From Skeletor, Ursula and Gargamel, to Rita Repulsa and Mr Burns, the antagonist characters from my childhood stories were always a bit of a mystery to me. Why did Gargamel hated so much the Smurfs? Why couldn’t Mr. Burns remember Homer? Geez man, you just talked to him a few days ago. You have been to his house, several times, he has been working for you for many years… nada. O-k. And how about Skeletor? Talk about an obsessed guy. These were the “bad guys”, the “villains” of the stories. And the message in the stories suggested that they were intrinsically in the wrong and to consider their point of view would be to become one of them. To defend evil. Even though in most cases, the stories didn’t provide us with enough background information about these characters. I mean, there were never discussions on how to address any of these characters needs or concerns. The stories were very much one dimensional. I guess people thought simple stories were the way to go when dealing with kids. But, how old were we when we were watching these? And, which ones were the stories that caught our attention later in our lives? Did we go from simple bad guy versus good guy stories to teen dramas? How did these TV shows were supposed to impact our generation? Was that even taken into consideration or were we all victims of media ambition? I’m sure there were better shows and stories, but generally speaking, I think most of them were missing something.
I went from watching “The Snorks” and “The Smurfs” to “The Flintstones”, “The Jetsons” (don’t even get me started on these two) and “El Chavo del ocho” (a Mexican television sitcom about an orphan) to “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” and “The Simpsons”, to mention just a few. This, just before going into my “Dawson’s Creek” phase, LOL. Of course, there were always certain “telenovelas” (soap operas) that we watched as a family (Latin families watch these very often) but I will not add these to the discussion at hand. The thing is, it seemed as if the reason behind a choice, whether it was to conquer Castle Grayskull or run after the smurfs every day, was not important.
Luckily things have changed. Since then, I have learned about many kid’s TV shows that seem to emphasize the history behind the “bad” guys. Stories that not only show, but stress, the details behind the underlying decisions that take a character through a certain path. Avatar, the last air bender, is a great example. This story follows the life of an air bender, Aang, who discovers himself to be the avatar and has the mission to end the war and unite all the nations. The villain of this story is Prince Zuko, a prince from the Fire nation and a great fire bender. Throughout the story, the audience gets to see the events in Zuko’s life that bring him to the position of the “villain”. We get to see how in defending his own people he is thrown into a situation too difficult to confront at his short age, and how his relationship with his father and his desire for acceptance takes him to take decisions he later regrets. Not only that, but it shows you another villain, his uncle Iroh, who audiences get to despise because he is Zuko’s companion and supporter through the terrible actions he takes, but then demonstrates how this characters actions were always founded on love for his nephew and his hope to one day see him become a better man.
Naruto is another great story. One that I hope to one day watch again with my son. This is a story of perseverance. And one in which, again, the antagonist characters are described to great extent. Moreover, it also shows the dark past of some of the greatest heroes in the show, like Kakashi Hatake, allowing us to observe the changes the character undergoes. This is the story of a little orphan boy who dreams to become the Hokage (the leader of his village and greatest ninja). As a kid, Naruto is isolated from his community and regarded as a threat and a reminder of a dark past. Unaware of the reason for this treatment, all Naruto wants is to gain the respect and love of his community and thus become the Hokage. He perseveres through many difficult situations. But is the story about the relationship with his adversaries that captivates the dedication, love and enthusiasm of the show’s fans. This show touches into the inner most desires and dreams of every villain, and the events that transpire in their lives to make them this way. Is the story of Sasuke’s relationship with his brother, Tobi’s lost love, Orochimaru’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge, the enormous sacrifice of Itachi, and the great suffering and injustice that Pain gets to witness during his life that makes the biggest impact on the audience. These are the villains, the deviations from the norm, the lost ones. And to appreciate and study the intricacies of these characters is to acquire a greater level of understanding of what the real world is.
This is why I make it a point to show my son these characters, even when he is still very young. To teach him about Vegeta’s dedication to become greater, Darth Vader’s past, Magneto and Mystique’s pain and concerns, and many more. Because we can also learn so much from these characters. My hope is that he grows up to be an open-minded individual who would give a chance to people. Who understands that the world is not black and white and could try to see the good in everyone. Or at least understand the why behind their actions. Because that is, I think, what I felt missing from the stories from my childhood, the why. We, the kids back then, were not expected to analyze things and situations. But, was that assumption correct? Should we not expect our kids to analyze? To ask why. To look at more difficult situations. I mean, we would all encounter difficult situations at some point in our lives. So, why not prepare the next generations to make the analysis. If it is a matter of lack of trust in their abilities to discern, isn’t that our job to teach them? It is my opinion that we must have greater expectations from our kids. They can do and be more, or at least we can’t say for sure they can’t. So lets pave their path to allow them to be more. Just a thought.