Saturday, January 03, 2009

What Did you Really Mean by That?

By Keith Fisher

Okay, drum roll please. Imagine, if you will, an old man in tattered white robes, carrying a large hourglass in one hand and a scythe in the other. It rests on his shoulder, with the blade pointing down. The man has a long gray, beard and hair past his shoulders. His legs wobble from old age as he walks across your screen. He meets a little baby who wears a diaper and sash that gathers on his right hip. There is writing on the sash that says happy 2009.

The tired old man picks up the baby, kisses him, and puts him down. Then, he lays down his hourglass and scythe at the feet of the baby. He lets out a long breath, sighs, and shakes his head. With a good luck wave, he turns his back on the baby and shuffles off in the direction he came from.

This is a tired cliché used for many years to illustrate the year changing. But what if I added details about the old man’s wallet being tattered? Or, what if I pinned a campaign button on his robe? Something like McCain 08? How would you feel if the baby wore a logo T-shirt that said Save the Ozone or something like that?

These would be political statements and every one makes them. But then, so is the tattered condition of the old man’s robe. So is the unblemished condition of the baby.

Recently, I listened to the conversation at work. I know—it’s always a mistake, but I heard a man talking about an animated movie he wasn’t fond of. Because I have argued with him before, I was interested in his opinion. I asked what he thought of WALL-E. His answer surprised me.

He complained about political innuendo. Now, while I might be considered ravenous when it comes to political content. I don’t appreciate being indoctrinated by an animated family movie, but WALL-E? Yes, Happy Feet crossed the line, but WALL-E?

Okay, the whole story takes place in one of the many possible futures of the world. My friend talked about a specific chain of superstores and the similarities. I understand that people might be offended by the image of mankind in that possible reality. But can’t you just enjoy the story?

When I saw the movie, I noticed none of the things my friend mentioned. I came away cheered by the wonderful story. WALL-E finds true love and he overcomes all obstacles to fight for the future of mankind. It’s a great piece of writing.

During the course of our discussion, I realized, because writers have opinions and bias, it’s impossible to write anything that doesn’t have some semblance of the writer’s opinion. I guess the secret of being a popular author is to agree with the majority. Either that, or disagree entirely so that the writer becomes a bastion of radical thought.

When I think of my stories, I see places where bits and pieces of my own ideas come through. I know I must keep politics out, but I wonder why readers and viewers can’t look past the political, and enjoy the story.

I guess I’m getting old or something but I’m still confused. What was Wrong with WALL-E?

I’m reminded of the story of Puff the Magic Dragon. It’s a song by Peter Paul and Mary. The lyrics were a 1959 poem, written by a college student. Critics asked whether it was about smoking marijuana. Peter Yarrow, the man who wrote the music, said the song is about a boy and a dragon. In reality it’s the writers feelings about having to put away the trappings of his childhood and grow up.

As you might have guessed I loved WALL-E You see, Sometimes a movie is just a movie.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week


Cindy Beck said...

It's so true that the writer's opinions always end up on the page. But, on the other hand, sometimes a good story (or movie) is just that ... good. And so we ignore the opinions and enjoy the book (or movie anyway)!

I haven't seen Wall-E, but it sounds cute.

Nichole Giles said...

Sorry, Keith, but my entire family hated Wall-E. However, it had little to do with political content and more to do with the lack of dialogue. For the first 3/4 of the movie, not a single word was spoken.

It was really boring, even to my eight-year-old.

But you're right about it just being a movie. Right after we saw it, someone tried to start a political discussion about it and I wanted to run away screaming, "Oh please!"

Either you like it or you don't, but it doesn't have to be anything more than a story, right?

LexiconLuvr said...


I agree with you whole heartedly about just loving the story. Our family loved Wall-e and the lack of dialogue actually suited us. My husband smiled with every "beep" and "whir" and my children adored the silly things Wall-e did.

I can admit that the first time I saw it, I didn't like it. I saw the propaganda and not the story. (Of course, I didn't see much of the movie either because I was so busy getting treats and stuff too!) But my husband convinced me to go on a date and see it again. And that time, I saw all the wonderful, endearing things that make me love the movie now.

When it comes to writing/reading a story, I hate being inundated by politics but I try my best to ignore the political theme and pay more attention to character development. I find I'm happier, more content, and have a better time during the ride.

Love your posts. Keep it up!

L.T. Elliot

Anne Bradshaw. said...

Funny to see differing views. I haven't seen it, but will have to now, to make up my own mind :-)

Btw, just letting you know I have another book contest on my blog today if you're interested. It's a good one :-)

Tristi Pinkston said...

I think some people just like to look for agendas so they have something to squawk about. If you look hard enough, you can find an agenda in everything.

As far as writer's opinions go, that's part of our stories. If we didn't have opinions, we wouldn't have stories.

That said, everyone will take from it what they will. I haven't seen the film yet, but it's in my Netflix queue, and I'll be able to weigh in better after that. But enjoyment is in the eyeballs of the beholder, and some will like it while others may not.

G. Parker said...

We love Wall-E, but I have to agree with your friend, it was a total political statement. The whole shot of the windmills standing in fields of garbage, how there was no effort to stop building garbage but just shift out to space...sigh. I was finally able to stop looking at that aspect and enjoy the story. I do love the story line...Good blog!