On the subject of Superhero’s, Despicable Minions and other strange stories

The stories we tell ourselves are our paradigms. What stories are we choosing to tell ourselves and our children? This is the question I ask. The questions we ask ourselves are the keys to the knowledge we already have, we just have to look for it.

What stories do we want to fill our children's beautiful minds with?
What stories do we want to fill our children’s beautiful minds with?

School holidays, winter: my children are offered tickets to the movies. This is very exciting. We check the program. The only movie on the circuit is the new prequel to the unfortunately named blockbuster “Despicable Me.” I reluctantly agree to take them, having read the dubious summary. I guess that in a bid to keep the bucks rolling in, the film company stretched out the story by inventing another section. The scriptwriters were probably briefed by their producers to make something out of the popular minion characters who have already done so well on the merchandising side of “Despicable Me.” So they decided to take the story from the beginning of time, answering the question; who are these “minions?” So the movie starts with the little creatures going through the evolution of the planet somewhere far away. They reach a stage in their evolution where they have grown comfortable in a cave, isolated from an icy world, playing games and going nowhere. They are a depressed nation. (Sounds familiar? An echo of modern society?) They need purpose. They need a hero. They need a master. But for some reason they need a really evil master to work for. I understand that the minions by nature of the existing plot of the ready made movie they have already sold, work for the villain who is the title character of the movie “Despicable Me.” (This is the sequel that all the children have already watched hundreds of times in their lounges, while their parents are working on something else.) But there is something really twisted about the whole thing. It’s quite dark. Just like everything these days. The fashion, the culture, the music.

Do the children understand the underlying irony and sarcasm in this story? I suppose it depends on their age and level of innocence. Even though I understand the nature of the industry, and that its all a cynical silly story, something inside me felt saddened. Why did the adults responsible for this production have no qualms about making a movie about little cute characters on a search for a really evil villain to work for? Do they themselves (the minions who made the movie) work for some evil master themselves?

I believe every production, or story, must have somewhere tucked into the plot a few messages, sacred ones, and lessons, or what is the point of telling it? I suppose there are some little messages in there, but they themselves are a reflection of the lost generation behind this hugely popular animation.The depressed society finds a leader called Kevin who is prepared to go out into the world to search for a new master. It was interesting how much violence was involved and how loud and large it all was.(Kids cartoons have always been violent, Micky Mouse and Tom and Jerry are always getting whacked and the level of sound and stimulation in a Cinema theatre is always turned to the max, but this was a few notches up.) The Minnions eventually find the new villain master who is to be the main character of Despicable Me. Is the story about self-acceptance? Is it about trying to prove oneself on a quest for love? They smile in the mirrors of their screens and take selfies of their beautiful selves. The only thing that is real. Are they seeking identity, self- acceptance? Or is it a culture of unabashed self-centredness? Or is the selfie trend fed by a need for self-love in the face of complete neglect due to parents who themselves are lost and unable to find the love they are looking for in all the wrong places and who themselves are completely self-centred? Is being self-centred good? From what I see, self serving and self-centred means grab, grab, grab. Not share and be fair.

In our global depressed society. Our children watch a lot of television. Their fragile and impressionable minds keenly searching for meaning and learning all the time from everything they see.
I believe that in a short time, the generation we are raising have lost track of their roots, their compass and their sense of purpose. Having been blinded by the distractions on their screens, large and small. The false promises, the temptations. The false sense of identities they try to create based on false role models, who themselves are lost. It is a case of the blind leading the blind.

I am so grateful that there are still youth among us who think like Puno Selesho, the powerful Pedi woman in Pretoria who in her Ted talk made such a clear statement on this subject.

I overheard a conversation between an adult with an American accent and a South African child with an American accent recently in Cape Town. They had just met and they were discussing reference points, places in America: Disney World is in Florida and Disney Land is in… The child explained very maturely that he had actually grown up in South Africa but his accent was due to the fact that he had watched so much American Television!

Watching Minions made me feel sad because of its lack of morality. Morality may seem old fashioned- an outdated concept, but morality is compassion. It is a sense of conscience: knowing right and wrong. What does morality mean to children who grow up watching a minion child in the backseat of a family station wagon being congratulated by the father on a family holiday to “Villain Com” for shooting down a water tank in the desert with a rocket launcher after a bank robbery? Fun and games, all to the rocking rebel sound track of The Doors. It’s so cool it smacks of “Natural Born Killers,” another successful movie about hero murderers. What are we creating with these stories?

On the first day of school, my children were proud to be able to tell their friends that they had watched the new Minions movie in a cinema as everyone else had, and were able to recite the punch lines. We bought cereal with “free dancing minions” inside on our way home from school, just to please them.

I just found a letter from my Grandfather, (Roland Kingwill, a Karoo farmer and philosopher) written to me on my 21st birthday. “Obey God and do what is right.” He wrote. That was always his message. It was not the stuck in the mud christian doctrine thinking at all. He was lead by Spirit. (Universal Spirit, if you are afraid of the G word.) He stepped out into the unknown bravely following his calling and his instinct even if it meant taking risks and making sacrifices. He stuck to his principles -working for the greater good, not his own gain. He was the old fashioned kind of hero, like Mandela and he died at the same age: 95, still strong in his own spirit and having created a proud legacy. I am grateful to have had those kind of “superheroes” in my life.

Our country is being is currently being lead by a character who is not unlike the super villains we saw in that movie – a leader who gets away with theft and corruption and has all the tools to keep doing so. We definitely need hope right now. We do not want to be lead by a villain- it gives the villains around us an excuse to be worse villains, just as stories about “cool villains” makes thuggery socially acceptable. We are already over run with crime. We need to be our own hero’s and we need one who is true: a true hero is free to follow his or her own true calling. The true calling of what is right. Not a slave to desires for material satisfaction and power, but someone who is prepared to take a stand for the greater good of all. Not for their own selfish gain. Interesting that in these times a villain super hero story is being told to the children. Are these stories just a good jokes about badness? Or are they just making movies that they think people will pay to see? The stories we tell ourselves and our children are what we make our reality. When we change the stories we tell, we change our reality. We are free to tell stories about a beautiful world, where kindness happens and there is caring and sharing and healing. Why don’t we do more of that?

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