Last week I saw Paranorman, the new animated film by Laika, the makers of Coraline. The movie was kind of a (now) classic story of a child bullied because he is different, but then his gift ends up redeeming him in the bullies’ eyes. This narrative has become a trope in the past 30 or 40 years, from Carrie, to Revenge of the Nerds. SPOILER ALERT: The twist here was in the denouement, instead of just having the movie end with the rubble of the destroyed town, or the underdog who gets the girl, the movie ended with a lesson about forgiveness. If you destroy your tormentors, you’re no better than them for trying to destroy you; you can’t let your pain turn into a monster and take away the empathy you yourself were denied. As much as I appreciate the idea that everyone has a special gift, and that it’s often the same thing that people make fun of you for; it’s really never that simple. Telling nerds that they’ll become the next Bill Gates and girls that’s they’re just too mature for their peers only serves to isolate them further as the think they’re the smarter than everyone else (and as someone pointed out to me, that’s how we end up with the Columbine shootings). No one has a monopoly over pain, popular girls and bullies can feel bullied and misunderstood too; no one survives adolescence unscathed.
I think the diversity conversation that this country has been having since the 60s needs more of this. One interpretation of Obama’s poor performance at the last debate was that he became placid as a reaction to the angry black man trope. Identity politics can be incredibly useful to create a home and a community for people who feel undermined. But we also have to acknowledge the flawed and frustrating world we live in, we have to accept that sometimes we have to live with our oppressors and find some common ground.
Life is messy, people die before their time, people are mean, people are crazy and relationships end. We can be angry and upset, and we have a right to be, but we also have to move on because we’re only as strong as the things that pull us down.
Longtime readers might notice that I’ve written about this before. Also, how come no one ever clicks on the links in my blogposts?