While my younger girl, Alex, recovers, she stays on a makeshift bed in my home office during the day. I write when she sleeps; we chat when she’s awake and in the mood.
One of those chats triggered memories of a conversation we had last year after seeing Maleficent (yes, the one with Angelina Jolie in the title role). While I loved the film, she declared that it totally ruined her childhood because of the new twist on Maleficent’s character. At the time, I didn’t fully understand what she meant. I thought that the backstory would have a humanizing effect and make Maleficent a more sympathetic character — after all, except for religious bigots who believe in angels and devils, no one is born good or evil.
I wouldn’t appreciate that “ruined her childhood” bit until we saw Terminator Genisys a couple of weeks ago. Then, I understood — obliquely, at least. While Maleficent offered a backstory that previously did not exist, Genisys created a new timeline and made the hero John Connor a villain. The effect is the same — we grow up with characters that we have neatly labeled as heroes, villains, good, evil, friendly, antagonistic, inspiring or fearsome, then a new version comes along that wrecks what we have firmly established as our truths and we are forced to rethink everything from a different perspective.
Maleficent wasn’t even the first ruin-my-childhood experience for Alex. Her sister, Sam, who devours reading materials on the web, declared one day a few years back that Winnie the Pooh (whom Alex adored as a toddler up until she was in high school) suffers from ADHD and OCD. Moreover, Sam said, every character in the Pooh stories represents a mental condition according to the 2000 research Pathology in the Hundred Acre Wood: a neurodevelopmental perspective on A.A. Milne where the table below comes from.
Cracked, which admittedly overanalyzes pop culture for fun, had this to say:
…turns out that many well-adjusted, serious academics really are spending their free time running around and ruining the stuff we loved as kids with their brains.
Misuse of brains might be more accurate because interestingly enough, Dr. Leon Eisenberg, the doctor to whom the discovery of ADHD is attributed, declared later on that the “genetic predisposition to ADHD is completely overrated” and that “child psychiatrists should more thoroughly determine the psychosocial reasons that can lead to behavioral problems.”
And that leads us to ask just what Pathology in the Hundred Acre Wood accomplished except to ruin the childhood of everyone who grew up enjoying Winnie the Pooh stories AND to serve as a prime example of how psychologists and psychiatrists have gone lazy and unscientific by drawing conclusions based on acts that are easily apparent rather than studying what may be behind such acts. I mean, seriously, the scientific method requires that the brainiacs behind Pathology in the Hundred Acre Wood sit down with the subjects to come up with plausible analyses of their conditions. But how does one do that with characters from children’s books? Pathology in the Hundred Acre Wood should have been published in a pop magazine instead of in a supposedly reputable medical journal.
The theory that children’s stories are replete with hidden meanings is nothing new. And, in many cases, they’re really more than theories. Try the gore and violence in nursery rhymes.
Rock-a-bye, baby, on the treetop
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all.
Think about The Red Shoes. Karen, a vain girl, had a beautiful pair of red shoes that danced by themselves. When she couldn’t take them off, she had her feet chopped off but the shoes with her amputated feet in them kept dancing anyway.
And for those who really like digging up “evidence” that writers of children’s stories have hidden agenda and may even be been sick psychos, read The 5 Most Depraved Sex Scenes Implied by ‘Harry Potter’. Everyone in my family is a Harry Potter fan and I honestly don’t know how my daughters will react to this. According to the article, Dolores Umbridge was gang-raped by centaurs, date-rape drugs were legally sold and used in the wizarding world, and Lord Voldemort was born as a result of sex slavery.
It’s tempting to say that what I don’t know won’t harm me (which is another way of saying ignorance is bliss) and that children can enjoy all these stories in a fun way without their brains getting tainted by hidden meanings of which they are not aware. But not being consciously aware doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not susceptible to the subliminal messages. And then it really gets problematic. So ignorance may not all be that blissful after all. Awareness, even if it ruins our childhood memories, is preferable because it puts us in a position to rethink what we thought we already knew and understood.