Last time, I mentioned some problems I have with the over-emphasis on messages and morals in deciding the value of a children’s story.
I spend an inordinate amount of time reading reviews of children’s films and television. I read discussions on forums and on Youtube where most viewers don’t seem to be commenting as parents or guardians. More and more, I see adults clamoring about messages and morals in children’s media. Shows are “good” if they have a good lesson to teach and “bad” if they don’t. What exactly constitutes a “good lesson” is entirely dependent on the person commenting.
I expect a certain amount of that from parents and grandparents reviewing on Amazon or Netflix. It’s natural for people who have children to be conscious of those things and to want the majority of their kids programming to be in line with their personal values.
I think most stories do have some kind of implied lesson or social commentary. Any time you have a villain, you have an implied lesson. Any time you have a character who experiences loss or change, there’s an opportunity for lessons of various kinds. A problem develops when we start judging stories based on the “lessons” they teach and ignore any other value they might have.
That’s what people seem to do with children’s media today. It’s become so pervasive that anytime I go on YouTube to watch a cartoon or participate in an online discussion, I run into debates about whether this or that show is “good” based on what social message it sends or if there’s some overt “lesson” for the audience.The average YouTube viewer is probably not a conservative parent in his/her forties, so it’s not about certain demographics being uptight. It’s all over the place.
Stories have an enormous potential to teach and to effect social change. I have a post here about why LeVar Burton is awesome because of his involvement with Reading Rainbow and the television miniseries Roots. I absolutely believe in using media and modern technology as teaching tools, and will go to bat for their inclusion in any curriculum.
That’s still completely different from expecting an overt social message or lesson to be present in every story written for audiences under the age of 12, and complaining when the story in question doesn’t match our cultural or personal values. Those things are all subjective and can change rapidly even within a handful of years.
Stories have value beyond social commentary and life lessons. People like stories for all kinds of reasons. They’re valuable because they reflect our experiences or because they show us things we haven’t experienced yet. There’s nothing wrong with a story that has a moral lesson, or cultural commentary, but do those things really determine its value? If the answer is yes, what does that say about us?
Besides. This is what you get when you insist on an explicit lesson EVERY time.