Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #18

Re: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

I’ve been greatly bothered by the pervasiveness of the message of “parents bad and stupid, kids smart and funny and good” that is surrounding children today. From seemingly harmless “Hannah Montana” to movies like Alice in Wonderland, our children are presented with a constant message that they already know enough and don’t need to listen to anyone else.

From your review of Alice in Wonderland, it sounds like a movie that can cause great spiritual damage to our children. It gives a message that your parents or the Church or anyone, really, cannot tell you what is good for you. That you must reject out-of-hand people telling you that you must do something you might not like particularly (or not understand). And that your best interests are not what drives them to make decisions on your behalf.

To constantly bombard children — and especially girls — with the message that your parents are wrong if you don’t like what they tell you is a dangerous thing. It breeds mistrust and mindless rebellion. The message is “To thine own self be true,” but no one ever gives thought that Polonius is the very ruin of his children with his soundbite advice that he gives them. His sayings are full of pithiness and short on wisdom.

While the “parents bad and stupid, kids smart and funny and good” motif is certainly a live issue in family entertainment today, I don’t think that’s the dynamic in Alice in Wonderland, so much as “patriarchal society bad and oppressive to women.” Don’t forget, Alice is 19 years old for most of the film — and in the prologue, in which she appears as a girl, she has a loving and sympathetic father. Alice’s mother isn’t so sympathetic to the 19-year-old Alice, but that’s because she’s just another victim of the patriarchal machine.

However, “To thine own self be true” is certainly part of Alice brief of empowerment and self-actualization, especially for young women. The problem is not so much that it’s bad advice (certainly we don’t want our children being false to themselves!) as that it’s grossly inadequate apart from some larger standard to which the self is held and to which it should conform. First receive solid moral and intellectual formation; discover your strengths and weaknesses; learn what is worth living and dying for; find meaning in community, work, commitment, a higher purpose; and when at last you can truly say that you have fulfilled the philosopher’s exhortation to “know thyself,” then to thine own self be true. You won’t find anything like that in Alice, alas.

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