Friday, November 4, 2011

Children's Movies Have Too Many Orphans

So says Jeff Alexander at Time Magazine, with the tag line, "Parental separation makes for a great plot point, but try telling that to a parent of an adopted child."
Consider for a moment some of our children’s greatest fictional heroes. Luke Skywalker grows up thinking his father is dead. Harry Potter: orphaned as an infant. Ditto Superman. One looks further into the literary pantheon for the pint-sized — Cinderella, Spiderman, Tarzan, Sleeping Beauty, Lemony Snicket’s Baudelaire children, Batman, C.S. Lewis’s Pevensie kids — and it’s hard not to spot a common familial theme: where the hell are all these kids’ folks?

Obviously it’s Mythmaking 101 to begin a hero’s journey with some initiating trauma. But does that trauma have to occur so frequently before the hero’s earliest memory? Maybe it does.

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I hasten to add that Max is a happy, well-adjusted child. . . .

But some adopted children under less happy circumstances, like Harry Potter with his hateful relatives at 4 Privet Drive, struggle with abandonment issues and other psychological hurdles. Even kids who land with adoptive parents as loving and supportive as Jonathan and Martha Kent may wonder why they were “given up.” (Actually, the correct term is placed. Bridle against PC language if you will, but watch what you say in front of my kid). And as such, should parental separation be such commonplace story fodder for entertainment aimed at kids?

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For plenty of kids, stories about young people with dead, absent or galactically evil parents are a novelty, a look into a different life. For other kids, they can be a raw nerve. Most raw nerves are treated with some sensitivity, but not this one.


Chinazhoumom said...

and Matilda...

c said...

i always thought the number of orphans and parent less children was less about tragedy and more about creating a child hero that was "adult-less", so they could go and have these fantastic adventures without being told what to do!

a Tonggu Momma said...

The Tongginator absolutely refuses to read anything about orphaned or abandoned children. When she asked me about the Boxcar Children series, I tried to explain the basics of the storyline. She looked at me and said, "I don't think that sounds very safe. I'll pass."

I agree with C, but I think it does touch a raw nerve with many children: adoptees, children whose parents have died, children with limited to no contact - for whatever reason - with their biological parent(s). My Tongginator is just one example; it hits too close to home with her, so she won't go there.

I wish there were more alternatives.

bytheriver said...

My 7 year old will not watch movies. The plot of children's films seems always to have a bad guy, and often have the theme of involuntary separation from a parent, real or cartoon. Its too much for kids who remember their own loss. Can't we just have a film once with no violence, no abandonment, no orphans, no parent loss?

Margaret said...

I'm so torn about this topic because I write and understand the need to create conflict and ultimately resolution is at the heart of all great stories. There is no greater tragedy to explain character motivation than the loss of a parent or bad parent, so that in turn is a common conceit used to create a powerful hero in a story.

On the other hand, as an adoptive mother and also as a child who lost a parent at a young age, I also understand how this really can touch a raw nerve in children. I'm still a mess to this day when I see Bambi. Whether the loss is through adoption, death, divorce, bad parenting or other tragedy, it still strikes a nerve. (Don't even get me started on how many of these movies and tv programs show the adoptive parents are evil. That is another construct I could do without.)

Wish there were better ways to create an empowered character.