Silent Messages

Member Group : From the Kitchen Table

The Tony Awards were given out earlier this week. There were all the usual
recognitions for best actor and actress, best director, and best
writers. There was also an entire set of awards for those who work "behind the scenes" in areas such as costuming, lighting, and set design. They give those awards out before the national broadcast. The same situation exists for the
annual Oscar and Emmy Awards.

The folks who work in those areas are as important as their more public
counterparts in creating the messages that reach us. In fact, the message
they create is often even more effective at conveying a point of view to
the audience because it reaches us under our radar screens.

For example, some years ago there was a movie that retold the Cinderella
story. It was called "Ever After". The movie was not only a success at
the time of its release, but it is regularly seen on many of the cable
stations, particularly those aimed at children. The movie has no foul
language, no nudity, and no gruesome violence. It is fairly well-written,
so its target audience not only enjoys it once, but will happily watch it
several times. Busy parents will immediately recognize the evil stepmother
and stepsisters, watch enough to see that the story is following the
general lines of the fairy tale, and feel comfortable allowing their
children to watch the program.

No one pays attention to the costumes.

If you did, you would notice that the evil stepmother consistently wears a
large cross necklace. The particulars of the design of the necklace change
with each of her costume changes, but the pendant is almost always a cross.
And it is prominently displayed. At the same time, the Cinderella
character NEVER wears a cross.

It is critical to remember that costume designers proactively selected
every single thing that the character on the screen is wearing to help the
actor or actress create a person that we will either love or hate. Most of
us never consciously think about the costume, we just receive the message
the costume sends us.

It’s easy to say that costumes don’t convey a message. Then think about
Darth Vader – would he be the same without his black helmet and cape? Most
of us connect black hat with bad guy, and white hat with good guy. If we
consciously think about it, what possible difference can the color of a
person’s hat make to his character?

And that is the whole point. We don’t consciously think about the
connection. We just accept it.

So, in our example, the evil stepmother is associated with all things
Christian, and Cinderella is not. If they both wore religious symbols in
their costuming, there would be no underlying message about faith. If the
stepmother wore a variety of pendants, and the cross was one among many,
there would be no underlying message. But only the "bad guy" wears a
cross, and she wears it all the time. The connection between things
Christian and badness is unmistakable, and our children received that
connection without even being aware that it was being transmitted.

The hostility of the entertainment industry to traditional values is not a
secret. If we are to teach our children to recognize and resist their
agenda, we need to pay as much attention to the silent messages on the
screen as we do to the spoken ones.