Monday, April 04, 2011

Wheel of Morality

do any of you remember the animaniacs????? i sure do. if you dont, allow me to recap: the animaniacs were a warner brothers cartoon not unlike the looney tunes that were on tv on saturday mornings. it was an awesome show. my best halloween costume ever was a three-man bit where we dressed up as the animaniacs, which, incidentally was the last year i went trick or treating. anyway, at the end of each episode the animaniacs would spin the "wheel of morality" which would randomly assign a moral to the show. they also said this poem: "wheel of morality, turn, turn, turn, tell us the lesson that we should learn." and it would always be something inane like "dont leave the house without your pants on unless its dark out."
sometimes i think the writers of some childrens stories used approximately the same logic to come up with the messages for what are now ubiquitous childhood standbys. i think the reason these stories last is because no one really questions them but let us take a moment to ponder what i shall hereby refer to as CHILDHOOD LITERARY WEIRDNESS:
1) goldilocks and the three bears: i cant help but wonder if the success of this story is at least in part related to the popularity of little blond girls in picture books. im not sure WHY this motif is so popular: genetically, the occurence of blonde hair is much less frequent than that of dark hair and you would think children of the world would relate better to characters that look like themselves. but i digress. as far as i can tell, the moral of this story is "if you do a B and E, make sure you leave the scene of the crime before the family returns home." it also doesnt do much for the bears of the world, it makes them look like they are smart enough to make clothes and stoves and homes and cook oatmeal, but not smart enough to use sentences longer than five words.
2) rapunzel: although i must admit i was very impressed with disney's take on this classic (and believe me, that is HIGH PRAISE, i usually hate those assholes) the point of this story escapes me. for those who may have forgotten the original version, the story ends with the prince being blinded by a thorny bush and wandering the forest for years and the girl having her locks chopped off and being abandoned in the forest. they do ultimately find each other but it seems to me that the moral here is "love is crippling and will cost you everything else" which is as cynical as it is dark. we all know how much i love the dark and cynical but im not sure we need to be filling the heads of four year olds with such things, they will get there on their own around the time puberty hits. when i was a kid this story always made me fixate on the strangely evocative lettuce that the mother craved that got her into so much trouble in the first place. maybe the real moral is "dont eat salad."
3) little red riding hood: although i admit i do UNDERSTAND this story, i find its themes a little too mature for its intended audience. also, i get the impression that most adults DONT understand it, so they dont really explain the intended moral to their children. most adults, ive noticed, tell children that the moral of this story is something along the lines of being cautious and observant to avoid being fooled by someone who looks harmless but wants to hurt you. i suppose thats part of it, but the imagery of the red hood and the independent walk through the woods suggests that little red riding hood is actually a coming of age tale. some have argued that the wolf represents bad men/sexuality and the lumberjack represents good men/being married/if you arent married then your father. i will buy that, but i think at its root its more about growing up and learning things the hard way. i mean, she gets eaten, people.
4) the three little pigs: i think the moral of this story is supposed to either be about not taking short cuts in your work or it wont stand up to the test of time or its an allegory for having strong faith (but then it would a total rip off of the bible's foolish man building his house upon the sand) but i think that message gets lost on most of us and just comes across as "bricks are the best thing to build houses with." also im not sure how or where someone came up with the idea of a wolf BLOWING DOWN A HOUSE which is just too bizarre for words.

im sure there are more examples but these are the ones i was thinking about today. and this is why animaniacs was such a great show. by not pretending to be meaningful or about anything, it actually pointed and laughed at all the stuffy, pompus, figurative morals of most art aimed at children. which perhaps makes it among the most educational of all.

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