I came across something on Mastodon earlier today that reminded me of the French TV series “The Flashing Blade”, a favourite of my early 70s childhood.
The title song was stirring stuff, and though I don’t remember anything about the plotline I do remember being moved by it as a tale of loyalty and courage. Two things strike me. The first is how much European TV, albeit dubbed into English, was on our screens in the 70s. The Aeronauts, The Singing Ringing Tree, White Horses and others were shown over and over again. Second, violence and death were pretty commonplace in children’s tv – the myth of redemptive violence was very deeply embedded. (I remember one episode of Thunderbirds in which Lady Penelope and her butler Parker visited a casino in the south of France, so spent the entire episode smoking, drinking and gambling — and shooting dead the enemies of International Rescue.) No wonder my generation is so convinced that violence is a solution to the world’s problems: it is a message that has been drummed into us over and over again, and it remains a central theme of TV and cinema.
I don’t watch much children’s tv these days, but what I’ve seen suggests that the dominant myth may have changed for one that is even more damaging, which I would summarise as “You can achieve anything if you don’t give up on your dream”. You know how it goes: young girl wants to be a singer/dad squashes her ambition/inspiational teacher gives secret lessons or some such. Final scene is a triumphant concert with dad, who had attended reluctantly, smiling in amazed pride at the back. Something like that.
“Follow your dreams” is an inspirational mainstay, maybe the most commonly expressed inspirational concept ever. It encourages us not to stay content in our safe existence, but to make a leap, to follow the passion that would drive us if we just gave it the chance. The inspirational literature is full of stories of people who left high-paying corporate jobs to teach deep-sea fishing in the Caribbean or to run a bed & breakfast in the Appalachians. These people gave up what, on paper, seemed to be perfect lives to do something that they had never dared think of before, and now are poorer but happier, with dewy skin, shining hair, and a wonderful partner who is a perfect match.
This myth is dangerous because, in the name of empowering the individual it actually undermines them. There is nothing wrong with following one’s dreams, but no matter how committed you might be to that dream there are lots of factors at play that might prevent you achieving it. The world’s playing field is anything but level. To persuade people, especially impressionable children, that all they need is a strong enough dream is disingenuous nonsense.