Thursday, April 2, 2009

I sense fear in this one

In Slate, Emily Bazelon puzzles over the love her young sons have for Star Wars. It is an odd article. It appears her six year old, nursing a broken leg, somehow got to watch Star Wars (the original move) and his three year old brother obsessed over it.
He talked about the movie to any relative, friend, or baby sitter who would listen and plenty of shopkeepers who wouldn't. He relived the trash-compactor scene. He worried over Obi-Wan Kenobi's Jedi sternness and Darth Vader's glittering malevolence. He sniffed out plot twists in the rest of the endless six-movie saga (who knows how) and tried desperately to work out why Darth Vader could be Anakin Skywalker and Luke's father—and could also cut off Luke's hand. Here's a little girl sweetly summarizing the Star Wars plot. Simon wasn't sweet. He was feverish. He was short-circuiting. Thanks to our two hours of stupid indulgence, Paul and I concluded, his neurons were melting.
In reaction to this, they regarded themselves as failed parents! They banished Star Wars for three years before letting them watch again. In the meantime their enthusiasm had not diminished. If you read the article you will see how engaged those children were. They puzzled over the plot to understand its nuances. They desperately wanted to understand why Obi-Wan let Darth Vader kill him.

If this had been their reaction to a book, their parents would have been extolling the virtues of reading and appreciation of literature and how advanced their kids were. But since it was Star Wars, apparently, those very same skills were some sort of parenting failure. She ends with doubt about letting her kids watch The Empire Strikes Back.

Suffice it to say, their reaction is nothing short of ridiculous. I try to say this with the utmost respect because Bazelon inspires many a blog post here with interesting questions. However, puzzling over Star Wars in this way is not one of them.

When children (and I say children and not just boys) adore Star Wars is an interesting question. Even in our family where we as parents also adored the movie, we were surprised that our children's reaction was and to this day remains as powerful as our own when we were their age. They continue to debate the plot and play out the roles. It is not some aspect of violence destroying them emotionally. It is a broad appeal to thinking about good versus evil among many other things. And for us it provides a useful frame of reference.

Kids get obsessed about things. Denying it seems like exactly the wrong reaction. How great is it when a three year old becomes interested in a world beyond disputes about property rights? It doesn't matter if it is Star Wars or something else. Many obsessions are just worth nurturing.