Tonight we saw the newest of Disney Pixar’s heros, or bad guy depending on how you see it, and I’ve got to say he won me over. A short while ago there was a lot of media about the Ted talk in which Colin Stokes talked about male and female role models. He hoped that his little boys would grow up to want to be on teams with amazing women, that they would know how to respect women, but part of me felt that wasn’t enough of a role model for our growing male population. There is more to being a man than having respect for women, and I feel that’s the problem for a lot of male ego in our western culture: their identity is based around women (you’re a “real man” based on how many women you get into bed, whether you treat them well or not, married or not, etc, etc).
That was a rather tangent start, I know, but the reason I bring this up is because I feel like Wreck-It Ralph probably does have a number of relatable characteristics for young boys AND young girls, without simply being about respecting women. So here I will list a few items that I feel are important for us all, but also how they might affect young boys growing up.
1. Clumsiness, tempers and the idea that you just always mess it up.
I’ve been around so many little boys and little girls who just don’t seem to get each other. I don’t mean to generalise but I have noticed that often girls have a set plan or way to play, it’s why barbies, ponies, playhouses and tea parties are popular – girls tend to like to plan fun cute times. Boys, more often than not, don’t want to plan, they tend to go with their spontaneous creative imaginations which often mean making things messy. Of course in their minds there is complete order and if you mess something up in their story you’ll hear about it, but in general I’ve seen more (awesome) mess in boys than girls. I personally was a tomboy and adored mess, which is why I had far more male friends than girls around me.
But sometimes this messiness, bumpiness and “disorder” can be seen as “bad” behaviour and can really harm a boys self-esteem. Especially if it comes from a group of girls who are all pristine and clean and cute, it can suck to feel like you are literally Stig of the Dump (if you haven’t read it, you need to!). This can often lead to a temper or mean behaviour and I think this is where some of the boy/girl divide, particularly in the younger years comes from. One doesn’t get the other, and from there boys/girls are “icky”.
We see Wreck-It Ralph doing the things that technically he is meant to do, and he is good at, but because it’s messy it doesn’t fit with the game goodies plan. Everything needs to be fixed up and that’s totally against Ralph whether he likes it or not. I think when it comes to girls and boys we need to start treating both kinds of play as OK. Children often don’t mean to hurt or harm each other, they just want to play. When it is explained that they can play together, they just need to try to compromise on both sides, things might smooth down. That’s what the result of this film is: both sides realise the positives in each other, work together and life gets better,
2. Respect but ultimately care for women and all others when it really counts (and when to say you were wrong).
So of course Ralph ends up respecting and caring for Vanelope (the Glitch in Sugar Rush), but he also really dislikes her at first. I think this is OK. To suggest that men should be doormats to everything a woman might do just turns the oppressed into the oppressor. The difference comes when he sees why she might have been annoying in the first place, how difficult her own life is, and how much they have in common. He protects her, and she in turn protects him when the time comes. Feminism does not mean men have to change and women can be as sexist as ever, it means we work together and realise and enjoy our similarities whilst celebrating our differences.
Ultimately, this will include making hard decisions, and taking the consequences for them. There is this amazing touching moment when Ralph (he’s unknowingly tricked) does something awful honestly to protect Vanelope. She can’t believe his actions and it might to her feel like oppression and disrespect, hate even, betrayal, but it wasn’t ever meant to be. It was self-sacrifice in a way, he almost lost her from his life and he felt terrible.
Of course when we make mistakes (as, being tricked, he obviously has) we must admit them whether male or female. Good intentions are great but they are not enough of an excuse to stop the pain of something that hurt someone. A good ol’ fashion apology is important to move forward. We are all human and make mistakes. Sorry should be a common (but important) word.
3. Self-victimisation not becoming your identity/breaking your programming.
Another common trait I’ve seen in A LOT of people, male and female, is self-victimisation. The idea that “I am xyz, that is bad, and that is who I am”. It drags people down, becomes a motto, an excuse, and a reason for acting up, and it does no good for anyone at all. Just because bad things have happened to you does not mean your life is bad, or you are bad, or even things can only be bad for you. There are enough obstacles in life without letting the past drag you down. If you don’t like your life, change it. Don’t give me a ton of excuses about money and time and responsibility, because all those things ultimately don’t matter. Even if your responsibility is your family, not one of them will use happiness against you if they love you because happiness and goodness spreads.
Misery is not your identity. Sometimes you need to break your programming, step outside the comfort zone, simply try something new. Just because someone said you are what you are, doesn’t mean they know who you really are. Don’t use life as an excuse, life is the reason to change.
Vanelope is a “glitch” in the program which automatically implies she’s no good, a criminal, something dangerous, alone, isolated and unwanted. Except she finds out how to realise her potential, realises what others call a glitch she can use to make her life awesome. If there’s one thing I have learnt it’s that sometimes life’s crappy points force you to change, and sometimes that change is AMAZING.
I was talking to someone about this the other day. Most parents will already know this. Teachers definitely do. Sometimes being liked isn’t the best thing, sometimes if someone dislikes you they might need to go through that, they might need someone to blame, or they might just not like you for something you were doing for their own good.
This can feel like the worst thing in the world, but I have been in the place where I’ve needed to dislike/near-hate someone, and I didn’t *really* hate them, but it was part of my healing process, it was part of me moving on, making sense of things. I have seen it in a number of others who freak out at someone completely illogically and I’ve had to advise and console a friend of their’s that they might just have to be the target of this temper for a while. Eventually they might come round, but they might not.
With Ralph he had a job to do, and that meant being the bad guy sometimes, but that didn’t mean he was a “bad guy”. It was just what he needed to do. (In a more theological sense I think it also relates a little to questions about Judas.. was Judas meant to betray Jesus? And if so, can we be mad at him for it? Was he a bad guy but not a bad guy?)
5. Knowing and loving yourself.
“There’s no-one else I’d rather be, than me.”
How often have you been able to say that about yourself? I understand that’s hard, but the Bad Anon’s motto, and eventually something Ralph accepts, is something very important. There are certain things only you can do, only you can create, and only you can be. You are special in yourself. Imagine if you didn’t exist, the friends you may have helped, the children you may have produced, the work, the efforts, the votes, the effect on the world. Good or bad, you have made an important droplet in the pool, because the world seriously would not be the same without you.
This point is possibly the most important role model I think I could give any child: love yourself. What you will do in the world matters, and the best I can ask them for is their very best to do good in the world. That may mean being the “bad guy”, sacrificing yourself for the good of others, respecting, caring and protecting humanity, men and women alike, compromising and sharing yourself with others, and breaking the programming of those around you. Spread the joy. Love your neighbour as you love yourself and the world will be a beautiful place.
Wreck-It Ralph is a great film and it grew on me. It is cleverly thought up and plays right into the vintage IT geekery that people love right now, but it also teaches some important lessons. As a beautiful added extra the short at the beginning called Paper Man made me cry like a newborn baby!