It’s been a long time since I’ve let loose with some good, old-fashioned nerd rage. I’m angry. Specifically, I’m angry at my fellow Doctor Who fans. In a recent poll, they voted the Vashta Nerada, the Weeping Angels, and the Silence the three scariest Who villains. No Cybermen, no Daleks, not even the creepy wooden soldiers from The Mind Robber. I’ve complained a lot already about the lack of curiosity amongst my fellow Whovians, about the way that they gush incessantly about Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith, but don’t know a damn thing about Troughton, Pertwee, or Hartnell. It’s a natural human tendency to have more curiosity about recent history than ancient. So it’s understandable that most of the Whovians I meet say that they love the New Series, but haven’t gotten around to the older stuff yet. What is not understandable is how dismissive they are of anything that’s more than ten years old. Special effects do not make a monster scary. For that matter, neither does the ability to be sneaky. The Weeping Angels are genuinely terrifying, there is no doubt about that. They also lack personality. I don’t know about you, but I’m always far more scared by threats that have some sort of dramatic weight to them. One of my favorite horror movies is The Exorcist, partially because so much of its running time is spent focusing on the conflict of a mother who has no idea what is wrong with her daughter. It’s a scary movie, sure, but you also care about the characters. Does anybody honestly care about the Weeping Angels? Do they have any hidden dimensions to them? They are scary and nothing more. They’re good for a few cheap thrills, but just like the Silence, they tend to fade from my memory fairly quickly.
I’m so glad I got that out of my head. It’s been a month or so since I’ve ranted about Doctor Who. In all honesty, I’ve never wanted to disown my fellow Whovians more than I did when I heard about this poll. Maybe I shouldn’t make too big of a deal about it. After the release of The Dark Knight, it was briefly ranked as the greatest film ever made on the IMDB. No serious film scholar would argue that it’s better than The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, or The Rules of the Game. But the IMDB is not a salon for film students. It’s a place where anyone can sign up to rate and talk about movies to their heart’s content. The Dark Knight was a much-hyped movie that more or less lived up to fans’ high expectations. I liked it a lot, although I wouldn’t even call it the best movie of 2008, let alone alone of all time. Still, there might be people who cite it as their favorite. More power to them. It’s not going to stop me from asking them questions, however.
Speaking of questions, I still don’t understand why animation fans are constantly arguing over whether Pixar or Studio Ghibli is better. Setting aside that the answer is obviously Ghibli, it serves no purpose. What do the studios have in common besides both being popular and beloved animation studios? It might be easier to compare the two if they had a similar cultural outlook, but they don’t. Pixar films are distinctly American, and Ghibli films are distinctly Japanese. A week or two ago, I watched Pom Poko, a lovely film from the director of Grave of the Fireflies. Unlike Fireflies, which was brilliant but unrelentingly grim, this one was somewhat lighter, although more than a little cynical and humanistic in tone. It tells the story of a group of talking raccoons who try to fight off a group of land developers who want to bulldoze their forest and build a city there. They fail. That, all by itself, makes it different from any American film I’ve ever seen. But did I mention that these raccoons are also based off of Japanese folk creatures who have the ability to shapeshift and make parachutes, clubbing weapons, and in one scene, a boat out of their testicles? Yes, you read that right. To Japanese audiences, that probably doesn’t seem so weird. To us, it makes us wonder just who this film’s intended audience is.
Let me be clear: Pom Poko is not a children’s film. It’s rated PG, but some would probably take issue with that. I think kids have a higher tolerance for unsettling imagery and hard-hitting drama than we give them credit for. How else to explain that we tell them fairy tales, some of the most violent and twisted stories ever told? Some feel differently, however. So if you don’t think your kid could handle Pom Poko, don’t show it to them. But if I ever become a parent (unlikely, but who knows?), I’ll show my kid the good stuff. Sure, she’ll be able to listen to Justin Bieber (or whoever the teenybopper of the moment is in another fifteen years or so), but she’ll also listen to Simon & Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell. I wouldn’t force her to watch only TV shows that I like, but if she doesn’t like Rocky & Bullwinkle, the brat is going to find another home. It’s tough love.
Where am I going with all this? Simple: if you want to teach your children well, never let them operate only inside their comfort zone. That’s just bad parenting, no matter what age they are.