Somewhere Between Dumbo and Charlie Brown

I had previously intended for this to be a well-written, well-considered piece, but my hand is being forced by a web browser that won’t stop chewing on all my ram RAM and locking up my computer, leaving me to just sorta jot down some basic ideas as I close tabs–perhaps ideas to revisit at a later date.

Semi-recently, I read an article in The Atlantic, which tackled to so-called “Cult of Self-Esteem” and the common children’s movie trope of an outsider entering a contest and outperforming the insiders. The author of the post describes the “magic feather syndrome,” in which characters eventually discover that believing in themselves is of utmost importance and integral to accomplishment. He details the plots of a few recent movies for children, explaining that these stories glorify a certain sort of almost Randian independence and contempt for ordinariness while also teaching children the lesson that greatness comes from within, not from, for instance, practice and hard work.

To draw contrast between the lessons being taught by media to children today and the lessons learned by children of yesteryear, Mr. Epplin tells us about Charlie Brown. Whereas today’s cartoon characters are heroic and nearly invariably win against all odds, Charlie Brown was more often losing than winning. From this, we can learn that losing isn’t always bad, isn’t always even noteworthy, and that sometimes life is just about playing the game. Or something–it’s been a few days, and the Charlie Brown part didn’t stick with me as well because my own thoughts were getting louder as I continued to read. So without further ado…

This article touched me because …well, let’s keep it real, because I have blindly proceeded into something I didn’t really understand, figuring whatever greatness I had inside would work its way out in some splendid and spectacular fashion at just the right time. Years later, of course, I look back at the experience and see how that’s not how it happened. Indeed, it’s easy to see now that on one hand, I was patently ridiculous, naive, silly, and generally Charlie Brown-like, as I moved boldly to demonstrate my own ignorance. On the other hand, I look back at the experience and understand that my willingness to put my own vision into the marketplace, regardless of potential outcomes, is responsible for my most significant professional advancements.

Perhaps it’s because I was born midway between Charlie Brown and Kung Fu Panda, but I tend to believe that the lessons taught by modern Disneyish stories about following one’s dreams are only deleterious if left unbalanced by other, practical lessons related to good sportsmanship and perseverance, regardless of the outcome. And so, in the end, maybe my analysis isn’t completely dissimilar from the original author’s, except to say that while the Atlantic piece emphasizes the importance of teaching humble and practical goals, to me it seems that so-called “magic feather” stories only pose any kind of threat to future generations if they become The narrative, rather than A narrative. Moreover, as society grows weary of entitled young people, I suspect the common plots will change without any sort of studio coordination or legislative remedy. :)

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