Massacres of Narnia

Perhaps reading A Problem from Hell: American in the Age of Genocide has biased me toward the new Narnia film. The Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Harvard professor Samantha Power, Obama's foreign policy advisor, has me thinking that we should add Narnia to the list of 20th century genocides. After all, even the main characters have several references to "extermination."

It is curious to find those references in a film designed to appeal to children.

Of course, I was reading Holocaust literature in sixth grade, drawn to book after book of historical detail. Perhaps it was the exposure from Hebrew school combined with the knowledge of family history. Perhaps it was also early exposure to anti-Semitism in my neighborhood and later, junior high school. But that was self-education through reading, and not going for a little light children's entertainment and being pounded with image after image of gruesome, violent deaths and rampant human pillage and destruction.

Need I say more - it is very obvious how I feel about this flimsy excuse for a blockbuster. There is very little magic in the movie, at least the part I sat through, except perhaps for a moment when the youngest character - I cannot even recollect their names -- strokes the wise muzzle of a large lion, who is some kind of semi-mythical deity, I gather, who controls things behind the scenes and reigns in evil when things get really difficult.

Maybe there is even a bit of theology -- it is not the lion who must prove he exists to us, but we who must prove ourselves to him.

It's all a bit campy; the only realism is the sword continually being drawn out of this one's scabbard and plunged into someone else's heart, throat, gut, name your body part. It makes me wonder whether ratings should go by body count. If so, the high body count of Narnia makes it inappropriate for children.

Let us not pretend that these images and media do not engender a more violent society. I believe the research is there.

A wise song asks: 'where is the Love?'

Certainly not when Prince Caspian flirts with a girl who must be 15 years his junior and possibly under-age.

I hope I will forget the image of crossbow shot to a bear's heart. The bear deserved it, though, I gather, in the rough logic of the movie, because he couldn't speak, and because he was attacking someone, and that, because he was hungry. Darwinian justice.

I never really found out why the Narnians were slated for 'extermination,' except for the mere fact that they were Narnians. This is, in fact, the theme of American in the Age of Genocide. Professor Power takes great pains to discuss the history of genocide as a linguistic contribution to the legal lexicon--for the first time, criminal behavior could be prosecuted even if committed domestically by a sovereign. That made the conduct morally proscribed as well as legally criminal in the eyes of the world community. And genocide was officially defined as, well, killing Narnians simply because they were Narnians. Of course, the Chronicles of Narnia doesn't get into this sophisticated adult analysis, but surely even a child's mind would wonder why all this murder and mayhem is occurring, if not for the sole purpose of manipulating our subtle bodies so that we cheer for the hero and buy look-alike dolls, t-shirts, cookies shaped like a lion, whatever the marketing folks will dream of shoving down the pipeline.

Garbage in, garbage in. If we keep eating junk food -- immersing our senses in it -- when can the leavened dough of consciousness be expected to rise?

If socially responsible investing, responsible foreign policy, responsible living are to take the place of endless consumption, there are many places to start. Picking on a movie is not a small act, because everything exerts a mental, spiritual, and emotional influence (as they say in feng shui).

The ultimate thesis that Power draws is that policymakers did not lack the power to act to prevent genocide; they lacked the will. I visited Narnia hoping to taste the magical beauty with which C S Lewis filled his work. Violence in film has a voyeuristic quality, and when it captures evil with fascination and without revulsion, I question whether this is a net social good. As Power points out, to resist, prevent, paralyze, and triumph over genocide, one must first recognize it for what it is. To that end, a word was created, and that word given legal import through the power of international convention. That was an enormous contribution, and yet it represents, one might argue, as all written laws do, only a first step in the moral development of our planetary psyche. Because for the crimes against the body, there are written rules and standards, but for the crimes against the spirit, there are yet none, and for those violations, which do not "shock the conscience" in legal terms but might just shock the subtle awareness from its stealthy rise, there is no remedy. In such cases, only consumerism stands between the bid and the ask.
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