Do children need fantasy, but not reality?


Nick Harville Librairies, Book Seller

I suppose from the sheer quantity and pervasive influence of fantasy generated by American culture, which at this point is corporate-manufactured, one would have to conclude that children want all the pink and purple animated people they can get. Back in Walt’s day, Disney Productions was a strange and even sinister creation of one man, whose creativity was a expressed as truly intriguing manifestations of dark nursery tales and funny parodies of the adult world. Today the Disney universe has become the generator of lightweight PC social propaganda, delivered by blobby, big-eyed and infantile talking “animals” found nowhere else in the universe.

The movie, The Wizard of Oz, was released in 1939. It was fantasy that delivered a strong punch – the possibility that evil does exist and that children ought to stay close to home; that home and safety are not to be rejected. That adults are guides and protectors, but also potentially abusers, who come in different shapes sizes, not only physically, but in their intent toward children. The flying monkeys scared the beejezus out of me. Their spidery appearance and “swarm” behavior must have pried loose an ancient instinctive fear, as snakes.

The characters I liked were the “three wise men with faults” – the Cowardly Lion, heartless Tin Man and unstable Scare Crow, perhaps because as an anxiety-ridden child the message of overcoming deficits had real appeal and value.

My brother and I watched the Wizard of Oz on a black and white TV, and  like other kids, we were excited when color TV became available. To finally see the Emerald City in living color was a big deal. It’s never that simple: my image of the Emerald City was destroyed by the color film. Later, as an adult who worked in graphic design and advertising, I understood that making films in color required new skills and visual thinking. No one had experience at that time with how materials and colors and textures would translate to color film, and let’s face it, being the first group of artisans, the temptation to go “over the top” would ignite costumers and set designers in Hollywood to a frenzy of expression.

The jumble of colors and textures was disturbing: so many green materials clashed: yellow-green felt and blue-green satin; transparent plastic and heavy paint. The Munchkins were horrifying. Did the casting director put out a call for “Little people to be dressed in delightful costumes,” costumes that were terrifyingly ugly?  Clowns are simply taboo; the film was overflowing with miniature green clowns the size of children, who lived among equally “unnatural” foliage and houses. It was  too bizarre to understand.

These were the reactions of an Asperger child, but how many children, when first shoved onto Santa’s lap at the mall, scream or run away at the sudden reality of a mythic being who belongs in a book? My reactions were almost entirely visual-aesthetic, and the fantasy world of the Wizard of Oz, which had been toned down when shown in black and white, had become disturbing.

The fantasies that appealed to me weren’t fantasies at all but historical accounts of exceptional feats of survival. For a female child living in the United States, in the 1950-60s, these exploits were so outside of my experience, that my reaction was shock: if human beings can survive incredible circumstances by means of wit and courage and inventive application of skill, what else is possible? How to survive was first on my Asperger mind, not aspirations to live happily ever after with a prince in Disneyland.

It is believed that Asperger children read “too much” as an escape from social interaction, a refusal to participate in normal social reality, which is considered to be the only reality, but this is a prejudiced view on the part of parents, teachers and doctors. Reading expands reality.

1. Children go to school to learn to read and write, because these are necessary skills. Children ought to read a lot.

2. Some children are “good students” who learn these skills faster and read more than other children. This is good because they get good grades in reading and writing. These children are usually girls. (So it is said.)

3. Some children are average to poor readers, usually boys, and well, what are you going to do? Give them sports biographies to read and hope that they have some other talent. Boys who read too much are suspect: are they really truly male?

That was the thrilling world of pedagogy when I was a kid. My mother would tell other women that all she had to do was hand me a book and I would disappear for hours. It was true. And I did read to escape, but that was due to boredom. Much more significant was that I read in order to learn about the way certain people lived, regardless of being male or female. Adventurers, explorers, ground breakers: one of my favorites was the the Bounty Trilogy.

The “hated” Captain Bligh may seem an unlikely hero for a young girl, but his incredible exploits were genuine history. He wasn’t an artificially devised human, but by a true complex character. His achievements at sea were as spectacular in his time as any of NASA’s trips to the moon. In other words, as a frightened and trouble child, my instincts rejected fantasy and searched for answers in real people, and I learned that survival meant seizing opportunity, managing pain, and embracing what is real. It never occurred to me that talent, intellect, perseverance, and other tools of the human mind and spirit had been divided up and partitioned off so that men had cornered the most effective tools and women had to make due with kitchen appliances.

Women need cognitive freedom and the tools it releases, not animations of goopy pink and purple “princesses” that through the magic of fairy tales marry the prince. They need to learn that there are men who want to be kind and loving, but it’s difficult for young boys who get little support or instruction on how to be fully male. Steroid induced rage is pushed as “manly.” Tools of human thought and behavior belong to all of us. It is no more fair to shut boys out of being nurturers than to shut girls out of being adventurers.


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