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Some thoughts on "The Blue Lagoon"

Posted by Baldur on Monday, May 01 2023 at 0:04:18PM

This is going to go far afield, but it's all related. Please bear with me.

So, recently we were having a discussion which lit upon the subject of the several movies based on Henry de Vere Stacpoole's novels from the early 20th century - chiefly The Blue Lagoon (1949), The Blue Lagoon (1980), and Return to the Blue Lagoon (1991).

I got digging a little further, and found that Stacpoole had in turn been influenced by the novel "Paul et Virginie" (1788), by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre. He, in turn, was influenced by his friend and mentor Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

All of these novels have as a common theme the idea of childhood innocence.

Over the years I have come to think of Jean-Jacques Rousseau as an antichrist. One of the explicitly anti-Christian ideas he promoted was the rejection of the doctrine of original sin and the rejection of the idea of humans as having a sinful nature. Prior to Rousseau no one thought of children as innocents. Beloved, yes, and relatively harmless and in need of protection - but they also understood that children could be selfish, cruel, and altogether in need of civilizing and correction before they could be turned loose on society as responsible adults.

Rousseau was a great influence on the French Revolution and by extension on its reign of terror (the origin of the word "terrorism", meaning government by use of terror), and likewise by extension the many destructive movements that came after it and because of it, including many wars throughout Europe in the 19th century, the War of the Northern Aggression in the United States, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia which led to the Holodomor, the rise of National Socialism in Germany and Fascism in Italy, Maoism and its twin horrors of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution in China, the Killing Fields in Cambodia, and many more.

Some of these destructive movements were at least partly thwarted. For example, though many states in the Americas have been affected they have for the most part at least avoided the extreme destruction seen in the Old World. Most notably the War of the Northern Aggression in the United States is largely misunderstood. Students are seldom told of the prominent role of socialists and communists in supporting the consolidation of a federal system of governance into a unitary state after the French Revolutionary model, as related groups accomplished about the same time in the Germanies and the Italies, concluding with the unitary governments of Germany and Italy in 1871. (In fact, Lincoln offered supreme command of his armies to Garibaldi, a man who who played a similar role to himself in the enslavement of the Italian people to a strong, centralized government.) In America these "radical republicans" were chiefly either recent immigrants who came to the United States as refugees after the failed Revolutions of 1848 in Europe (particularly in the Germanies), or were influenced by New Englanders who had studied abroad (again primarily in the Germanies). Students in the United States are instead told a triumphal tale of the emancipation of slaves - although what was written at the time and also on their memorials after the war made it clear that the enslaved soldiers who were forced to fight for Mr Lincoln and his corrupt circle of friends mostly believed themselves to be fighting for the "preservation of the union", or, if they were a bit more realistic (or at least cynical) for the subjugation (enslavement) of the southern states for their own economic benefit. What students are also not taught is that the conflict did not really end at Appomattox. To quote Jefferson Davis, “A question settled by violence, or in disregard of law, must remain unsettled forever,” and again, “The contest is not over, the strife is not ended. It has only entered on a new and enlarged arena.”

The war itself was a great success for Rousseau's disciples, but the era called Reconstruction that followed it was not. During this period those who wished to maintain constitutional government pushed back and with a combination of political and other means managed to re-establish some of the checks and balances, and some of the local sovereignty, that had been key components of the traditional American system of governance which took the flaws of human nature VERY SERIOUSLY.

Since then the strife has continued and has expanded worldwide, and the two chief contenders have both won some battles and lost others, resulting in something of a hybrid system in most places. Still, Robert E. Lee proved prophetic when he wrote that “The consolidation of the states into one vast empire, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of ruin which has overwhelmed all that preceded it.” Rousseau's disciples are still murdering millions, now using the power of their captured governments to accomplish this murder in far flung places around the world.

I find it curious that the Americas have been relatively resistant to this Rousseauian rot. That's not to say that the Americas have escaped altogether, but the New World has at least avoided much of the worst that has been inflicted elsewhere. I suspect it had partly to do with close contact between settlers and the "noble savages" that Rousseau theorized about, though in Anglophone America this may have been strengthened by a difference between Anglo-American schools of philosophy rooted in pragmatism and the more theoretical schools of modern continental philosophy.

That is, it is difficult to subscribe to either the "noble savage" myth OR the "brutal savage" myth when one is living beside and sometimes fighting and sometimes cooperating with said "savages". It was thus evident in the Americas that humans have flaws regardless of whether they were raised in a "corrupting" civilization - as Rousseau thought - or in a state of nature.

Here is where I should point out that Rousseau's ideas about childcare is that there didn't really need to be any. Children, being innocent and uncorrupted, should just be left to their own devices. He took this so far as to abandon his own children by his mistress, leaving them to orphanages in a time and place where a large majority of children in orphanages did not survive to adulthood. Please note that Rousseau is where the modern conception of childhood originated, as a phase distinct from adulthood and marked by "innocence".

This brings several things to mind: First, our enemies claim they attack us on the grounds that we "corrupt" children, whom they consider to be innocent. But the fact is that as much as we love children and as delightful as they often are, children are born corrupt. Second, negligence is a really bad method for raising children - though helicopter parenting might possibly be even worse. Third, basing our understanding of the world on an assumption of basic human innocence is incredibly destructive to the societies that believe in it.

All that said, the opposite extreme can be just as bad. I certainly don't subscribe to the extreme depiction of children in William Golding's "Lord of the Flies", though there is just enough truth there that it is possible to suspend belief for the duration of the story. Nor do I feel much sympathy for Jonathan Edwards' ideas in his famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". To me it seems that Edwards unreasonably maligned both God and spiders when he said “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire ... you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes, as the most hateful and venomous serpent is in ours.” Not only that, such a sentiment seems positively psychotic. The God of the Bible desires us to be our best selves, certainly, and is disappointed when we fail - but scripture is also clear that God is like a father and loves humanity regardless of our failings. Perhaps God's Justice requires the destruction of those who can never fit in heaven, but the way Edwards depicts this makes God appear to revel in hatred for humanity.

Or, to put it more briefly, we should be careful to avoid extremes in ideology, because the world is above all a muddled place.

My point in all this is that we should be very careful about the theme of the "Blue Lagoon" movies and other fables of this type. By all means enjoy such eye candy as Susan Stranks, Elva Josephson, and Courtney Barilla (credited as Courtney Phillips) in their primes, but don't fall for the message of "innocence". Remember that it is this corrupt idea of "innocence" that causes our enemies to hate us and also, ultimately, to hate children when they fail to measure up to such a ludicrous standard.

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