Being a father of two young girls (7 and 3/almost 4), there are many teaching moments in my household. Over the years, some of these lessons have included why we don’t put roast beef in our armpits, not going in the front yard naked, and not putting stamps on the foreheads of newborns. However, there are some things that I have not been prepared for. One of these things is my oldest becoming cognizant of the evil things in the world.
Something that ties in with this idea is a chapter I recently read in a book by Chuck Klosterman, an author you should check out if you like pop culture references, music, and random musings. An example of such a musing is what my friend Ed and I discussed the other day: If the transformation of Hulk Hogan from hero to heel (1980s-late 1990s) would be better compared to the change from the U2 albums The Joshua Tree to Achtung Baby, or The Joshua Tree to Pop. I think Ed wins this one-he suggested Pop, since that is the album that was not well received, and created a backlash against the band, much like Hogan’s metamorphosis to bad guy in WCW (you can read more of Ed’s thoughts at http://edwardcowan.com). I’ve read several of Klosterman’s books, but this particular book was I Wear the Black Hat, and it is all about villains and how they end up in that category, how we keep them there, etc. Towards the end of the book, there is the obligatory chapter about Hitler, but Klosterman is smart enough to acknowledge that it is obligatory, and he references the obvious issues with bringing up Hitler at all in a society quick to jump on people for any ill advised comparisons to him.
It got me thinking: when did I first become aware of Hitler? I can’t remember, but obviously at some point he entered my consciousness, and I realized how he represents pretty much the most evil person imaginable. As Klosterman points out, he is the example of evil that is universally accepted. So some time in my adolescence, I had to learn about the atrocities he committed (although I’m guessing that I didn’t have a great grasp of the weight of it until later, perhaps when I saw Schindler’s List. Then that weight came crashing down on me). It’s odd to me to think of a time in my life when I was not aware of Hitler. It would be interesting if I could go back a la Black Mirror and find the exact moment that I learned of him, even in a very basic and cursory way.
So this ties in with my daughter in this way: sometime in the last two months we had a conversation about someone, and I mentioned the word cancer. My daughter immediately asked “What is cancer?” and I thought to myself, “Wow, this is an interesting/kind of sad moment”. I realized that she was living a life where she did not know what cancer was, where it was not a concern of hers, and she did not know the sadness and grief it has caused many families across the world. I told her what it was in basic terms, but later I ruminated on the fact that it was just one of the many things that she would learn over the course of her formative years, that would slowly increase the load of her burden. It was both enlightening and a little depressing at the same time.
But an awareness of evil or destructive things in life is not something you can unlearn. Once it’s there, it’s there. And I can’t protect my daughters from everything awful for their entire lives. The great news is that while there are plenty of awful things that they will learn as they grow older, there is no shortage of incredible and wonderful discoveries awaiting them. Some they have already realized, like the fact that a song as amazing as “Ma Nah Ma Nah” exists. Or that it’s fun to have impromptu family dance parties in the living room. And that just scratches the surface. My belief is that the good will always outweigh the bad-I don’t subscribe to Dark Helmet’s belief that evil will always triumph, because good is dumb. I will look elsewhere in the classic Best Picture winner* “Spaceballs” for my parenting /life approach (perhaps this: “When will then be now?” “Soon!”).