Sunday 18 February 2018

Let's not be Twits

In 1980, when I was in secondary school, Roald Dahl wrote:

"If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it.

A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely."

Let's just reflect on this message for children...

"A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly."

On the face of it this is a nice, positive whimsy ... but sadly it isn't true and is therefore corrosive, harmful bullshit.

Consider the implication. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. So ... if you see someone and think they are ugly you have full license to assume that they do not have good thoughts.

"If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. "

In fact that person with the ugly face most likely has ugly thoughts and therefore deserves to be ugly. It's their fault.

I would call this medieval thinking except for the fact that it goes back much further than this.

"ancient Greek society was obsessed with purity; those who deviated from institutionalized norms were viewed as a threat. Physical imperfections were seen as corresponding to moral flaws so therefore, disabled children were exposed and abandoned outside the city walls, and the ugly and deformed were suspiciously regarded as tainted beings." Altas Obscura

It's a great comfort to think that evil people look ugly, carrying both a handy identifier and a simultaneous punishment for their crimes ... but it's hardly a sophisticated world view, and handed to children it is a toxic piece of thinking.

Of course we see the same device used in advertising, film making, storytelling ... In George RR Martin's books Brienne of Tarth is described as having coarse features, a flat face, prominent and crooked teeth, a mouth too wide, swollen lips, a battered nose, an abundance of freckles.

Here's the actress.

Tyrion Lannister was described as "Tyrion Lannister, the youngest of Lord Tywin's brood and by far the ugliest. All that the gods had given to Cersei and Jaime, they had denied Tyrion. He was a dwarf, half his brother's height, struggling to keep pace on stunted legs. His head was too large for his body, with a brute's squashed-in face beneath a swollen shelf of brow. One green eye and one black one peered out from under a lank of hair so blonde it seemed white."

Here he is... the horror...

TV only does "TV ugly" for good guys.

Melisandre the Red Woman is shown as attractive, but this is illusion and her "true nature" turns out to be less appealing...

In the multitude of vampire shows we have handsome young men and women playing the bloodsuckers with their true ugliness revealed from time to time in full CGI glory.

This is not a uniform and unbreakable code of course. TV standards couldn't suck all the nuance out of GRRM's characterisation. Cersei Lannister is good looking and reprehensible. Some of the good guys aren't great lookers. But it is definitely still a trend.

I'm sure examples of it can be found in my own work and in many other fantasy books and film, sometimes aided and abetted by the conceit that working with evil magics twists the user leaving them ugly whilst working with good magics merely gives the user that inner glow ... like they just stepped out of a salon!

In conclusion: we still seem as a society to still to harbour at the core of us the idea that heroism and good really do reflect themselves on the face of the individual, and to perhaps carry within us that moment's hesitation when it comes to someone not blessed by the gods of chance with even features, good skin, and an easy smile.

Which is why I object to this being coined into a philosophy and fed to children as it is in The Twits.

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1 comment:

  1. The sentiment of the second half of the passage sounds to me like it is trying to reassure us ugly folk to be a good person? Like, I feel it's saying that if you're a good person then physical ugly is sort of bypassed with a sort of kindness filter, and that physically attractive people could have the reverse when viewed up close if that makes sense? Is there room to believe the Twits might actually be 'normal' looking people, but the character sees them for what they are? Speculation, completely, I can't remember the story. The concept as you outline it, could be a little one dimensional for children though, I agree. 'If' my theory was correct about the author's intention, what do you think about authors trying to be clever 'to the adult' and writing over the childrens' head in this cases like this? Do you think it happens? Or maybe it's by design to get children to think more deeply if the point is ever questioned in front of an adult or similar? Totally agree about 'TV Ugly' being a thing!

    Looking forward to Grey Sister! :)