By Jacob M. Held author of Roald Dahl and Philosophy
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Whether it is the novel, the 1971 movie adaptation, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder, or the 2005 adaptation starring Johnny Depp, since 1964 this story has been a part of so many children’s lives.
What always struck me about Charlie, was how dark it was, and this might’ve been its allure. Charlie is poor, his family is struggling, truly suffering. I mean the whole beginning of the book does nothing but draw out the suffering of the impoverished Buckets as well as any tale by Dickens could. There is no covering over the nature of reality in Dahl’s stories, life is hard, not all people are good, and it won’t always be okay in the end, or rather in the end you’ll need to figure out how to make it okay. In Dahl’s works we get to see the actual suffering many people go through, poverty, loss of parents, abuse, injury…and we get to see virtuous, decent people respond in praiseworthy ways, modeling for us how to react to an unjust world, with determination and integrity. As an adult and a parent this is why I appreciate Dahl, but for children it’s the story that matters, and Charlie is simple, simply brilliant.
The story offers so much food for thought, the idea of people getting their just deserts, from the gluttonous Gloop being done in by his appetite, to the other children and their vices leading to their sticky ends, to Charlie getting what he deserves, happiness. And it’s nice to hope, even if we know the world isn’t this way; there is no Willy Wonka waiting to insure that the wicked will be punished and the good will be rewarded in the end. (If you want to retort with: “What about God?” just remember that you are the one who just compared the omni-competent creator/ruler of all reality to a mad chocolatier, not me.) And then there is Willy Wonka himself. Perhaps eccentric, but what else would you call the music makers and the dreamers of the dreams. I always liked Willy Wonka. He seemed to be a truly self-possessed person, living by his own standards, and able to do so because his standards were so high, and his accomplishments so great, that who could deny him. As a child I longed to be that good. But alas, I live not in a candy factory with an army of little men to serve my every whim, but in the real world. I suppose I could still wear a top hat. But really, what’s the point without an army of little people doing my bidding.
As a philosopher I could, and have, unpacked all of this to find the deeper meaning in it. But as a parent, and as a reader, it always comes back to the story. Dahl creates good characters, not simply interesting, but decent: role models. As we follow them we follow in the footsteps of good people in bad situations, people we could be, responding to troubles, we could, and probably do, have. When you get to the end you’re satisfied, you see how good people can navigate a chaotic world. As a child you don’t need a philosopher to point out the lesson of the book, you know it, you feel it. If you’ve read Dahl, it’s transformed you. (If it didn’t transform you, you missed something.) As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Charlie, I can only hope we’ll continue to share him with our children. In a world where everything is ironic and too many people are privileged, spoiled, and soft we could use Charlie to teach us about decency, honesty, self-control, and empathy, especially since there are no squirrels (or geese) to make sure the bad nuts (or eggs) get tossed.
Jacob M. Held is associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of Central Arkansas. He is the editor of Dr. Seuss and Philosophy: Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! R&L 2011.
You’ve probably heard this before – Americans are just not into soccer. Except it’s just not true. As the 2014 World Cup gets under way in Brazil, interest in and support for the U.S. men’s national team is at an all-time high. Fans came out in droves to watch the team play matches leading up to the tournament, and cheered wildly for them at a recent rally in New York City’s Times Square. And I am certain that one of the reasons there are more American fans of soccer and the World Cup, is due in part because of a certain footballer from England named David Beckham.
When Beckham arrived in the U.S. in 2007, with much fanfare after a blockbuster deal, the former England captain was already known around the world for his impressive football skills. Fans who followed his career at Manchester United in the English Premier League and with Real Madrid in Spain’s La Liga, were quick to embrace the athlete who joined the side at the Los Angeles Galaxy of the U.S.’s Major League Soccer. Tickets to his first game were sold out months in advance. And during Beckham’s first season, attendance records either spiked or were broken in the majority of the MLS stadiums when the Galaxy played. His talent on the field soon converted even the casual fans. It helped that Beckham also gave American soccer fans something to cheer about by winning trophies, helping the Galaxy capture two MLS championships.
The uptick in fans watching MLS has also resulted in more interest in the international game and the World Cup. Thanks to new TV agreements, U.S. fans can watch regular broadcasts of the top-tier leagues in England and in Europe. That means more eyes on the quick-footed Leo Messi or the talented Cristiano Ronaldo. With more international matches airing in their living rooms and local sports bars, Americans are getting to see the national team players more often as well. Players like Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey are followed all year long playing with their European teams. By the time the World Cup rolls around, the players we once saw only every four years, are now much more easily recognized. And the recognition brings fans closer to the players and the game. According to a survey done by the Sports Business Daily conducted this past April, 61% of the respondents were more interested in the 2014 World Cup than in 2010.
I watched the opening World Cup match from a sports bar in Washington, D.C. and it was standing room only. Sports publication SB Nation reported a whopping 9.5 million viewers tuned in to watch. And it is a safe bet the ratings will be near or greater when the U.S. men’s national team takes the field in Brazil for their opening match on June 16. The chatter that Americans are not world football-loving fans will surely be drowned out by the roar of the fans cheering for the U.S. team at this year’s World Cup. We do have a growing interest in that other football, and I say we have David Beckham to thank for it.
Tracey Savell Reavis is a journalist and sports historian who has worked as a reporter for Sports Illustrated magazine, staff writer for the National Basketball Association, and National Football League writer for CBS Sports. Reavis is a member of the International Society of Olympic Historians. Follow Tracey Reavis on Twitter @tsavellreavis and check out her Facebook page here.
My father and mother suddenly disappeared when I was three. Something about a “tragic car accident” my five year old brother and I were told when we were dropped off like bags of soiled laundry at the orphanage called the Hershey Industrial School. Now called Milton Hershey School, it would be my Alma Mater, my Alma Pater, and my home.
We had lots of housefathers at “The Home” and even called the best ones “Pop”. Some were nurturing and gave me hope but many knew less about childcare than they did about the cows on the dairy farms where we were legally indentured. Believing that the milk I induced was going into Hershey milk chocolate bars made the more than 4,000 milkings bearable.
While some of my “Home Guy” buddies still had a mom, almost all of us were fatherless. That not only made us feel heartachingly alone and unlovable. It also meant that we had to grow up quick and tough in the macho, rough ‘n tumble world of the 50’s where we masked our vulnerability in a James Dean desperado façade. Except for the cow’s teats, the testosterone was thicker than the molasses we fed our Holsteins. At worst, “the Home” resembled “Lord of the Flies” with an institutionalized bully system which literally drove my brother Frankie insane. At best, we were the fiercest band of brothers with a sacred oath of silence toward school authorities and the need to beat the biggest PA high schools in football and wrestling – to prove that, even without a father, we possessed a modicum of worth. Brothers forever.
It was in the spring of my senior year that the big secret (what I called the “Big Lie”) was revealed. Somehow I had miraculously gained admission to Princeton University and was called into the Superintendent’s office for acknowledgement. But it wasn’t about Princeton. And it wasn’t about my brother who was now in a state mental asylum. It was about our father.
The Superintendent, who we rarely saw, said I should sit quietly while he read an important statement without interruption. That and repeated clearings of his voice created a creepy pall in the stiff and formal office. Then he said, in effect: Johnny, your parents did not die in an automobile accident. That was a cover story made up to protect you and Frankie. Your mother was killed in a homicide committed by your father and he is serving a life sentence in prison. He has been attempting to contact you but the school feels it would be detrimental to your health to know your father is alive. We will give you his letters we have been holding after you talk this through with our psychologist. Do you have any questions?
Questions? I have a father? He’s alive and trying to contact me? And he “mur…mur…killed our mother”? He’s been living just two hours away from here all this time? Those are his letters to me sitting there? My mind and heart were twisted in an unfathomable mess. It would take years to process the two minute revelation of the ‘Big Lie’.
In fact, it was late in my Princeton days when my fatherhood epiphany occurred. Drawn to courses on criminology and inmate rehabilitation, it dawned on me that my father might not be guilty…of first degree murder, I mean. We had exchanged some cautiously worded letters while I was in college but my “Dear Bill” was answered with his ”Love, Dad”. Love, Dad….just like that? I had not even met this man as far as I could recall and he had..... How dare he?
That would change quickly as my “Homeguy” buddies insisted that I go see him at the Rockview Penitentiary. I wore my stoical orphan mask all the way to the prison until the Asst. Warden ushered me into a special holding cell where I finally met my father. He had a broad, kind smile, the jutting O’Brien jaw and a sparkle in his blue eyes. I was shocked as we shook hands since I was expecting some kind of monster and he looked just like me.
He had been imprisoned for 27 years before we sprung him in the summer of ’72. It wasn’t difficult to convince the Governor that he should be paroled. Our father had been in an alcoholic haze when he pulled the trigger and immediately called the police and ambulance. There was nothing premeditated about his horrific act. But the Rockview Warden protested saying “he is too institutionally fragile to make it in the outside world”. Really? So the state could cause that condition and then deny a man his freedom because of it? No Way.
I drove William David O’Brien back to Hershey in that same August my first child was born. I had become a father and gotten my own in the space of weeks. Or so I imagined. It turned out that the state was right about that “institutionally fragile” thing. My father’s limited coping skills coupled with his wanderlust (which I wholeheartedly understood) created high maintenance and meant that I was now father to two boys.
Looking back, I thought I had forgiven my father by the act of gaining his freedom. A few frustrating years later, I realized I had to fully articulate my forgiveness in order for our relationship to be complete. But that rhetoric still left me feeling flat and mechanical in our connections which I rationalized as a thirty year gap in his parenting. Then, thankfully, I told him the truth about how much I hated him for killing our mother, for the deep anguish of being abandoned and feeling unlovable, for not being in the bleachers all those years I played my heart out to prove that I was, and especially for not being there to help protect Frankie.
It was emotionally brutal for both of us and we dissolved into sobs and hugs. Our relationship had integrity for the first time and a seed of genuine love emerged from that truth. As I watched my father serenade the curious onlookers in the square across from the Princeton Campus that summer…with his guitar and country twang and in his cowboy boots and hat, shorts and an unbuttoned shirt…. I savored the fact that I do have a Dad. He’s one of a kind and he’s mine.
John A. O’Brien helped lead an alumni revolution to restore the sacred mission of Milton Hershey School in the ‘90s and then was named eighth President of the school to get the job done. His book “Semisweet” chronicling this full circle journey will be published in July 2014 by Rowman and Littlefield.
Read the recent blog post by Stephany Rose the author of Abolishing White Masculinity from Mark Twain to Hiphop, on The Feminist Wire here.
On May 24, Elliott Rodgers, a young man who went on a shooting spree, injuring thirteen and killing seven, including himself, galvanized a variety of social media activism with a youtube.com video he made blaming his homicidal and suicidal actions on a lack of attention from women. Activists who say that Rodgers’ words reflects a dangerous sense of entitlement common among straight men launched campaigns like the twitter tag #YesAllWomen and the tumblr When Women Refuse.
While this activism is well intentioned, focusing on heterosexual manifestations of gender violence erases the reality of many who suffer from it but do not identify as straight or female. The truth is, gender based violence is not exclusively aimed at women, nor is it exclusively perpetuated by men. According to a recent study by the Urban Institute, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) young people are more likely to suffer from dating violence than their heterosexual peers. For example, about 43% of LGBTQ youth and 89% of transgender youth experience physical relationship violence, compared to just 29% of straight youth.
Such figures suggest that lawmakers, educators, and advocates ought to pay special attention to the needs of LGBTQ youth in abusive relationships. However, legal structures and social services remain inadequate and, at times, can actually be obstacles for young people looking to escape unhealthy situations.
For example, the majority of domestic violence shelters are single sex. While this allows cis-gender women (meaning biological females who identify as women) to escape cis-gender male (meaning biological males who identify as men) abusers, it leaves survivors of same- relationship abuse vulnerable to their abusers. Furthermore, shelters are often insensitive to transgender teens, placing them without regard to their gender identity, an experience that can be demeaning, demoralizing, and frightening at an already emotional time.
The same is true of legal avenues. Already, many states do not have mechanisms for filing protection orders against minors, leaving teens that are abused by a partner under the age of eighteen without recourse. For LGBTQ teens, the system is even more challenging: few states recognize queer couples, and Montana, North Carolina, and South Carolina actually prohibit the filing of protection orders against members of the same sex.
LGBTQ teens face personal challenges that are also ignored. Research shows that many teens rely on their families for support in stopping abuse. LGBTQ teens often lack this option because their parents either do not know or accept their sexual orientation. And while many heterosexual teens may have peers that they can turn to who are not personally involved with their partner, LGBTQ teens – and, in particular, teens that live in homophobic communities – may be part of tightly knit groups of friends that have relationships with both the abuser and the survivor. In this scenario, ending a relationship means risking the loss of a vital support system. Consequently, teens may decide to stay in an abusive relationship rather instead of running the risk of sacrificing tenuous lines of support.
Teens that enter into cycles of dating violence during their first relationships are prone to developing negative patterns that can last a lifetime. Early interventions can break these patterns. Increasingly, school districts are adopting programs catered to individuals as young as ten years old. Unfortunately, existing educational materials designed to prevent dating violence explicitly and implicitly leave out LGBTQ youth. For example, the Shifting Boundaries curriculum published by the National Institute of Justice only contains the gender categories “Girl” and “Boy” and contains exercises that are clearly intended for heterosexual couples.
Increasingly, nonprofits are stepping into the void left by the lack of public services for LGBTQ young people. Organizations like Break the Cycle, for example, have developed inclusive and effective curricula that address dating violence issues among same sex, opposite sex, cis-gender, and transgender youth. Groups like the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project and The Network / La Red operate safe homes and provide counseling services to LGBTQ couples and survivors. However, these supports remain few and far between, and are unknown outside of certain communities. Until awareness of both the importance and existence of these programs are integrated into institutions that serve teens – such as schools, courts, and hospitals – LGBTQ young people will remain underserved.
#YesAllWomen has begun a vital conversation about the culture of violence against women. It is time to expand that conversation to individuals whose sexual and gender identities make them vulnerable not only to violence, but also neglect. After all, patriarchy is not just dangerous to women: it is dangerous to us all.
Mathangi Subramanian, EdD, is a writer and educator. She has been a classroom teacher, an assistant vice president at Sesame Workshop, and a senior policy analyst at the New York City Council. Follow Mathangi on Twitter @Mathangisub and for more infomation visit her website http://www.mathangi.co/