Written by Chad Echakowitz
Stories are important. No matter the format they come in, we need stories to help us grow, to fill our souls, and to teach us how to be the best we can be. After all, as some wise passer-by once told me, we’re not human doings, we’re human beings.
Stories are important because they teach us lessons: The Fox and the Stork teaches us to be kind to others, to accept and accommodate each other’s differences. The Lorax teaches us that we need to get off our asses in order to change things. And Pokémon (yes, even Pokémon) teaches us that through friendship and hard work, we can achieve anything, and that, even if we fail, we should never give up on our dreams.
But there are times where these morals somehow get lost in translation. The stories mean well and on face-value, they seem pretty innocuous. Yet, when you really think about it they are downright bonkers and play fast and loose with the term, “Morals”. Here are four such stories which somehow missed the mark.
I didn’t see Grease until last year, so I am coming at this film from a perspective of a 24 year old cynic who makes a living finding crackpot theories in pop-culture classics. That being said, I loved this movie. It’s hilarious, it speaks about some really hard-hitting issues, and brings the tumultuous lives of teenagers to our attention in fun, spunky dance numbers. It’s iconic. And that makes it dangerous.
If you don’t remember how the film ends, let’s just have a quick recap: at the school carnival, Danny – played by John Travolta – rocks up wearing a Letter jacket (a piece of clothing that is out of keeping with his usual Greaser wardrobe). He explains to his friends, who are innocently jibing him about said Letter jacket, that, “You guys mean a lot to me, but Sandy does too and I’m gonna do anything I can to get her, that’s all.” At that point, Sandy arrives wearing extremely tight leather trousers (which, presumably, she had to be sewn in to) and a leather jacket - also uncharacteristic of her usual wardrobe. Moments later, as the music swells for “You’re the One that I Want”, Danny throws away his Letter jacket and returns to the Danny we all know and… love isn’t the right word. Feel not-hate towards.
And therein lies the moral of the story. In a sentence, this film teaches us that if we really like someone we should better ourselves for them (good so far) unless they change for us (wait, stop) at which point, we are allowed to abandon any progress we made (please, no more) and make the other person sink to our level (gaddamnit). Now, this wouldn’t be so bad if staying the same meant you were a good, upstanding person, such as Sandy was (good grades, friendly, and well-behaved). But to stay the same when you’re just the worst, like Danny is (smoker, drinker, alleged sexual-abuser) it is not okay to revert when you’ve come so far and to bring Sandy down to your level.
Additionally, this horrid message gives off a double standard, seeing as Rizzo was deemed a slut because of her sexual prowess throughout the movie, but as soon as Sandy does it, it’s okay. It all just makes you want to drop out of beauty school.
Love is blind but at some point someone needs to step in and say, this is just unhealthy.
And speaking of poisonous relationships, this one is the King of the Ocean (see what I did there?)
Jack and Rose are both beautiful, and, essentially, their love story is just as beautiful. A rough, down on his luck lad teaches a pretentious, rich youngster how to live. He helps her escape her cage of privilege and enjoy life for its simple pleasures, like spitting off railings, having sex in carriage cars, and being drawn wearing nothing but the Heart of the Ocean. It is a love worth dying for. Or is it?
The love of Jack and Rose is much like the Poison Dart Frog: truly beautiful to behold, but utterly deadly. And that’s exactly what happens: Jack literally dies for their love. And there is no reason he had to. I am not one who subscribes to the theory that they both could have fitted on the debris (buoyancy is a factor that most people do not consider) but, as Jim Carry says in Bruce Almighty, “could you have at least taken turns?” At least then, they could have had equal chances of surviving.
Also, this all happens over the period of just two days. I know angry readers will say, “Have you never heard of love at first site?” To which I reply, with a heap of self-control, have you ever heard of a long lasting relationship built off of a two day hangout on a boat? Two days is not enough time to decide if something is true love. They don’t know if they could stand each other for longer than a week, or if they could live together, or if they’re cat or dog people. You know, the important stuff.
But the real danger of this story is that it teaches people that love is only true when it involves sacrifice. Love does involve sacrifice; it is the putting of someone else’s needs before your own, but true love is also reciprocal. It is a mutually beneficial relationship between more than one person. If only one person is sacrificing themselves, that’s not true love. That’s just self-deprecation. But because of movies like Titanic, people have started to believe that true love is only true when everything is put on the line, including your life. And that is an incredibly unhealthy take on love.
3. Lights Out
Understandably, a lot of people will not have watched this 2016 horror film. It had a promising trailer but a less-than-thrilling end result. But if you did take the time to watch this film, you’d have seen that the only genuinely scary part was the moral of the story.
Sophie is the mother of this story’s protagonist, Martin. Sophie suffers from severe depression. When she was diagnosed as a child, she was sent to a psychiatric hospital. There, she met Diana, who suffered from severe sun sensitivity. Diana was effectively tortured and killed by the doctors at the hospital but her spirit lived on in Sophie through her depression. Whenever Sophie’s depression got worse, Diana would return to reek havoc and kill people. After Sophie’s husband dies in a freak accident (caused by Diana), Sophie’s depression hits a new low, and Diana comes back to stay, terrorizing Martin and the other members of the family. In the end, Sophie realizes that in order to get rid of Diana, she must kill herself. She does so and Diana dies, leaving Martin a relatively unharmed orphan.
If you can’t see the problem just from this brief summary, you evidently have that in common with the scriptwriters. Lights Out probably has the most dangerous moral of any film on this list. Essentially the film is saying that, in order to defeat your mental health illness, you should just kill yourself. Diana was a physical manifestation of Sophie’s depression, and the only way to kill the manifestation was to kill herself. What started as an interesting metaphor for mental health and how it can affect family dynamics ends in a horrifying, damaging conclusion.
In a time when we are at last openly discussing mental health issues and reducing the stigma around seeking help, this film is very out of touch. It takes momentous steps backwards by not only personifying mental health as an unbeatable, terrifying monster, but additionally saying that the only way to fix mental health problems is to kill oneself. I mean… what?
Aladdin is just a bad dude. And this message should be so obvious that we really shouldn’t be letting children watch this film. Aladdin, right from the off, lies to Jasmine, pretending to be something he’s not, just to get close to her and win her over. I know she lied to him first, which almost cost him his life, but his lie is way worse purely on the hypothetical basis that, if his lie had resulted in them having sex, it would technically have been rape… just saying.
Their whole relationship is based on his lie. And that is before he even gets to know who she is as a person. All he knows is that she’s the princess, she’s beautiful and she doesn’t know how money works. Essentially, Aladdin is not that different than Jaffar, except Jaffar actually knows Jasmine’s personality.
Yes, the final message of the film is that you should accept yourself for who you are and love who you want for who they are, but the film spends a long time showing how deception and trickery are the best ways to get that person you’re after. The film is shallow and creates yet another unhealthy view on love. Iago is funny though so that’s nice.
We live in a society where we can look reflectively on the past, identify the wrongs and learn from them. All these movies are excellent (Except Lights Out), but we cannot just hold them in high esteem without questioning them. If we don’t question things just because we enjoy them, we cannot learn and we are doomed to fail. This is as true for movies as it is with our laws, our role models and our leaders. Question everything. Never leave a stone unturned, and never let go Jack.