On a cold, rainy Binghamton night two weeks ago, I went to the movies to see “The Lion King” in 3D. The movie is the same as the original, just reformatted in a way so the zebras and giraffes seem closer to the viewer.
With the illusion of depth, I was disappointed time and time again when I reached out to stroke wise Rafiki’s beard and came away grabbing at nothing but the frigid theater air.
In case you didn’t have a childhood — spoiler ahead — Simba must reclaim the kingdom from his evil uncle Scar, who murdered Simba’s father Mufasa. We all know the story. But the re-release forced me to reconsider some things. I think it’s important that we think critically about the influence of the media. How does popular culture affect us as young adults and what messages does it direct at children?
Consider what values make up pop culture and the media our generation consumes. I think taking a look at the most viewed television shows, most successful movies and most sold albums is a safe barometer for assessing the currents in contemporary culture. Certain tides sweep through all these media, dominating our society and taking control of our consciences.
What does popular media promote? I think it’s fair to say that the celebrities we worship and the movies we pay to see are not exemplars in evincing values of generosity, discipline, kindness or growth. Rather, turn on the TV and you’ll easily find gratuitous violence, sex, materialism and greed. Are these our championing values?
At this point, whether or not you accept it, certain figures are shaping our society. Do we really want to emulate Snooki and the rest of the meatheads from “Jersey Shore?” Should Lady Gaga dictate our morals and ethical system for everyday living? At times, in its worst extremes, I would say that such entertainment is not just devoid of value — it is actually corrupting. Must 9-year-olds be exposed to rampant promiscuity and aggression?
And then we wonder in astonishment why our divorce and murder rates exceed that of any other civilized nation. This is the greatness of America.
So where do we turn? Entertainment need not make us worse people. Rather, I think if we ditch the Jersey baboons, we’ll be able to find salvation in the wisdom of a different type of baboon.
As a society, we should emulate figures like the sagacious Rafiki, a monkey who always urged Simba to look deeper inside himself. It was Rafiki who exhorts Simba, “The most important question is, who are you?” Such are the values we should aspire to see in our culture: introspection, contemplation, drive, growth.
It’s ironic that animated movies, presumably aimed at children, often have the deepest messages and most meaning. I walked out of “Up” with a newfound appreciation and longing for the simplicities of youth — the days when a balloon could hold my fascination for hours. “Toy Story 3″ made me consider my relationship with the “things” in my life: Do I reduce them in a utilitarian way, viewing them as a means to an end, or do I recognize their inherent value?
After seeing “The Lion King” in 3D I called my father just to tell him how much I love him and did not take him for granted. We should strive to expose ourselves to, and create, media with values and message which facilitate growth. The media is a great power, and like Uncle Ben shares in “Spider-Man,” with great power comes great responsibility. We should be conscious of utilizing media responsibly.
Only then will we see the current of pop culture reverse to waves of positivism beneficial for our growth as individuals and as a society.