Tuesday, July 05, 2011

I Still Hate 1984 AND The Wonder Pets--A Philisophical Manifesto

Back in 2008 I wrote a blog post about why I can't stand didactic dystopian novels. And a while back I wrote a short post about why I dislike The Wonder Pets and Dora the Explorer, which pissed off a lot soccer moms (and dads) who were apparently googling for Wonder Pets pictures. These are really two sides of the same coin.

About didactic dystopian novels I wrote way back when:
Not all dystopian books are awful, of course. When a book is an extension of the author's world view such as Phillip K. Dick's paranoia and belief in the questionable nature of reality, some very interesting dystopias can emerge.

But if you need to read an "important" book like 1984 in order to understand that a totalitarian society sucks or Fahrenheit 451 in order to realize that burning books is bad, then you are also going to be stupid enough to fall for the newest form of fascism rolling down the pike, like Political Correctness or Obamamania, because you never were able to master the concept of thinking for yourself. 
I would go even further and say that when a dystopian novel is based on good characters and dialogue I don't have a problem with it, even if it has an agenda I disagree with (I'm thinking Cat's Cradle). What I can't stand is to get beaten over the head by a 'novel' that is really just a barely readable piece of propaganda that is later declared a classic by the very establishment that misunderstands it. 

The problem with 1984 is that it ends up being a shortcut to conceptual thinking about what fascism really is (not to mention that it is really boring).

--

"What's this fascism stuff, dude?"

"It's that 1984 thing, dude, the greatest novel of the 20th century about a society that didn't tolerate dissent. I didn't actually read it but it is my favorite novel ever."

"Cool, let's all go to a protest wearing the exact same clothes and chanting the exact same slogans."

"Yeah I heard there'll be tons of babes there."

--

Any kid who gets their morality or worldview from a TV show is in serious trouble. If they are going to learn ethics from a TV show, the last thing they need is a show like The Wonder Pets teaching the joys of conformity. The most difficult and important part of growing up is learning to avoid peer pressure and the need to conform to the popular hive mind. In other words, learning to think for oneself.

The last thing any society needs is more conformity.

Original thinking is not something that can be taught, per se, but it can be cultivated in an environment where questioning things is de rigueur. I was recently trying to get my son to question the nature of gravity. At 4 1/2 he's not quite ready for Relativity but simple questions (why does this cup fall?) lead to greater truths (because this part of space is warped), and when those simple questions can't be answered (why does warped space cause things to fall?) there is something wrong in either the understanding or the paradigm.

I do think children's TV shows (and TV in general) can teach something--creativity. I prefer my kid to watch shows like Spongebob or Phineas and Ferb for their originality, surrealism and characterization rather than a repetitive, politically correct piece of moralistic fluff like Wonder Pets or something "educational" like Dora the Explorer.

No kid is going to turn into a socialist vegetarian simply by watching Wonder Pets and no one is going to gain much insight into fascism by simply reading 1984. I dislike these things because they've either become (in the case of 1984) or represent (in the case of Wonder Pets) a pale substitution for original thought.

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