldn’t have been too worried about this claim except that it wasn’t about the violence in Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, or No Country for Old Men.  It was about the action sequences in the Avengers.  I wasn’t so sure about that.

James Potter brings together many studies on the effects of violence in On Media Violence.  Ted Turnau summarizes his findings in his book, Popologetics.

The data suggests that media violence can have an effect of viewers, “but the kinds of effects and the depth of those effects vary greatly depending on the individual viewer and his or her contexts.”

Those who are most affected media violence are:

  • those who watch a lot of television;
  • those who cannot differentiate between types of violence (small children or the mentally disabled);
  • those who already have an aggressive personality;
  • those who are already emotionally upset or angry when they see an episode of violence.

According to the research, “Family background seems to play an important role as well.  Children who come from strong families that teach children that violence is not acceptable do not act out aggressively after seeing media violence.”

There is also a significant difference in how violence is portrayed.  How it is portrayed makes a significant difference as to how much it will affect a viewer.

Violence seems to have more of an effect:

when the violence is portrayed realistically;

  • when violence is seen by the viewer as justified;
  • when the violent act seems to have no consequences;
  • when the violent act goes unpunished;
  • when the violence is done by an attractive person or a person who is demographically similar to the viewer;
  • when violence in linked to erotic content.

Violence seems to have little or no effect on the viewer:

when the violence is portrayed in a humourous fashion;

  • when violence is seen as having specific negative effects, such as pain to the victim, or when the perpetrator is punished;
  • when violence is done without malice or a revenge motive by a professional, such as a policeman or a soldier in a war movie.

The research seems to suggest that violence does, in fact, affect the viewers.  But it matters a great deal who the viewer is and the nature of the violence presented.

 

 

“R” Rated Movies

In Books, Movies and Television, False Dichotomies - the lines between on September 24, 2012 at 12:39 am

It happened again today. I sometimes show clips from movies to illustrate the tools we use for literature can be pulled out of the tool box for engaging movies as well.  Today’s lesson was Allusion.  I had just hit play on the movie There Will Be Blood (2007) and the big “R” shines on the screen.  From some dark corner in the room a student gasps and says, “My mother won’t be happy I’m watching this.”

It suits my educational purposes to show only the first 10 minutes of the film, until Daniel Day Lewis holds up his oil covered hand in Macbethian fashion and my point is made.  We never get to any of the R-rated content.

An R rating is given by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to a film if the language, sexuality or violence is considered inappropriate for children under 12 years of age and it recommends parental guidance for those under 17.

The student comment was a joke, but it indicates the reality that the MPAA rating system is being used by parents, even Canadian parents, to decide what movies they will allow their children to see.

This makes some sense, since the purpose of the rating system is to give parents some idea as to the level of language, sexuality and violence in the film.  And we ought to be concerned about these things.  Harsh language, sexuality and violence are unsuitable for children.

The problem here is that it assumes that language, sexuality and violence are all we should be concerned about.  However, by relying too heavily on the rating system, some movies that are rated “G” or “PG” are watched, without supervision, that shouldn’t be.  Further, when adults restrict their own viewing, or that of their older children, using the MPAA rating system, some movies that are rated “R” are not being watched that should be.

Let me illustrate what I mean using two movies: Remember the Titans, rated “PG” and Crash, rated R for language, sexual content and violence.  Both of these movies seem to explore themes related to racism.

Dove Foundation reviewers have no problem recommending Remember the Titans to families.

“Well hurray for Hollywood! At last – here’s a story about overcoming bigotry told without profanity, exploitive sex or excessive violence. What’s more, it’s downright entertaining. . . .  If a film is done right, no one is going to leave the theater let down by its wholesomeness.”

One of the things the reviewer got right is that it certainly is an entertaining.  And if they are saying that we ought not indulge in movies where profanity is pointless, sex exploitive and violence excessive, I also agree with them.  But, I would object if they were suggesting that profanity in a movie is inherently wrong, that all sex is exploitive and that any violence is excessive.  They go on:

“[W]e approve of [Remember the Titans] because it represents a concerted effort to tell an uplifting story without the usual ratio of obscene and profane material. If that sounds like a Hallmark card commercial, well, what’s wrong with leaving the theater feeling hopeful and satisfied? Isn’t that the purpose of art – to uplift the spirit of man?”

 Actually, it’s not the purpose of art.  There are two limited understandings of the role of art.  One is that it must contain some moral instruction and the second, it must be beautiful.  Art may be beautiful, and it will, on occasion uplift the spirit of man, but it ought never do so at the expense of the truth.  If it does it will legitimately be labeled “bad” art.

Why is this movie “uplifting”?  It’s quite simple.  The movie begins with a few “good” people and a whole bunch of “bad” people.  The good people are not prejudiced and the bad people are.  The audience, very early on, is led to identify with the good people.  Through the course of the movie we shake our heads at the close-mindedness and cruelty of those racist people, but feel uplifted as more and more characters see the light and join our team of the generous and open-minded non-racists.  This movie reinforces our simplistic preconceptions of the world in general, and racism in particular.  Worse, it reinforces, rather than challenges our simplistic preconceptions of ourselves as “good.”

. . . crossing the line between evil and “good”

This movie draws too clean a line between good and evil which is not representative of reality.  It suggests racism is simple and easily overcome.  It denies the reality every human being is a racist.  Granted, there are degrees of racism, but to claim one is without any prejudgment on the basis of race, is like claiming one is without sin.  Remember the Titans tells us that there are many people who aren’t racist—most particularly the movie’s audience.  This movie allows the audience to sit comfortably in the knowledge that they are good and open minded citizens of the world and if the world were full of people like themselves, there would be no racism (and perhaps no sin) in the world.  Certainly an uplifiting message.

Sure, one function of art is to “lift up the spirit of man,” but it ought never to do so by lying.  If you are going to take Philippians 4:8 at its word, you are not going to allow your children to watch this movie alone without someone to help them see where this very entertaining movie falls short of the truth—even though there is almost no language, sexual content or violence in the film.

Another of art’s aims is to challenge our faulty preconceptions of the world and ourselves.  Crash (2004) won the academy award for best picture in 2005.  Like Remember the Titans, this film deals with racism.  Although commending this film for its acting and cinematography, a reviewer at the Dove Foundation criticizes it because it “generates a very negative perception of America and its inter-racial relationships.”   In other words, Crash does not present a view of the world (or of America) consistent with that of the reviewer.  In this case, this fact ought to commend the movie rather than earn the critic’s castigation.

The Dove Foundation website gives a detailed description of all the sexual content, both shown and talked about, and it describes the acts of violence in the film.  Then it itemizes the language: 87 F, 17 S, 11 A, 10 N, 8 H, 3 B, 2 J, 3 C, 7 G/GD, 1 D, 2 OMG, 4 P.  I’m not even sure what all of these things mean, but I think it would be a sin for me to sit and try to figure them all out.   For all these reasons, the film does not earn Dove Foundation Approval Rating. Granted, this rating is based on suitability for families.

Now, I want to be clear, this movie is completely inappropriate for younger children.  But, I recommend this movie to any adult who can see past the content.  Why?  Because it’s “excellent” and “praiseworthy”—it’s very well crafted—but also because it’s “true.”  It gives us a picture of the world in that we see good and evil, not clearly embodied in individual characters, but all mixed together.  The characters I initially judged as “good” do bad things and “bad” people, good things—eventually the categories don’t work anymore.  When you get to this point, you have taken some important steps away from racism.  I come away from this movie convinced that racism isn’t simple, nor is it a problem only out there somewhere, but resides in every human heart, most significantly in mine.

This movie doesn’t uplift the viewer, but challenges his assumptions—his prejudices.  It’s not a pleasant experience, but it is honest and good.

And true.

There are many movies out there that ought not to be viewed by anyone, let alone children—some of them are rated G.  It is likely that more of them are rated “R,” and ought to be avoided for their treatment of language, sexuality and violence.  But there are also those that are not only well crafted, but tell us the truth about ourselves; sometimes the content that earns it the “R” rating, actually helps it to deliver this truth in a meaningful way that changes us for the better.

Dog Poop in the Brownies: How to read Philippians 4:8

In Christ and Culture, False Dichotomies - the lines between on September 20, 2012 at 1:15 am

I attended a youth event when I was in high school.  The speaker was a youngish, cool youth pastor and he challenged us to get rid of all our secular music.  He said it had to be destroyed; selling it or giving it away would just spread the evil.  He mocked the counter arguments leveled at him by those who loved the pagan lyrics and musical brilliance of Led Zeppelin and The Who.  One argument I remember, perhaps because it was mine, was that, although there is some “bad” content in it, there was much that was good in the songs of my favorite artists – especially Pink Floyd.

His response to this argument was the “dog poop in the brownies” analogy.  It went something like this: “If I offered you a plate of brownies and I told you that I mixed a tablespoon of doggy do-do in the batter, would you still eat it?”

I didn’t like this analogy.  For one thing, it seemed pretty convincing and I didn’t want to be convinced.

But, I also sensed there was something inherently wrong with this analogy.  I knew that Pink Floyd’s songs were artistically beautiful, which is more than could be said of most Christian Contemporary Music of the day.  What’s more, some of what the secular artists said was true.  I had a hard time reconciling the truth and beauty with the analogy.

I wasn’t so clever to reframe and ask, “Would he eat a plate of tofu and cod liver oil just because it had no dog poop in it?”

I still encounter this issue in my personal and professional life.  My musical tastes are now acceptable to most people except, possibly, my children.  Nowadays, I find myself in conversations around literature and movies like Lord of the Flies and Harry Potter; Shawshank Redemption and Hunger Games.   Those who question whether Christians should read/watch these often use an argument similar to the dog-poop analogy and they do so by invoking Philippians 4:8.

“[W]hatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

I am almost certain the youth pastor who wanted us to burn our secular music used this verse as his scriptural back up.

After all these years, I can now declare confidently that I agree with Philippians 4:8; I can also declare that I don’t agree with the dog poop analogy.

Foundational to the analogy is the notion that there are things in this world that are purely good, and true and beautiful (chocolate brownies), and other things that are thoroughly evil, false and ugly (dog poop.)

. . . crossing the line between the sacred and the secular

This is a false dichotomy; not only logically, but also biblically.

All things were created by God and he declared it all, very good.  Later, with the Fall, the same “all things” were distorted by sin.  If this is true, then we don’t live in a world full of clearly evil things and clearly good things.  We live in a world where everything is fundamentally good and also profoundly distorted by sin; in other words, everything and everyone, is both good and evil.  When Paul tells us to think about things that are true and noble and right, we are going to be doing that in a world where it’s all mixed together.  And it’s not simply that one song on the album is good and true and beautiful, and the other is not; the blending happens within the same song.

This complicates life, but complicated is good in this case.  We can end up doing a lot of harm when we make things far simpler than they actually are.

I think the speaker of my youth was wrong when he suggested the Christian life meant burning all my secular music.  If he had understood Philippians 4: 8 in the light of Genesis 1-3, he would have told us to burn some of our “secular” albums, (and we knew which ones) and then he’d tell us to listen to our Christian music and burn all the trite, simplistic and sentimental gunk that was far from true, excellent and admirable.

Finding Nemo and The Belly of the Whale

In Books, Movies and Television on September 13, 2012 at 12:12 am

My students use the word epic to describe anything that is really awesome.  You might be surprised to know that Finding Nemo has a lot in common with some of the stories which are legitimate epics.   Like the Aeneid and Odyssey, Finding Nemo is about a hero on a journey.  Maybe calling it epic is a misnomer, but I will certainly call this story mythic.

SPOILER ALERT:

Toward the end of the movie, Marlin finds himself in the belly of a whale.  What happens to Marlin there is an archetypical event.  Archetypical in that it is a type of event that turns up again and again in stories across a broad range times and cultures.  One of the most familiar, of course, is the biblical Jonah.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell identifies the “belly of the whale” experience as one of the stages of the hero’s journey which he describes in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  He says that this sort of event can occur just as well in a temple as a whale, but wherever it occurs, it is a necessary step in the hero’s journey to complete his mythic quest.

The “belly of the w hale” experience is one where the hero does not conquer, that comes later, but is instead swallowed into the unknown.  Here he contends not with external enemy, but part of himself, and in this encounter, something must die; it is “a form of self-annihilation” (Campbell).  This is a painful, but necessary process, for if the hero encounters his enemy or attempts his great task before this he has dealt with himself, the quest would end in failure.

Before his adventure began, Marlin could not venture away from the safety of the reef.  Not since his mate, Coral, and all his offspring, except Nemo, were killed by a predatory fish.  This tragic event shapes his entire life and he believes that world beyond the reef was hostile, even evil.  His worldview profoundly affects his parenting and Nemo is beginning to strain against his father’s over-protectiveness.

Marlin’s paranoia precipitats an uncharacteristic act of defiance by Nemo which results in his capture by divers.  He is taken away to far off Sydney.  Marlin goes after him.  He leaves the reef because there is only one thing he fears more than the open water—losing Nemo.

But just because he leaves the reef, doesn’t mean that he’s found any kind of courage or changes his mind about the dangers of the ocean.  He’s still at the beginning of his adventures.  Marlin enters the phase of the hero’s journey that Campbell calls “The Road of Trials.”  World literature is full of these tests and ordeals.  Often with a supernatural helper, the hero begins to understand that “there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage” (Campbell).  Of course there is, it’s called the screenwriter, but do you ever get the sense that your life is a sort of hero’s journey?  (Donald Miller explores this idea in his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and a program called Storyline, which will be released the day before Finding Nemo 3D).

Although Dori isn’t necessarily supernatural, somehow Marlin has a helper which couldn’t be better suited to guide him.  Dori is Marlin’s opposite.  She has what Marlin lacks.  Their difference is symbolically represented in colour.  Marlin is white and orange; Dori is black and blue (blue is opposite orange on the colour wheel).  More importantly, Dori has no short term memory.  Dori can’t remember; Marlin can’t forget.

On the perilous road of trials the hero learns a great deal.  And Marlin has a lot to learn.

Marlin’s world is simple—too simple.  He sees the world in the simple terms of safe and dangerous—good and evil, if you will.  The ocean beyond the drop off is simply very dangerous place and evil and you just don’t go there.

On the road of trials, Marlin learns that his worldview is not adequate and that the world is more complex than he always believed.

His first lesson is that what appears dangerous isn’t necessarily so.  The three sharks are actually very nice fellows.  But they do have some very dangerous weaknesses.  This encounter seriously challenges Marlin’s binary thinking.

The next encounter on the watery road of trials is with the mindless malevolence of the abyssal angler fish.  This encounter, although confirming Marlin’s paranoid worldview, shows Marlin that evil can be overcome.  Not only does he overcome evil, he actually uses it against itself when he employs the fatal lure to shed light on Dori’s reading of the Sydney address on the ski mask.  He had to overcome evil in order to acquire essential information for the completion of his quest.

Then next trial follows the conversation with a school of fish that teases Marlin.  Felling slighted he wants to move on as quickly as possible.   Because he’s not in the mood to listen, he misses vital information.  Dori hears, but, of course, forgets the warning the time they get to the rock.  She doesn’t know why, but she thinks that they should go through a cleft, and not over the rock.  Marlin ignores Dori’s input and chooses the latter route based only on appearances—the cleft looks more perilous, but again, appearances deceive.

Because of his impatience and arrogance, he is forced to deal with the jellyfish—evil here is passive.  It is Marlin’s foolishness that is the agent in this episode—he’s responsible for this one.

The road of trials has problematized Marlin’s worldview.  Good and evil are not nearly as simple as before—he learned that what looks evil might not be, what seems good might be dangerous; he learned that good isn’t the same thing as safe.  He also discovered that sometimes we are a bigger problem that what we call evil.

Marlin and Dori have earned a rest and they find it on the EAC with a bunch of sea turtles.  This is actually a time of preparation that often precedes the greatest trial the hero faces on his mythic journey.

The most important part of this preparation is instruction on parenting from Crush, the turtle, who functions as mentor.  Marlin observes Crush’s parenting in action.  Squirt, Crush’s son, accidently drops out of the current.  Marlin is alarmed and ready to solve the problem for the young turtle.  Crush stops him saying, “Let us see what Squirt does flying solo.”

The young fellow regains the current on his own and is ecstatic. “Whoa, that was so cool! Hey Dad, did you see that?  Did you see me!?  Did you see what I did?”  This is the feeling of accomplishment that can only come with facing and overcoming difficulty.  This is something that Nemo has never experienced, and likely won’t unless something changes.

On the journey the lessons have been taught, and this last piece of wisdom imparted by Crush applies all the lessons to an act of parenting.  Marlin now has the knowledge, but this knowledge has not been internalized.  Marlin still hasn’t really leaned—knowing is not the same thing as doing.  Before Marlin can rescue Nemo, let alone be the father that Nemo needs, the fear resulting from the death of Coral and family must die.  This happens in the belly of the whale.

Marlin bashes his head against the baleen wall.  He can’t get out. He blames Dori.  He has no hope.  The quest is doomed and he will not be able to tell him how old sea turtles are.  He laments, “I promised him I’d never let anything happen to him.”

Dori says, “That’s a funny thing to promise.” She explains, “You can’t never let anything happen to him then nothing would ever happen to him.” This is essentially what Crush told him, but his fear will not allow him to live it.

The whale stops and the water begins to drop.  Dori trusts her partial understanding of the whale’s instructions go to the back his throat.  Marlin has a lot more difficulty trust.  He is convinced the whale is eating them.

Hanging onto the surface of the whale’s tongue above the abyss of the whale’s throat, Dori tells Marlin, “He says it’s time to let go.”  Literally, let go of the tongue, but also to let go of the tragedy in the past that has shaped his worlview.  This can no longer define his life, and it certainly can’t define Nemo’s.

“How do you know something bad isn’t going to happen?” he asks Dori.

She replies, “I don’t.”

There is nothing else to do.  He has to let go.  He releases his hold on the tongue and plummets into darkness.  The downward movement is symbolically toward death, but the fall changes into the upward movement of resurrection.  He and Dori are propelled out of the whale’s blowhole in a spray of water.

They are in Sydney.

Campbell says, “Allegorically, then, the passage . . . through the jaws of the whale [denotes], in picture language, the life-centering, life-renewing act.”  The hero’s emergence is a rebirth.    

We know what happens next.  The hero is now ready to complete his quest and after the belly of the whale, success is virtually assured. Marlin, with some help, successfully rescues of Nemo.  This is a victory, but the real battle had already been won in the belly of the whale.

We know Marlin has truly been transformed for on the journey home, he allows Nemo to risk his own life to save many fish caught in a net.

There is a moral to the story; this movie offers some pretty good advice on parenting.  But, like all the great stories, it bears far deeper truths than this.  These are universal truths that are repeated in the world’s literature, significantly the Bible.

Here’s the beginning of a list:

  • Things in this world are usually too complex to reduce to simple categories like good and evil.
  • Although it doesn’t make sense, by opening your hands, you can gain so much more.
  • Significant transformation occurs through suffering and times of despair, and these can be followed by a profound joy.

What is the mechanism behind this these universal ideas being found in the world’s literature, and Finding Nemo?  Some say these are evolved patterns, but I’m living as if the mythic truths in all stories echo the Creator’s one story that culminates with the birth, death and resurrection of Christ.

Either way, I don’t think you can deny that this film is far more than a morality tale about over-protective parenting.

 

Zeroes in School Teach Life?

In Rants on September 9, 2012 at 4:13 am

An Edmonton teacher feels so strongly about the importance of giving zeroes to students who don’t complete work, that he is putting his job on the line.  The “Hero of Zero” is 35 year veteran physics teacher, Lynden Dorval.  [Read more]  The public is behind him. The CTV news poll on the webpage carrying the story revealed that 93% of readers answered the question, “Should students who don’t complete their schoolwork be given zeros?” in the affirmative.  The reasons behind the 93% are perhaps represented in the comments.

Many felt that to not give a zero was coddling people who ought to have a good hard dose of reality.  Janet B. says, “if <sic> the prevailing attitude were education over self-esteem we’d actually have some winners joining our workforce. instead<sic> we get these snivelling<sic>, whining, self-absorbed, loathsome creatures that demand equal pay for inferior work.”  Most of the many comments assumed that to not give a zero meant giving points for work not turned in.  They thought this was absurd—and it is.  Here’s Ted: “Zero work equals Zero mark. What’s the problem? It’s so simple (almost) any idiot could figure it out.”

I don’t have all the information regarding the EPS’s no-zero policy, but I understand why we don’t give zeroes at my school. I suspect the reasons are the same.  Almost every comment on the CTV piece indicates a complete misunderstanding of the reasoning behind not giving zeroes.

Fundamentally, the no-zero policy means that students are not allowed to decide they won’t do required work.  And it means that teachers are not allowed to let children get away with deciding not to do required work.  But it’s more than that as well.

It all comes down to what the marks mean.

Do parents want the physics teacher to give a mark that tells us the percentage of assignment turned in?  It wouldn’t matter if you understood a thing, if the assignment was in you get a 100% and if you don’t turn it in you get a zero.  Only under this scheme do zeroes make sense.

This is not what marks mean and zeroes don’t make sense if you are measuring the knowledge/skills/abilities of a student in a in a specific class.  Here, the data is not the missing assignment; it is what is in the missing assignment.

The problem is that we’ve been measuring both the quantity and the quality of student work on the on the same scale.  Actually, we’ve been measuring more than just those two things.

Along with measuring knowledge/skills/abilities, marks have also included:

  • attitude (which often translates into ,
  • teacher’s-pet bonuses,
  • participation (this makes sense in some courses, but to arbitrarily reward extroverts isn’t supportable,
  • the skills and abilities of other student (remember how unfair those shared mark for “group work” were),
  • extra-credit (so we didn’t measure just what the student knows, but they get higher marks if they tell it to us more than other kids do),
  • neatness,
  • practice assignments (does it make sense to include marks for practice assignments in a final mark),
  • and of course lateness (deduction of 3% per day late) and zeroes for assignments not turned in at all.

For the mark to mean anything, all these things must be removed so that it indicates only what the student knows and what she can do at the time of the assessment.

This is not to say that turning ones work in on time (or anything else on the list) is not important, but only that it not be included in the mark.

Theoretically, zeroes can be used under the no-zero policy if it is an accurate representation of what the student knows.  But, it is highly unlikely that the student knows absolutely nothing.

The teacher is expected to assess what the student can do or what she knows.  Without data, this is impossible.  The teacher must get.  No data, no mark.  If a zero is averaged into the mark, it no longer communicates what it is supposed to communicate—it no longer measures performance.

Many of the comments scoffed at the official line that missing assignments “was a behavioural issue” rather than an academic one.  Those commenting seemed to interpret behavioural issue something which justified the missing assignments.  This isn’t the case at all.  The missing assignment is a behavioural issue.  In many cases, it is unacceptable behaviour and needs to be dealt with like all other unacceptable behaviors: like bullying, vandalism or littering.  We don’t take off marks for these behaviours.  To take marks off for late or missing assignments would amount to the same thing as deducting points for dress code violations.  These are not academic issues, but behavioural ones.

I believe this policy is more like the real world than giving zeroes.  If I’m lazy my job at the grocery store, my boss will not deduct from my wages for neglecting to stack the fruit, and then allow me to go on to try soup stacking.  He will make me do the fruit, with some additional instruction if necessary, or he will fire me!  If a student doesn’t complete the assignments I need in order to assess her learning, she receives no credit for the course.  That’s real life.  And it’s much harsher than a little old zero.

Several comments in the CTV report said that zeroes were a great motivation.  But teachers can still have those motivating conversations with students: “If you don’t do this assignment by Wednesday, you can’t receive credit for the course.  I’m going to help you finish it by keeping you in every lunch until then.”

One of the main reasons I am in favour of the no-zero policy is how it motivates students.  I have been a teacher for almost 30 years and I have never seen students more motivated that when all the things that distorted the marks were removed and student understood what the marks meant and what specifically they could do about it.

In Defense of Fairy Tales (4) – Redemption

In Uncategorized on September 5, 2012 at 6:04 am

“And they lived happily ever after.”  In fairy tales, the good are elevated to their rightful position and the universal longing is satisfied.  So gratifying is the happily-ever-after ending that, not only does nearly every fairy tale end with it, but almost every story we tell.

In Notting Hill, when Hugh Grant rushes across town with all his quirky friends to tell the gorgeous superstar, Julia Roberts, that he’d like to date her again and they get married on top of it all.  Or in Sleepless in Seattle, when Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks finally almost miss each other on the top of the Empire State Building, but don’t.  It’s not just the romantic comedies.  In Zombieland, when, after they escape from thousands of the undead at the carnival, Jesse Eisenberg finally gets a the family he’s always wanted and I doubt Emma Stone will fill the role of sister.  And my all-time favourite, in Die Hard with a Vengeance when Bruce Willis shoots Jeremy Irons through a pre-existing bullet hole in his shoulder.

We know it’s going to happen, and we love it every time it does.  The fairy tale “depicts over and over an upward development, the overcoming of mortal dangers and seemingly insoluble problems, the path toward marriage with the prince or princess, toward kingship or gold and jewels.”  The crown and royal robe which we often find adorning the protagonist at the end of so many fairy tales “make visible the splendor and brilliance of the great perfection achieved inwardly” (Lüthi).

The movement of Cinderella from a lowly and hopeless state to that of a princess is move “from an unauthentic existence [to the] commencement of a true one” (Lüthi 138).  Through supernatural intervention, she is transformed and ultimately married to the prince.  In this story, as in the best fairy tales, the “conflict is resolved, and happiness, joy and contentment become the optimistic expression of hope for a world as it should be” (Meider 91).

Although it is our deep desire, it is not our experience.  Buechner understands that the major difference between our world and that of the fairy tale is that in the battle between good and evil, the good don’t necessarily live happily ever after.

. . . crossing the line between fantasy and reality

In the Christian worldview, redemption has been achieved, but not yet ultimately fulfilled.  Mankind is not yet living “happily ever after.”

Tolkien believes that the “The Consolation of the Happy Ending,” is very important; without it, the fairy tale is incomplete and he even claims it is its “highest function” (Northrup).

The “sudden joyous ‘turn’” at the end of a faerie story, says Tolkien, does not deny that sorrow and failure are very real, but in the happy ending we get “a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world.”   The joy we experience is “a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth.”  For Tolkien, “all happy endings . . .  give us an underlying glimpse of, the ultimate Creator’s one fairy-story that culminates . . . with the birth, death and resurrection of Christ” (Northrup)—In other words, the Fulfillment all of God’s promises.

Fairy tales return us to reality; the hope of redemption which is rooted in God’s promise that he will renew his creation and his people.

 *                      *                      *

 In fairy tales we find the fundamental Biblical truths regarding Creation, the Fall, Redemption and Fulfillment—the essence of the biblical worldview.  This is not to say that reading faerie tales is the same as reading the Bible, or that we can just leave our children alone to consume them.  Who but parents can better make the connections for children that we have made here.  However, to declare all imaginative literature and harmful suggest one may hold to a rationalist understanding of reality, rather than a Biblical one.

Fairy tales present a world that inspires awe and wonder and a condition of obedience; they wrestle with the presence of evil in the world, the presence of which evokes a longing for a marriage to a prince; they show that evil can be overcome but not by our own efforts; and in the happy ending, they give us hope that one day all will be restored.  Christians, then, ought not to see fairy tales as a dangerous distraction from reality, but an invitation to reality.

Read In Defense of Fairy Tales (1) – Introduction
Read In Defense of Fairy Tales (2) – Creation
Read In Defense of Fairy Tales (3)Fall

 

Resources:

Lüthi, Max.  Once Upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales. Trans. Lee Chadeayne and Paul Gottwald. Bloomington:IndianaUniv. Press, 1979

Meider, Wolfgang.  “Grimm Variations From Fairy Tales to Modern Anti-Fairy Tales.”  The Germanic Review.  62.2 (1987) : 90-102.

Buechner, Fredrick.  Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale. San Fransisco: Harpers, 1977.

Northrup, ClydeB.  “The Qualities of a Tolkienian Fairy-Story.”  Modern Fiction Studies. 50.4 (2004) : 814-837.

Tolkien, J. R. R. “The Monsters and the Critics.” The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays.Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.