Thursday, November 11, 2010

Won't misery make angels?

The horror movie retells the story of sin, penance and redemption. The moral is always that conventional lives are safe lives, and those who stray will be tortured until they find a way to redeem their sins.

The plot of the modern fairy tale - and specifically the Disney film The Princess and the Frog - is almost identical to that of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wrong Turn, Hostel, and the Friday the 13th sequels. Tiana is a moral girl, working two jobs and saving her pennies so that one day she can open her own restaurant. One night, she's offered a shortcut. A frog promises her riches in exchange for a kiss. (Oh those talking frogs!) Tiana sells her virtue and is instantly given, not money, but the body of a frog. The two frogs are chased into the swamp, where they are hunted by alligators and tormented by voodoo spirits. Eventually the frogs fall for each other and discover long-term love is more important than worldly temptations. Their marriage washes away their sin. And their first kiss as man and wife is rewarded by a return to human form and the good graces of their parents and community.

Compare that to any of the movies I mentioned earlier, in which good kids' sexual desires lead them off the beaten path, where they are tormented by inbreds and slashers and must suffer until they find their way back to civilization.

These days, children gain knowledge of sex and violence before they're even out of diapers. Sin assaults them from every commercial and magazine cover. It's easy to say that is causing the redemption story to creep into tales meant for younger children.

But it's not true.

It's more accurate to say that the cycle of sin, penance and redemption is part of the human experience. It is something we live with at every age and in every circumstance. It is something we experience not just as horny teenagers but as four-year-olds pouting in timeout for eating too much candy, as celebrities making tabloid headlines for VIP room dalliances, as quarterbacks stepping onto the field after short stints in the slammer, and as middle managers working the weekend to make up for a Thursday afternoon on the golf course.

Our culture believes that suffering cleanses. Isn't that the lesson that our fictions have ground into us since birth? Is it any surprise that we blithely watch as mankind burns? That we do nothing upon hearing of starvation and genocide? That we accept poverty and war? That we brush off the serial killers and head for the sports scores? We shrug it all away. And no wonder. We've been taught that misery makes angels.

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