by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright February 2005
In January 2005 I saw the movie Shark's Tale. Overall, the movie was quite good: good animation, good voice talent, good story. Yet, when I left the movie, I left feeling uneasy. It took a while to figure out why, and the "why" was due to the expectations of the characters in the movie. These characters were such losers! I couldn't find such losers attractive or lovable. This lead me to thinking about aspirations.
Let me start by describing the aspirations I saw in the movie.
First we meet Oscar: he's a nice enough guy (fish) in an easygoing way. We hear about his dream, which is to live in one of the expensive penthouse apartments above where he currently lives and works. Nothing wrong with that... Then we meet his friends and community. It's an urban poor community playing off the communities depicted in the Car Wash/Barbershop movie genre. Still nothing wrong, yet.
Then the plot advances, and now problems start showing up:
So, by the time the anchor drops on the tough brother shark and kills him, Oscar is in a pretty much unrecoverable situation. His salvation is a "Forest Gump" salvation: dumb luck.
But what does he do with this salvation? He promotes it as a big, flashy lie. Strangely, (to me) the community gets behind him on this, to support the lie. (But I've seen this plot device before, and having a community support a delusion now seems less unusual to me. There's some kind of instinct behind doing so: the Emperor's New Clothes phenomenon.)
So by mid-movie, Oscar has "made it." How does he display his making it? In the penthouse of his dreams, with a never-ending party going on, complete with a couch full of sycophants to laugh at his jokes, and the gold-digger lady on his arm.
That's it. That's as high as Oscar can aspire to.
By the end of the movie, after the dénouement, Oscar and his girlfriend own the Car Wash, and the community works there -- dancing and singing modern songs, hanging around, and having a fine ole time, yessir! It occurred to me then that what I was watching was a 21st century minstrel show.
It also showed me the importance of aspirations.
The Oscar character when he was rich could aspire to nothing better than more expensive versions of the activities he engaged in when he was poor -- the car wash became the penthouse, the barber shop hang arounders became the sycophants on the couch, and his girl became the gold-digger.
This is important in real life because it shows that aspirations set the goals for a community. A community can only grow towards what it believes are the best things it can achieve. If the best things poor, urban America can strive for are accurately indicated by Car Wash/ Barber shop/ Shark's Tale/ Great White Hype-style movies, then all of America is being held back.
For examples of how important aspirations are:
This is why good aspirations are important. This is why we should care about what all members of the community aspire to. It is the aspirations of the poorest members of the community that limit the aspirations of the richest.
-- The End --