Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Fungibility of Symbols

There is a movie coming out soon called How to Train your Dragon.

Just in the interest of full disclosure, I haven't seen it. I probably will eventually (can't remember the last time I saw a movie in the theater although I LOVE going to movies). I am reasonably sure that it is cute, somewhat clever, and at least mildly entertaining in that Hollywood  *nod nod, *wink wink kind of way.

Having said that, it also troubles me and makes me just a little miffy.

For centuries, possibly millenia, in most civilizations that I know of, dragons are beasts to be taken very seriously. In western civilization, the dragon has been a symbol of wickedness, of sin, of the presence and power and danger of evil. The dragon is a foe and one that must be slain lest it lay waste the kingdom. It is a wily and cunning enemy, skilled in wordplay and deceit. It is powerful and difficult to destroy. It despoils green and fertile and ruins the beautiful and innocent.

Even in Asian culture, where the dragon is not necessarily evil, it is still an exceptionally powerful force, one that must be reckoned with carefully, and not taken lightly.

But...it seems we have become too sophisticated for such symbols. Or rather, too sophisticated for the meaning of the old symbols. So we keep the old symbol and we castrate it. Keep the fangs, the scales, the wings, even the fiery breath. That's all solid comic potential. But let's take away all that danger and all that stuff about evil. Dragons are just reptiles after all, and probably misunderstood.

That's it. They are "misunderstood."

Well, our Christian Fathers did it. They took yule trees and made them into Christmas trees. They completely ripped off the Roman cross, the ultimate symbol of imperialistic power, and co-opted to use as the symbol of the New Kingdom of God. Jesus himself turned the Passover meal on its head, establishing himself as the New Pesach. OK, so such shifts in meaning aren't new.

But each of those cases remade the symbol into something More Powerful, more mystical and more dangerous than before. You might still think the symbol is wrong (as the Jews certainly do regarding Jesus appropriation of Passover), but you can't deny the power of the new thing. But this training your dragon business is just taking a good strong symbol, tearing out all the bones and guts, draining all the blood, stuffing the carcass full of lime jello and making it dance.

What worries me is that we think everything is life is "trainable." When something seems wrong we think the problem is that we aren't educated enough. The bad thing is just some kind of misunderstanding. And we go on thinking that until., just a little too late, we realize that the cute little dickens we laughed at and thought was so cute is about to burn our house, kill our family and grind us to a paste between it's jaws.

There is evil in the world, and to convert every symbol of evil into a cartoon won't make it go away, or make it less dangerous in reality. It just makes us easier to eat.

Well...I'm sure it's a fun movie. I'll try not to grind my teeth too much as I watch it.


living from glory to glory said...

Hey, just wanted to say my husband and I liked your blog.It is nice to see one written by a man. I think my husband thought all blogs were for girls. May God bless and prosper your whole family.

Dubbahdee said...

Thank you. From your lips (keyboard?) to God's ears.

Might I also recommend another manblog by my friend Ron Jung over athttp://ron-tendingto.blogspot.com/ and Assistant Village Idiot at http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/

Two very different blogs, both personal friends of mine and both writing some very smart, very interesting stuff. I don't know you well enough to predict whether it will be to your taste, but worth checking out.