The other night, I read Lil’ H a title we picked up from the library this past weekend: Dora Saves Mermaid Kingdom.
***Warning: Spoilers Ahead!***
Well, as much as there can be surprises and spoilers in a Dora book… :-D
In this particular work, our intrepid bilingual heroine assists mermaids whose kingdom is imperiled by a mean octopus who dumps trash in the ocean. The mermaid princess tries to get a magic wishing crown to set things to right but is captured by the mean octopus. Dora finds the crown, transforms into a mermaid, and uses the magic wish power in an attempt to clean up the kingdom. The wish is not entirely successful, so she gathers her mermaid friends to clean things up. She then saves the mermaid princess and the octopus is left covered in his own filth.
There were two things here I liked:
- The environment was an issue to be placed before children, and
- wishing alone doesn’t solve the problem; it takes collective and personal action to clean things up.
Overall, however, the book left me a bit annoyed… The offense? green-washing. The perpetrators? The entertainment industry with the collusion of the latte liberal set.
The take-away message for little children is not a bad one: trash doesn’t belong in our oceans; we need to clean up trash when we see it even if we didn’t put it there.
The take-away for parents and anyone old enough to see through the paper-thin allegory is what bothers me: we are righteous when we raise children’s consciousness about environmental issues; we are righteous in our disdain for greedy corporate interests (obviously played in this case by the trash-dumping octopus).
This message and this way of framing the debate and the moral meaning is a common one from the left-leaning entertainment industry. The theme of righteous good guy taking on illegal and unprincipled corporate trash dumpers is a staple of both action films (I’m thinking, for example, of an unfortunate Steven Segal movie here among others) and children’s material (I believe this was the central conflict in the cute penguin movie “Happy Feet” from a few years back). It’s one favored by latte liberals, but I find it fundamentally flawed. Yes, our kids need to hear environmental messages but this one misses a much more important and much deeper issue.
In a lull in the conversation about Lil’ G’s school day last night at dinner, I brought up the book. We talked for a little bit about two simple questions:
- Where did the mean octopus get his nasty trash from?
- After Dora and her mermaid friends cleaned up–where did they put the trash that they collected?
An obvious answer here is: the same place.
Who’s the real villain in this story? Is it the octopus (yes, certainly), or is it also the people who consume “disposable” items that are in turn thrown away for the octopus and his ilk to dump willy-nilly?
Latte liberals and the entertainment industry like the idea that trash shouldn’t be dumped in the environment. Not in the oceans, not in our forests–not even in our landfills. And there’s much to commend this. But they pass in silence over the deeper and more fundamental issue: We are the ones who generate the trash that gets dumped. The key isn’t bashing an easy and obvious target–those greedy corporate interests (thankfully the lattes were paid for by bartering hand-woven organically-grown hemp items; God forbid our latte-sippin’ superiors actually work for corporate employers…)–rather the key is raising awareness about what we do and how our unthinking acts of consumption and disposal cause the problem in the first place.
So I asked Lil’ G what Dora and her friends could do to reduce their trash. She told me (quite earnestly) that they need to do more recycling and composting. M then explained that this why we pack her lunch in her lunch box in washable containers rather than “disposable” bags and juice-boxes. (Yes, I’m indulging in some smug self-righteousness here…) That’s the message that I’d like to see the entertainment industry take up–but, hey, they too are an industry that depends on consumption and disposable content for their survival.
One of our new family rituals here is morning composting time. Before G gets on the bus for kindergarten, we take take our accumulated food scraps out to the compost pile, bury them, water the pile if needed, and check in on our small contingent of herbs. (I’ve got bugs in my basil and yellowing on my lavender; too, our compost pile has acquired a small swarm of fruit-flies—something’s not right in our method….)
So, last night for bedtime after reading about Princess Jasmine we read a nice children’s book (with great watercolors) on composting, Compost! Growing Gardens from your Garbage by Linda Glaser. My favorite part was the way Lil’ H kept interrupting me as I read: “Hey! I do dat! I compost!”