Monday, 25 October 2010

Festive films and skepticism

Like Tim Minchin, I really like Christmas, and it is a'comin', and with it the usual stodgy diet of festive films.

What gets me about all the depictions of the Santa Claus myth is that the ultimate virtue is usually belief. You can see this in many Xmas films, such as Miracle on 34th Street, where an old man is apparently proved to be Santa. Or The Polar Express, which is a Tom Hanks pet project, and a particularly odious example of the genre to my mind.

I'll stick with the Polar Express, as I'm so familiar with it due to being force-fed it for years by my kids, who, I should point out, loved it.

The boy at the centre of the story starts the movie as a Santa skeptic, if you like. He reads up on the North Pole in encyclopaedias, and has come to the conclusion that Santa doesn't exist.

He's then, however, taken on a magical train ride to the North Pole, where he receives a gift from Santa himself, a bell from Santa's sleigh, and once he wakes up in the morning, the ringing of the bell, which only true believers in Santa can hear, is the only evidence the trip ever took place.

There are a couple of things that disturb me about a story like this. The first thing - it's religion sneaking through the back door. Blind faith is praised over rational thought. The premise of all these movies is - just believe! It's magic! Don't question it, or the magic won't work for you! Isn't that the language the religious use? These movies are teaching kids to suppress any kind of skeptical instinct they might have in favour of mumbo-jumbo.

I don't mean to say that every kid should be hunting down the truth about what they're being told by their parents, and disbelieving everything they're taught. But this is the point of it. The propogation of myths like Santa, and the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny, are just extensions of the other Christmas myth, the one involving a virgin and a little donkey. (That's a film script staring you in the face, right there). Just believe. No questions.

The second thing - why do we need a myth of an overweight man dressed in a red suit climbing down our chimneys once a year anyway? What's wrong with our kids knowing that the presents they open on Christmas Day are from the family and friends who love them, and not a fantasy figure. Isn't that more emotionally healthy for them? Shouldn't we be giving our kids truth and kindness, enabling them to grow into intelligent young people, instead of filling their heads with ridiculous myths like these? Isn't it just a bit scary for some kids? Any other time of the year, someone dropping down the chimney would be cause for alarm.

Yes, you're right, this blog post has also become a metaphor for religion. I'll admit that I haven't dispelled my youngest child's ideas about Santa, and probably won't for a while yet (the eldest two have figured it out for themselves). As a society though, we need to take responsibility for our children growing up in a state of strong emotional health, I think.

Bah, humbug. No, Merry Xmas. I think.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

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