Hale Snails and Vapour Trails

I’ve heard people say that current trends in recent animated films like “Turbo” and “Planes” hold morals that glorify and exacerbate the worst qualities of this generation. For some reason, I’ve been seeing fewer movies recently, but I don’t think that I would have wanted to see these ones anyway. I’m thus unable to speak to the details of these narratives, but I’m familiar enough with their structures and the arguments against them.

Essentially, the protagonist is an inexperienced misfit with vast potential who finds himself in competition against professionals of the discipline in which his talents lie. Despite his naivety and lack of training, he’s able to succeed against the professionals through sheer willpower and natural talent. A pessimistic interpretation would take this to signify an endorsement of the impatience and narcissism that supposedly typifies my generation. Incidentally, I happen to think that generational stereotypes are nonsense. I’m obviously not the best person to say this, for I am flagrantly impatient and narcissistic, but those are personal faults that cannot be ascribed to everyone who was born within two decades of me.

Anyway, I’d disagree with that interpretation for two reasons. First, it’s a narrative trope that goes back for millennia. Protagonists are generally supposed to be interesting, and the easiest way to make a protagonist interesting is to make him special in some way. Do you remember King Arthur? Do you remember when he was a scrawny kid with few prospects and fewer muscles who attained kingship by pulling a sword from a stone in which it had stubbornly stayed against the force of dozens of strong men? Do I even need to mention that many of those men were probably knights with years of leadership experience that might have been more practical in the ruling of a kingdom than divine appointment or prestigious lineage? Admittedly, the tutelage of a wizard tends to balance things out, but the point stands.

I’d also like to say that such tales don’t lead people to expect victory without effort. Anyone who carries that expectation will lose it immediately after discovering that it doesn’t hold up in practice. Maybe he’ll realise that he needs to work for what he wants, or perhaps he’ll give up after that first failure. The world has always been filled with people of both types, and it always will be. That’s not the point of the story. The point of the story is an emotional one, and it’s designed to get people to give themselves a chance. After sheer laziness, one of the biggest reasons for which people don’t try things they’d’ otherwise enjoy is intimidation. Any skill that one might try to pick up has already been perfected by multitudes of other people who’ve been practicing it since childhood. Although that’s an understandable reason to avoid something, it’s also a terrible one. I recently discovered that the guitarist for my band, who is a truly glorious musician by all accounts, only started playing in the middle of his adolescence. He knew people who were already proficient in the instrument, but he didn’t let early inferiority stop him, for he was passionate, and he knew that mastery is not always something that’s apparent at the start. It’s an obvious truth, but it’s one of which some people still need to be reminded.That’s why we have stories.

Sometimes those stories just happen to be bad.

Copyright © 2011, Jaymes Buckman and David Aaron Cohen. All rights reserved. In a good way.