In the movie “Tomorrowland,” Brad Bird and Damon Lindelhof proffered the idea that society was at a crossroads because for too long we have chosen to “feed the wrong wolf.” Specifically, we have fed the ideas that we as a society cannot solve problems, cannot find solutions, cannot do things. I am part of that generation, the ones that, to be frank, gave up. We saw things and said, “Meh.”
Part of that might be the way we tell stories. Here’s an example.
Last night I watched the Pixar film “Coco” for the second time. I thoroughly enjoyed it again, but this time, I noticed something. A warning, this discussion will include spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film, you should bail at this point.
Okay, you’ve been warned. Proceed at your own peril.
The film concerns a boy, Miguel, whose family does not want hiim to be a musician, although he feels it in his soul. He believes his great grandfather is the famous musician, Ernesto de la Cruz. In an attempt to prove he is a musician, he borrows de la Cruz’s guitar from the crypt on Los Dios de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, and is cursed. Now he is stuck in the land of the dead and must get his family’s blessing to return. Miguel wants the blessing from de la Cruz. A friendly vagabond named Hector promises to help and through the adventures they bond and become friends.
Here’s where things got tricky. Before the day ends, Miguel discovers that Hector was always the one behind the songs, the real owner of the guitar, and in fact, his great-grandfather. de la Cruz murdered him so he could steal the music, the fame, the glory.
de la Cruz admitted this publicly, receives a public embarrassment in the end and loss of status. Justice is done, happy ending, everything is good in the world. Right?
Wait. Think about that and the implication.
Ernesto de la Cruz committed a murder almost a century earlier, then he became famous before he died in a tragic accident on stage. He went on to be just as famous after death.
In the afterlife, he was possibly even more famous, living in an exclusive mansion on a hill, throwing lavish dinner parties, the life of the ball (pun intended).
Except… he murdered someone. In cold blood.
And no one cared.
Remember that whole “you’ll be judged when you die” motif popular in Christian faiths? The Catholic church is HUUUUGGGEEE in Mexico. One of the films de la Cruz stars in shows him as a priest, so we know Catholicism exists in this world. Yet there are no signs of it in the afterlife. Here, instead, the murderer’s afterlife was paradise because he was and remained popular, remembered by millions, while the victim, nearly forgotten, struggled to hang on, knowing that once he was, he would disappear forever. When they forget you, you go… no one really knows.
In that world, if being remembered means a good afterlife, think who gets one. Gandhi would. But so would Stalin. George Washington, but so would Genghis Khan. Martin Luther King, right next to Osama Bin Laden. I bet Hitler has a lovely garden.
The underlying message is popularity matters. It isn’t how you get to be popular, just that you are. Fame for fame’s sake has been a symptom of our bad wolf society for so long that even when we attempt to make an uplifting film with a positive, inclusive message, we tinge it with something like this. It’s like adding a few drops of a black food coloring into a cake mix. Even if you can’t see them directly, you know they are there, and that the batter is just a little less bright than it might have been.