EVERYBODY’S GOT A story about the movie that traumatized you as a kid.
The movies The Neverending Story and The Dark Crystal are sure-fire picks for everybody’s short list.
The Secret of NIMH.
If you want to watch real cinema-induced trauma, watch the movie “The Adventures of Mark Twain”. The movie is rated G, but you’ll soon ask how a movie that disturbing was rated for general audiences.
Traumatic cinema isn’t a new thing. Filmmakers have been making nightmare fuel for tots for decades. By my estimate they’ve been at it since at least 1942.
That was the year Walt Disney Studios released Bambi.
Walt Disney’s Bambi, based on the book Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten, was Disney’s fifth animated film. The studio’s four previous films, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo, all have their fair share of scary moments.
Kids turning into jackasses, anyone?
But Bambi tops all that. Bambi has the one thing that scares the living daylights out of children who are aware of human mortality:
The death of parent.
Somebody shoots Bambi’s mom.
Luckily, that’s not what I’m going to talk about.
I’m going to write about a lighter topic: lies.
Or rather, about a particular kind of lie.
In the movie, Thumper, Bambi’s annoyingly adorable bunny friend, when his mother admonishes him for describing the Prince of the Forest’s walk as not “very good”, repeats his father’s bit of moral advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”.
Bad grammar aside, Thumper’s father’s ethic (also called the Thumperian principle, Thumper’s rule or Thumper’s law) sounds like the nice thing to do. But a philosopher’s gotta think: is not saying anything at all the morally right thing to do?
First off, Thumper is right. Bambi’s walk was wobbly.
Bambi, a newborn deer, had the typical gait of a newborn deer – not very good.
Thumper merely offered his honest opinion.
Spilled the T, as the kids say these days.
…actually, now that I’m thinking about it, Thumper threw some serious shade.
Honesty usually isn’t considered a bad thing.
We often say honesty is the best policy, and if we consider being honest the same as telling the truth, we should also value honesty as a stone on the path to wisdom.
Remember, philosophers are all about loving wisdom.
If we say honesty is the best policy, we say it knowing that the truth is often difficult to hear.
Although we say that the truth hurts; that we’re offering tough love or “constructive criticism”, we praise straight shooters, people who “tell it like it is” and “call it like they see it”.
Of course, we wouldn’t want people to tell the truth all the time. Even Plato recognized the usefulness and necessity of lies.
To the rulers of the state then, if to any, it belongs of right to use falsehood, to deceive either enemies or their own citizens, for the good of the state: and no one else may meddle with this privilege. − Plato
If I’ve learned anything from watching Jim Carrey movies, I’ve learned that not being able to lie can be just as bad as lying. Should we say that those jeans really do make our wife’s ass look fat? Should we tell our three-year-old that Sparky didn’t go to doggie heaven? Should we tell the truth even if the truth isn’t nice?
Is it better to think it and not say it?
Should we just omit the truth?
There is a line between being tactful and lying. We lie when we withhold the truth. But not telling the truth isn’t an outright lie − it’s not saying anything.
But isn’t omission a lie?
What is lying by omission?
Lying by omission, otherwise known as exclusionary detailing, is lying by either omitting certain facts or by failing to correct a misconception
Let’s get back to the original Thumperian principle: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”. Thumper isn’t omitting facts or failing to correct a misconception. The matter at hand concerns Thumper’s opinion.
If Thumper followed his father’s admonition, he wouldn’t have lied by omission.
He wouldn’t have been rude, either.
That kinda was Thumper’s mom’s point, wasn’t it?
Ok. Thumper isn’t a liar. But something’s still bugging me about what Thumper said. Or rather, something’ bugging me about abiding by the Thumperian principle. Sometimes we need to tell some of those not nice truths.
After all, we’re not just talking about not hurting someone’s feelings. In the long run, it doesn’t matter whether someone wears a pair of ill-fitting jeans. It’s not just a matter of bad manners.
We’re talking about philosophical integrity.
When we declare a principle like, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all” we’re declaring a philosophical position. We’re saying we believe being nice − being nice; being aware of the feelings of others and respecting others as we want to be respected − is a good thing.
And by good, we mean it’s the morally correct thing to do.
The Bible tells us it’s good to be nice to people. Mathew 7:12 says,
“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”
Being nice isn’t just a very Christian thing to do, it’s the Kantian thing to do.
The German philosopher. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), created the Categorical Imperative as a means of establishing a basis of ethics (not based in religion or consequentialism) that would apply to all people, universally.
Kant’s Categorical Imperative states, “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law”
Yeah, it sounds a lot like the Golden Rule, but Kantians INSIST that it’s not the same thing.
Another Formula Kant’s Categorical Imperative, the Formulation of Ends, states: “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”
In short, according to Kant and the Bible, we’re morally obligated to treat others with respect – an element of which is not lying to people.
It’s important that we be nice to people, but it is also important that we tell people the truth.
That’s because the truth is illuminating.
Plato demonstrates the illuminating effect of the truth in the Allegory of the Cave.
In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, from Book VII in The Republic, Socrates describes the story of a group of prisoners trapped inside a cave.
The prisoners are unable to leave the cave because they are chained to a wall and unable to face in any direction other than to face straight ahead. The only images the prisoners see are the shadows projected on the wall in front of them, illuminated by the light from a fire behind them.
The shadowy images on the wall are the only reality the prisoners know.
The prisoners eventually escape the confines of the cave and are brought into the light of day.
Light of Day… good song, awful movie.
At first, the brilliant light of the sun pains their eyes and they are confused by what they see. The prisoners realized that the world inside the cave isn’t reality at all.
There’s a bit more to Plato’s allegory, however, misinterpreted to its most basic components, Plato’s tale of the chained prisoners demonstrates the effect of truth, and how the truth, even if initially hurts us, is essential for a good (i.e. philosophical) life.
So, what does all this have to say about Thumper?
Well, for starters, Thumper was rude. Additionally, he wasn’t really stating anything that wasn’t obvious to even the most unobservant forest dweller. Thumper’s unsolicited opinion based on his observation of the newborn fawn’s walk doesn’t seem controversial – primarily because it was an opinion.
But − should we be concerned about the feelings of others? Should we hold opinions to a different standard than we hold the truth? Should we, as Maurice Switzer suggested, “remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it”?
Honestly, I really can’t say exactly what a philosopher should think about what Thumper said. Maybe, just for the sake of preventing meaningless (and all too often pedantic) philosophical arguments, we should follow Thumper’s dad’s advice.
Seriously, where was Thumper’s dad???