Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Won't somebody think of the children?

Don't take your kids to the new Muppets movie. Despite it being a Hollywood production replete with the inevitable corporate tie-ins, Fox News has announced that it's eco-communist propaganda:

"Liberal Hollywood depicting a successful businessman as evil – that's not new," said Bolling. He asked his guest, media-bias alarmist Dan Gainor, if Hollywood was deliberately trying to brainwash kids.
"Absolutely," said Gainor. "And they've been doing it for decades." He pointed out that oil could be used to "light a hospital" or "fuel an ambulance". "They don't want to tell that story," he said.
Bolling's Fox News colleague Andrea Tantaros chimed in, saying: "I just wish liberals could leave little kids alone." Bolling wondered aloud why the Muppets couldn't, for once, "have the evil person be the Obama administration". It only remained for him to throw up his hands and cry: "Where are we? Communist China?"

Which compared with Jeremy Clarkson, is small beer indeed. And more to the point: what children's literature isn't subversive? All the good stuff, at least. The Phantom Tollbooth is, for me, a Derridean deconstruction of language and signifier. Goldilocks crosses the animal human divide, while even the dumbest pubescent girl will spot the barely-hidden sexual messages of Red Riding Hood. Hell, even Bugs Bunny's eternal tormenting of Elmer Fudd is a clear attack on the armed rapaciousness of Big Farmer and the hunting fraternity.

Virtually every kids' book ever written preaches the joys of sharing and the misery attendant on being a selfish bully. Whenever I meet a Tory or a banker, I have to assume that they read only the nasty stuff: Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, both of which promote greed, racism and individualism in the service of a cruel and vengeful god, and in which the daily toil of the ordinary person is utterly insignificant.

Like this bit, the smashing of Isengard by angry trees.

Apparently if you're an industrial worker, you're a despicable, degraded monster deserving a cruel death, not empathy or advice from a friendly trades unionist. You don't get a name, or agency. You're just a Morlock in the blind service of evil. You hate trees and the trees are going to kill you, rightfully so. For Tolkien, apparently, being working-class means you have no culture, no rights and no future. The world - as all the positive characters keep saying - is descending into darkness, and the victory over Sauron is really only the last hurrah of the ancient and (don't forget), racially pure. Miscegenation is a cause for sadness (when it's 'good' races like Elves and the better sort of men), and for evil when it's the lower orders.

This is what really bothers me about Tolkien and Narnia: the idea that there is no progress, only decay. That racial purity and wisdom are automatically linked. That the darker your skin or the more X chromosomes you have, the dumber and more passive you should be. Who could fail to be revolted by the way Susan is excluded from Narnia for developing an interest in lipstick and boys? Or the way the children die horribly in a train wreck, with the words 'school is over. The holidays have begun', as though life on earth is no more meaningful than sitting in the waiting room?

Now run along before Gandalf rips off your face, peasants. And read Alison Lurie's Don't Tell The Grown-ups.


ed said...

I can't help but see The Lord of the Rings film franchise as a weird pop representation of the War on Terror. 'Rise, men of the West', and such.

The Plashing Vole said...

It definitely is part of that discourse. The original text is obsessively radicalised. The humans divide into three, the 'pure' Numenorians, their 'Middle' men who aren't noble but are generally good, and the 'dark-faced' ones who are evil. They come from the hot South and the East.
Subtle, no?

ed said...

Plus that bit in The Two Towers, when the Uruk Hai - bigger, darker, cockney accented orks - resort to cannibalism. Not sure how Jackson got away with it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dY4V3UUY95A

Though I did grow up loving the books...and the films, actually.

The Plashing Vole said...

I'd forgotten that bit. It's quite funny. I read every word Tolkien wrote when I was a teen. I was even a member of the Tolkien Society. And the films are amongst the very few which are superior to their source texts: better dialogue, snappier action, better roles for women…

WHY are those Orcs Cockney?

ed said...

Oh, erm, I may have an inaccurate idea of what constitutes a 'cockney' accent then. Ahem. I don't get out much. But yow know what I mean Voley, ay?