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Opinion & Essays - Mar, 2001 Issue #79 

Media – A Messenger of Hope??

By Loi Eberle, M.A., 
Educational Consultant/Editor, 
Woodbury Reports, Inc.

Often my first encounter with a family is when their child’s behavior has reached crisis proportions. Many of these parents have only recently learned about the existence of special programs as a result of talking to friends of friends or through referrals to www.strugglingteens.com. A common theme that appears on our website’s discussion board, and one that is frequently expressed to me is, “why haven’t I ever heard about these programs? I wish I could have known and used them before things got so destructive, ” and, “how can we possibly afford them??” I constantly wrestle with these issues myself. Oddly enough, I happened on to a glimmer of hope, and perhaps even a partial solution, when I agreed to take my 13-year old daughter to the movies the other night. 

We had seen some humorous previews of Disney’s “The Emperor’s New Groove” and decided it might be fun to watch, especially given my daughter’s interest in computer graphics. I hadn’t expected more than a frivolous cartoon, but as I watched the story unfold, it began to dawn on me that this movie was offering more than entertainment. The story described many of the experiences and stages of growth that students encounter in therapeutic emotional growth and wilderness programs! 

The movie, which began as a humorous example of a very entitled and self-centered 18 year “emperor,” began to take on a new quality when he started experiencing the consequences of his behavior. The emperor had been turned into a llama (the animal) by his elder advisor in retaliation after the emperor had abruptly relieved her of her duties. I was pleasantly surprised later in the movie, when the “llama” departed from his recitation of his tale of woe and suddenly questioned his victim-oriented self-talk. The cartoon character of the “llama” reacted to the “emperor’s” voice-over description of himself as an unfortunate victim by saying, “yeah, yeah, you were there, you SAW what [actually] happened.”

I began to realize that this movie, in a format that a child could understand, was describing a quest of self-learning and transformation. It was another version of the theme of the “search for the holy grail” that is used in various emotional growth programs. In this story, the emperor developed insight into his past behavior, truthfulness, trust, self-sacrifice, cooperation and compassion, similar to what students are guided to learn in therapeutic emotional growth programs. As the emperor went through some harrowing experiences (that certainly met the criteria of “perceived risk”), he began to learn how to open to the help of another. In this case, a “peasant” from whom the emperor was attempting to usurp his family home, had decided to offer the emperor kindness, in response to the emperor’s predicament as a llama. The peasant made a bow drill fire and offered his blanket to help warm the “llama.” Though at first touched by the peasant’s kindness, the llama continued to deceive the peasant in order to rescue himself. Eventually, after realizing the only way out of their predicament was to help each other, the llama began to learn the truth about who his real friends were. In the end, the llama returned to his village, made amends for his previous behavior, and was transformed (as a result of teamwork) into a just and compassionate emperor. 

I was delighted that these ideas were being taught in cartoon form to children. What a refreshing contrast to the gratuitous violence that is usually the case. There is no question that the media is a powerful teacher. Years ago in my graduate studies in communications, I learned that youngsters who watched videotaped events one time, could replicate the behavior six months later. What other teaching tool is that powerful?? 

Another movie, “Cast Away,” also gave me cause for encouragement. I decided to see it after hearing it was based on the film writer’s survival experience. I was excited by the ability of the film medium to convey the intensity and frustration that occurs when thrown upon one’s resourcefulness for survival. The ending did not conform to the usual Hollywood Fairy-tale, but carried, instead I felt, a message of hope. It conveyed the message that when you draw upon all your mental and physical abilities and don’t give up, you will find a way to benefit from the opportunities that are presented with each new day. Even though the dawning of the day might not meet your fantasies, by not giving up, you will find a new tool and a new way. 

What really struck me was how the media could use all its powerfully persuasive technology to become a positive influence on youth. It reminded me of the many ways that drama, creative conflict, and special effects can be used to tell an exciting story that also can provide insight. Media techniques can indeed be used in a way that can reach and expose youth to the ideas and content of emotional growth programs that might otherwise be unavailable to them. Media can be a tool for positive transformation! 

Interestingly, the other night my daughter asked if the emperor in the Disney movie was the kind of a kid who I’d send to a program. I responded to this tough question by saying, “I think most kids, and most adults, for that matter, would benefit from the ideas that are taught in an emotional growth curriculum.” The problem seems to be in the delivery system. 

Right now only a small percentage of our youth are exposed to these ideas by means of special programs. How can a “critical mass” be reached by these ideas in order to play a role in counteracting the harmful impact of negative peer groups? How do we encourage people to consider these values as a way to put the brakes on the downward spiral of our youth’s behavior? When I look at the impact that media has had on our society, as is even recognized by the judicial system, it occurs to me that the solution lies within the problem. 

This article copyright © 1999-2001, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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