Sunday, November 30, 2014

Choose Carefully! As published in Sunday Eunice News on November 30, 2014

As the holiday season begins, our television stations, movie theaters and sales racks are filled with touching holiday stories that melt the heart, and sometimes, make you think about how you could be a better person.

Already, we're watched our umpteenth rerun of “The Wizard of Oz,” “Charlie Brown's Christmas,” “The Christmas Carol,” and maybe even some of the crazy comedies, “Home Alone,” and “A Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Adults may be watching “The Preacher's Wife,” with Cary Grant as the preacher. I have to admit, I really enjoyed the version with Whitney Houston as the preacher's wife.

All of these movies have a redeeming message – even if there may be a gory moment or two in the story line.

Which brings me to question the current rage for “Hunger Games” books and movies. I've listened to my students describe their class-assigned “Hunger Games” often enough to NOT want to read the book or watch the movie. Students recount their memories as we walk from building to building, but, I hear no redeeming value or myth in this series of young adult fiction. All I hear is: do whatever you have to do to survive. Kill or be killed. Trust no one.

For some reason, the third movie of the “Hunger Games” series was released last weekend – not what you would expect for the start of our Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons. But, how is it possible, at a time when our purpose should be the teaching of human values that helped our first American settlers to survive, that “Hunger Games” grossed the highest earnings of the year?

I finally decided to watch the movies, read the books, and consult with colleagues to determine whether I was too biased to make this claim. But, my colleagues agree with me: “Hunger Games” has no socially redeeming value. The novels and the screenplays are franchises, business entertainment ventures designed to be as depraved as necessary to rake in profits.

“May the odds be always in your favor,” that cynical phrase spoken to young teens who are forced to kill each other if they want to survive, truly epitomizes the “dystopian” future depicted in this story. The story teaches our youth that cooperation, support, interdependence will get you killed. Social manipulation, cunning, ruthlessness, and the willingness to kill first will keep you alive. Worst of all, the books teach our youth that this is the only way you can survive.

The American Thanksgiving legends that we celebrated this week are the healthiest antidote to this sick futuristic vision. Europeans would never have survived their first years in America if they took up the “Hunger Games” mentality.

I come from the state of Pennsylvania, Where William Penn and his wife Hannah established one of the first colonies, embracing the Quaker philosophy of brotherhood and peace-making. We never see adequate portrayals, but, the first Thanksgivings were celebrations with Native Americans who helped Europeans to adapt to their wild, but harsh new surroundings.

As a Philadelphia native, I was raised to believe that cooperation and interdependence are key to survival. Our very own Benjamin Franklin established the nation's first cooperative fire stations, libraries, hospitals, universities, post offices and an insurance company. Ben Franklin not only helped birth the United States of America by signing the Constitution – he helped it survive by teaching us to cooperate, share, and distribute burdens and risks in a way that ensures the survival of all who strive.

These are the stories our children need to be taught during our Thanksgiving holidays, and throughout the year.

But, alas, I am told children do not want to learn about their history. They want gory, futuristic science fiction or dystopian fairy tales.

Really? Then why, when we watch “Frozen,” do our kids watch with apt attention? Why, when the nation is torn apart with racial strive, do our kids watch “Hairspray” and lip-synch to the lyrics? Why, when we sing the Chipmunks “Christmas Time is Here,” do the kids laugh with warmth and the feeling of safety?

No one can force us to read the books or watch the movies, thank goodness, because we do not live in the totalitarian state depicted in “Hunger Games.” But, children really are healthier when they are steered away from this sick, anti-human philosophy of life towards stories that affirm humanity despite its flaws. Because, when we learn how to live cooperatively, despite our flaws, the odds are good that we will not only survive, but we can all thrive together.

Speaking of flawed mythical characters, have you seen “Fred Claus?” I can't imagine a better movie for families who cope with sibling rivalry. Here's to your family friendly viewing!

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