There have been two blockbuster movie releases reworking some of my childhood favourites - Paddington 2 and Peter Rabbit. And strikingly they have received a very different welcome.
Peter Rabbit has been greeted by a howl of moral outrage. ‘Advocates’ for (young) allergy sufferers, are incensed that Peter Rabbit and his friends are seen to pelt Mr MacGregor’s nephew with soft fruit despite the latter’s known risk of an allergic reaction and anaphylactic shock. Only his EpiPen saves the poor lad. The mother of one child similarly afflicted questioned in The Guardian how she could possibly take her child to see such a film.
Yet Paddington 2 portrays a stereotypically white, middle aged, privileged and cantankerous judge who abuses the criminal justice system as a means of settling a personal vendetta against the bear. However, ‘advocates’ for the judiciary have not expressed outrage at the slight to their profession. Nor has there has been an uproar about the criminal justice system being portrayed as arbitrary and corrupt. Yet, arguably, encouraging wholesale disrespect for the rule of law amongst our children and youth is potentially far more serious than a fictional allergy sufferer being pelted with allergens.
The difference? Might it be that poorly children make good victims but judges do not? Given that the movies both reflect and mould our culture, it may perhaps expose a worrying aspect of our public morality. For example, if the gravity of wrongdoing is only to be measured by the degree of public sympathy the victims can muster, that would be rather bad news if you were a black person in the USA in the 1950s and 1960s, a Jew in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, or a suffragette in the 1900s. In such a world it is the most vulnerable, the voiceless, the anonymous, who suffer and only the recovery of an objective standard of right and wrong - regardless of ‘victimhood’ - will protect them.
Some might say that the real difference between the rabbit and the judge is that the former is the hero of the narrative and the latter the villain. But that rather misses the point. Surely what we should be seeking to teach our children is that the world is not divided into ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’, but that, as the Bible repeatedly teaches with a long list of examples, the greatest of heroes may have clay feet and that even villains can have redeeming characteristics. Only such a more nuanced and realistic view of humanity will equip them - and us - to deal with the news that secular saints such as aid workers can also be the darkest of sinners. Indeed there is flawed and messed up shadow side to all of us which desperately needs the repair that only Jesus can bring.
with every blessing, Philip de Grey-Water, Vicar
(I am indebted to Dan Leafe for the idea for this letter)