Visiting my granddaughter’s school, I sat in on their pre-vacation party and got to watch part of a Spiderman cartoon movie with them. The predictable volley of WHAM! BAM! PUNCH! SLASH! at a relentless hyper-speed that speaks directly to the lowest level of human brain activity, floods our system with the fight or flight hormones, gives us a momentary energy high and then leaves us depleted and exhausted.
Later that night, we sat down to watch a Disney movie from my childhood— Pollyanna. For the self expecting the frantic tempo of the modern action film, the pace was excruciating slow and the peak of physical violence was one scene with an old man grabbing a kid trespassing on his land. By modern standards, it was dull as dirt. And yet both my grandkids loved it. And so did I. It held up.
The Spiderman film met the politically correct quota of women and men and people of color purportedly feeling their inner power and self-esteem through their outer power and ability to stand up to and vanquish the evil bullies. Everyone looked sexy, flaunting their curves and/or their muscles, overcoming their doubts and encouraging each other to be the best they could be. And yet in the end, all flash and no substance.
Pollyanna by contrast is about an orphaned girl come to live with her strict uptight Aunt Polly flaunting her financial standing to control a town afraid to stand up to her. Pollyanna has refused to be beaten down by life by playing “the glad game,” looking for the good in people and the gladness hidden inside of difficult situations. Through her presence, a fire-and-brimstone preacher starts to share the 826 “happy verses” in the Bible. A recluse and a bed-ridden hypochondriac both feel their spirits restored simply by the beauty of prisms creating rainbow colors on the wall. A town finds the courage to defy the controlling aunt and re-build the dilapidated orphanage. No one is sexy, the scenes are slow, there are no people of color, no women ministers or mayors. But though there is no flash, there is certainly much substance, especially when Pollyanna has an accident and loses faith in her own game, to be restored by the mirror of the town coming together in her hour of need from gratitude for who she is and what she has given to them all.
I remember as a young adult impatient with naivete insulting friends with the phrase “Don’t be a Pollyanna!” Meaning the world is cruel and hopelessly messed up and might as well face it head on. But couldn’t we all use a bit of the glad game right now? Wouldn’t it serve us to string up a few prisms and savor the rainbows dancing on the wall? Might it be a good time to review some of the Bible’s “Happy Verses” and sing some of the 1930’s “Happy Jazz Songs?” Might we consider that a young girl’s refusal to give in to cynicism has the power to turn people round to their better selves, a power much more powerful than all the superheroes killing the bad guys?
Just a thought.