Monday, November 29, 2010

Mother Knows Best?

Your Psychopathic Mother - Rick Springfield (mp3)

We took the girls to Disney’s newest flick, TANGLED, over the holiday, and it was massively entertaining. It’s the first Disney flick since the Dawn of Pixar that actually held its own.

As someone who spent his late teens and college years fawning over Disney’s animated rebirth, starting with “The Little Mermaid” in 1989 and soaring thorough “The Lion King” five years later, TANGLED is the logical continuation of that production line. But it at long last corrects a serious error from Disney’s past.

Those great Disney rebirth movies had young characters with a slightly bigger degree of nuance that reflected our less idealistic age. Aladdin is a thief. The Beast is a snotty rich boy. Simba’s disobedience leads to his father’s death. None of them have the kind of simplistic goodness and innocence of Snow White or Mowgli or Bambi, characters whose misfortunes were unfairly (and somewhat randomly) thrust upon them by cruel fate.

While I loved “The Little Mermaid” -- its soundtrack was the first CD I ever purchased -- I couldn’t help but object heavily to the message of the movie: that a 15-year-old girl knows better than her parent(s). Because we’re not talking about lip gloss choices here. The movie is about a girl getting her panties all warmed up over some dude, wanting to become an entirely different form of human to chase him, and the father being overbearing and out of touch by daring to suggest this might not be a wise decision.

I didn’t like that storyline as a teenager, and I sure as hell don’t like it now. Thankfully, the message of TANGLED corrects everything “The Little Mermaid” screwed up while keeping the parts that were most important.

The parts that are important:
  1. independence and freedom are two vital aims of growing up;
  2. parents often lose track of what’s important, and controlling parents are almost certain to lose their children.
The improvements:
  1. the protagonist is a girl on the verge of turning 18. A big diff, those three years. She’s not necessarily a full-blown woman, but she can sure as shit legally drive, and our current culture has deemed this to be an age deserving of most independence.
  2. the motives of the parent deserve scrutiny. Her “mom” is in the business of parenting for herself, not for her child. Her parenting decisions are about self-interest and have nothing to do with the daughter’s well-being. But, like millions of abused and neglected children, Rapunzel has no clue about her mom, because it’s the only parent relationship she’s ever known or seen. It’s normal for her, even while it’s maniacally disturbing to the viewer.
But the TANGLED slam goes well beyond abusive parents and into the world of “Helicopter Parents,” those lovely folks who hover over every aspect of their child’s existence, who even want to micromanage their college and professional lives after the nest they left has grown cobwebs. The movie is a reminder that good parents are obliged to gradually loosen, and eventually remove, the leash, from our children.

The more teenagers are constricted and bound, the more violently they will fight to escape. The more parents insist on making any and all decisions and dictating the teen’s life, the less capable teens will be of making them when no one else is around. That’s why they keep texting you about their boss, as if it was a lifeline on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

One of the best lines in the movie is when Gothel, Rapunzel’s kidnapper mother, says, “Great, now I’m the bad guy.” The dramatic irony, the self-awareness... and the fact that parents all over the world (including me) say that crap all the time. Being a devoted and good parent requires that, once in a while, we be the bad guy to our kids.

The essential question is: For whose good, and why, are we being the bad guy? For us? Or for them? Are we trying to hold onto our youth? Trying to recapture a missing experience or fix a regret of our younger days through the life of our child? Or are we trying to raise an independent and capable human whose dreams are her own, whose life has no preordained direction other than what she chooses for herself?

And are we willing to ask ourselves these tough questions? Because the motive is pretty damn crucial, as is the method.

That... is the story of TANGLED.*

* -- Well, according to my daughters, the story of TANGLED is that her long hair should have caused her a lot more trouble, that not all mean scary men are helpful, and that horses and chameleons make for hilarious sidekicks.


Anonymous said...

Is there any parent who does not live vicariously through her children?

Daisy said...

I haven't seen the movie, but I'm guessing Rapunzel is an only child? That would support my theory of mother's of only daughters being especially clingy a helicopter like.

BeckEye said...

My nieces want to see this. They're 16 and 18 and already know everything, especially that parents don't know anything. That's why I love being the cool aunt. :)