Thursday, July 19, 2012

Congratulations Graduates: You are Not Special

Something that seems to have become very popular this graduation season is to lay into the new grads by telling them how "not special" they are.  Common themes include:

  • The real world does keep score.
  • You will not have your dream job when you graduate.
  • No one wants to hear the opinion of a twenty-year old with only a few days experience
  • You are not nearly as smart as you think you are.
  • You.  Are.  Not.  Special.
These speeches, including one given by Aaron Sorkin, have created deal of reaction, good and bad.  Many of the older commenters seem to have the "tell those kids a thing or two".  On the other hand, some of the graduates are not taking well to be told that they're not everything and a side of bacon.  One even wrote a lengthy response, effectively blaming her parents, teachers, and everyone else  for the reason she grew up feeling special.

I've got my opinions on the whole "Kids think they're so special"/ "You're the ones who never made us keep score!" debate but I'd like to keep my own politics aside for a while.  

Instead let's look at the "specialness" of two characters that these current graduates grew up with:  Harry Potter and Bella Swan.

When Harry Potter and the Sorceror's stone came out there were, as expected, some outcries about the horrible values that it taught kids.  It taught them about witchcraft and Godlessness and all sorts of evils.  Oddly, the same women (I think) who were demanding it be pulled from bookshelves seemed pretty okay with the vampire-rich Twilight because Bella was, supposedly, a better person, and after all, even if it's crap, at least they're reading.  

So let's take them in turn.

Harry, admittedly, is the ultimate little kid "some day I'll find out that I have super powers" fantasy.  His birth parents are dead, and he's raised by people who hate him.  He's socially awkward, has few friends, and very little going for him.  Then, practically overnight, he's rich, he's famous and he has everyone wanting to be close to him.  He goes from nothing to everything.

Now in some critiques, this was seen as a major detriment to Harry.  He did not do anything on his own, he just had victories handed to him by virtue of his celebrity status.  I'm fairly sure those comments came from people who had not read the books.  Harry absolutely had to learn, he had to grow, and he had to surround himself with good tallent.  It is true that some puzzles in the first book require Heromine's brains or Ron's knack for chess.  But they're still problems that Harry has to either solve or are solved because he was clever enough to choose friends to help him.  I'm quite sure that if he had elected to become friends with Malfoy and the "Right sort of people", he would not have been the hero that saved the day at the end of the novel.  Choosing a friend based on character is a very mature, and good choice.

Taken over all, the book is a fairly good story about choices.  We may not agree with all of Harry's (he does sneak out a lot) but there are positive and negative consequences to them, and he's ultimately judged on those choices.  And because of his character, his choices, and his wit, he prevails.

Now we contrast that with Ms. Swan.

She too had a rough childhood.  Her parents divorced, her mom remarries and becomes an even less attached parent and dad remains in the old town pining away for his lost love.  Bella becomes the "star" of the story because of her unique scent to the resident vampire who protects her, carries her around, tells her what's best and for the most part becomes a surrogate helicopter parent. 

All Bella needs to do to be happy is sit back and let her Edward take charge and see to her needs.


Harry has to ~do~ stuff.

Bella has to ~let~ people do stuff.

We were afraid of what Harry would teach them, and we cheered at Bella's chaste entrance.  I think we were very very wrong.

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