Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Morals For Minors

I am not sure my friends, or observers, would consider me to be a person with high moral fibre content.

Saturated fat for sure, but maybe not the high-road stuff.

If I was guessing, I would say that most folks think I have an appreciation of right and wrong, and can acknowledge that sometimes, a wrong, can be a right.

However when it comes to morals for children, the message conveyed by a book, film or person’s actions, my lights well and truly switch on.

I do tend to find myself coming up with opinions, that while getting agreement, I also get the how-the-hell-did-you-get-there face.

Like many things, I had not really paid attention to the ‘message’ of child orientated media. As they were not directly affecting me, why waste the calories?

Oh, to get rid of the saturated fat, I get it now.

But since these hidden messages have started to affect me, or my son, I have thought about them more.

The first time I had thoughts of any reasonable note was when I started reading regularly to my offspring.

I had read things to him as a really young baby, even to him in the womb, but I do not suppose it became a daily occurrence until he was 12 months old or so.

We got given a gratis starter pack from our local library of specially selected kids’ books, including one by Emily Bolam.

This was great as it gave me an idea of the type of book to be reading to my child at the appropriate age, for my favourite price, free.

As any normal person would expect, these books were very short picture stories, with just a brief sentence explaining what was going on in the scene they were scrawled on.

The Bolam book included in our bounty was the imaginatively titled ‘Enormous Elephant’.

And it is basically a tale of an unruly elephant going about the jungle, in a hedonistic like way, that includes trumpeting, squirting water, and knocking down trees.

He is largely ignored by his ‘chums’, until he knocks a tree down, and somewhat expectantly, that pisses them right off.

However, after a quick apology and a ride on his back, all is good again.

Now, what is the morale there?

Apologise for your mistakes?

More like, do whatever you want, worst case scenario is you have to give a half-baked apology and creep for a bit, to get away with it.

So, I amended the story slightly.

To give the reprimand for unacceptable behaviour its proper gravitas, in my humble opinion.

It also made me giggle a bit when I re-told the story.

And it is not just simple story books that have got on my wick on the child ethics front.

The movie, Cars, is another example.

I really liked the film, after a few times of watching it, but I think they got the ending, on the competitive front, wrong.

Even though the message it gives is probably more accurate, for budding sports stars.

If you have not seen the film, look away now, and I will see you later in the week.

But basically at the end, in the three way championship decider, Chick Hicks – the win at all costs bad-ass – decides he can not face the indignity of finishing third in the cartoon version of NASCAR, and thus wipes our ‘The King’, or Strip Weathers.

Now the hero, Lighting McQueen, having very recently discovered that the world may be a better place if you have friends to share it with, and filled with flashbacks of his newly acquired friend, who incredibly fortuitously just happens to be an ex-stock car racer that was dumped by his race team after a similar accident, stops to help the stricken ‘King’, and thus gifting the race to the deplorable Hicks.

The crowd is stunned by his actions, but quickly warmed by the fact ‘that sport is about more than just winning’.

Which, I suppose is all good.

However, I was left feeling, for the sake of an even better message for a children’s film, that Hicks should have been disqualified after due scrutinization by the stewards, the win therefore re-gifted back to the new morally strung McQueen.

Win, win, win.

As my editing ability is limited to writing on a sticker and sticking it to stuff, I did not do anything to amend our copy of the film, but did, or do, stress to my child how I feel that film should have ended.

It probably does not make a blind bit of difference, but I can not help myself analysing and looking at things this way.

And I do have more examples of my takes, but I have already taken up too much of your time. Assuming you got this far.



Kori said...

I don't know, I guess I have the opposite approach; life is full of winning on a technicality, really, and a lot of hte time the bad guys come out ahead in lots of ways. So as in the movie cars, Chick Hicks might well have run the race but he certainly had no friends, no twins (ka-chow!), no snazzy Dynaco Blue paint job...etc which means that Karma still came back to bite him in the, um, arse. And I just realized that since I can quote from the movie, I may have watched it a time or three too many. :)

The Dad said...

I find that hilarious. I wish I had thought to attach edits to my kids books.

Robert said...

I never really really thought about this before. I've regularly edited my kids' bedtime stories to teach them morals. you know, if they had been nasty to the cat, then that night's bedtime story would be adapted to include a nasty cat-hurting boy/girl who got his/her just deserts. Also, since the majority of kids' stories are about boys, when I tell my little daughter stories, I frequently edit them so that the hero is a girl.

Jo Beaufoix said...

I love that you did that. I tend to get my girls chatting about stuff like that too, although Miss M tends to jsut say the word bottom a lot at the moment. Tsk. Maybe she needs a community service sticker.

Sorry I've been absent. I'm on catch up big time. Send the gorgeous boy a hug from Misses E and M. :D

SciFi Dad said...

I plan on teaching my kids it's not cheating if you don't get caught.

Bee and Rose said...

My son calls me the Editor..lol! He laughs hysterically when he listens to me read stories to my daughter..like you, I edit to teach the moral lesson that I want to share. He finds it tremendously amusing that I even do this with songs to her..."You are my sunshine, my only sunshine..you make me happy when skies are gray..(now the original verse here is this..."you'll NEVER know dear...how much I love you...Please don't take my sunshine away..") What? What do you mean you'll NEVER know, dear? How mean is that? My version goes like this..."you'll ALWAYS know dear....Let's go play in sunshine today." (See...told you I was a huge nerd! lol!)

rosiescribble said...

Great post, S.P.D. I often have to change the wording of some of the bedtime stories I read to my 5 year old. It probably isn't necessary for me to remove words like 'stupid' (she has probably heard it all at school) but I still do. The Disney stories are the worse - Cinderella marries her prince the day after they meet. I could go on and on. You are right about Cars though. We have that film. What a shame we have less control over their content.

The Dotterel said...

You've just opened up a whole new genre of children's literature - the dynamic, reader-author partnership. Think of the things we could do. Peter Rabbit Pie, ASBO Noddy, and as for those awful Altounyan children...

This is great!

Tony said...

I think there is something to be said for teaching children that "the right thing" doesn't always happen.

I think too much in this world are children coddled and not taught important lessons of losing with dignity and sportsmanship.

I'm bothered by the "give everyone a trophy" and "don't keep score because some children may get their feelings hurt" mentality.

While Chick still wins the Piston Cup, he is still chastised by everyone for the way he won it.

Perhaps Cars 2 (Disney never passes up the opportunity to tug at your wallet with a far inferior direct to DVD follow up) will show Chick on the talk show circuit talking about his lost career. Perhaps on Jerry Springrod or Oprah Winnebago.

Dave said...

A insightful post.... I agree with you and you are right to edit. It has become very easy these days for people to be irresponsible and when caught throw out a cursory "Sorry" that isn't even genuine but expect that to be enough. You are right to teach stronger morals than the story books dictate.

Mama Nabi said...

I do think it's parents' prerogative to edit certain aspects of books. :-) Or boycott. If we can't be discerning parents, we may as well be reading crap to our kids and see how that goes, right? Although, this does illustrate your philosophy on crime and punishment...

MindyMom said...

I stuck with your insightful post and I like that you edit as you see fit.

I also agree with Kori in that sometimes the bad guys may get the "prize" but do they really?

Single Parent Dad said...

Kori - You and me both. And I guess it is closer to a real life scenario, but is that what a Disney film should be?

The Dad - You must be just as daft as me then ;-)

Robert - And I think you are absolutely right to do so.

Jo Beaufoix - My son is stuck on 'poo-poo' at the minute. And no need for an apology, we will take the hugs though.

SciFi Dad - Not a terrible theory. I've taught my boy to say he is 'just competitive' when accused of cheating.

Bee and Rose - I love what you did there. My wife used to sing that song to Max as a baby.

Rosie Scribble - Thank you. I do occasionally come up with one. Stupid is a naughty word in our house too.

The Dotterel - Way to brainstorm.

Tony - I agree, and am not into multiple winners either. But there is a time and a place. Your version of Cars 2 perhaps ;-)

Dave - Thanks. I agree. Sorry, just isn't enough sometimes, and kids should know that.

Mama Nabi - Yes. And yes, it does.

MindyMom - I'm glad you like it. Perhaps Tony's Cars 2 will convey the message Kori commented with.

Yaya said...

In undergrad for teaching we had a course about finding the underlying meanings in children's books so that we didn't read to our students books that might have underlying messages of racism, etc.

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