So, in apology, I offer a feminist take on Despicable Me, which is likely better than I would have written in terms of that movie which I did see this past weekend. If you haven’t seen it yet, read this anyway. This is less about “spoilers” but more about something that might slip past your eyes and mind as you watch the film, and you shouldn’t go to the film without knowing it’s something to look for and wonder about.
The film itself is fairly simplistic. Gru is the “despicable” villain of the piece, looking for a way to remain on top of the evil villain pyramid .. only someone’s gone and stole some – a new rival going by the name of Vector. Gru decides he can only top this by stealing the moon, but first he has to steal back the shrink ray that Vector stole right from under him. In order to accomplish this, he “adopts” three girls who’ve been selling cookies for their lackluster orphanage (this is what I and the Hathor site will target on in a moment) because they can get into Vector’s place and he cannot (the girls don’t do the stealing; they deliver robotic cookies to do the deed). By the end of the film, of course, Gru’s desires for infamy have been overtaken by reminders of how disappointing his mother was in terms of encouraging him as a boy, and the positive impact these three girls have had on his life. From the Hathor site:
My problem is with the role of the three little girls, Margot, Edith and Agnes. Gru’s and Vector’s and Dr. Nefario’s [Gru's tech guru accomplice] and the bank’s villiany is acknowledged and expressed. While we’re shown the horrible conditions the girls live under, that is never acknowledged, not even by them. They’re abused, yet it’s played for laughs-given that this is a children’s movie (?isit?) that’s expected, but it has slid over into tasteless territory. Stealing a pyramid? Funny. Putting little girls in boxes in imitation of POW torture? Not funny at all.
That’s in there, seriously. There’s reference to a girl who didn’t make her cookie quota and they say hi to this boxed up girl on their way out of the evil orphanage owner’s office at one point. When they wind up back at the orphanage, they’re also tucked into boxes for a while. It’s not played as a big deal; it’s played like a dull time-out for bad behaviour.
I haven’t read them, but there was a series of books that started with A Child Called “It” by Dave Pelzer, who claimed he’d been abused like an unwanted animal in his own home while the rest of the kids in the family lived lives as ordinary as any others. Other family members have come forward since to say he lied about how bad it was, but the book still sold well, as have the rest of them about how he adapted and became a worthwhile member of society in spite of his abused childhood.
As to caging up kids, how many examples do you want of this actually going on?
There was the couple in Norwalk, Ohio who claimed it was “for their protection.” Their adopted special needs kids spent nights locked up in wooden safety boxes so they wouldn’t endanger each other and set fires. Two of the kids have since sued the couple and the caseworkers who put them in that home. The couple is in jail now. I don’t know about the caseworkers, but even after the first trouble came out about the first eight kids, somehow the couple was allowed three more.
There’s Etelvina Rodriguez, whose twins spent a lot of time in cages. They were technically feral by the time their plight was discovered in 2003. They were placed with another couple who were determined to help those boys learn .. well, everything about being human and loved. The Viniegra family eventually adopted them outright.
There was also an allegation in 2003 in Queensland, Australia regarding disabled children kept in cages by staff at private care facilities.
There was bad shit going on in orphanages across Romania. JK Rowling made it something of a mission to raise awareness of that atrocity several years ago and yet I’m only learning of it today.
And how about the Facebook Group “Children, like animals, should be kept in cages.” It’s a “Just for Fun” group with only 13 idiots for members, thankfully.
There’s a story out of Malaysia and a girl kept in an iron cage behind a house in a wealthy neighbourhood. Neighbours eventually alerted authorities about that one.
And in case it looks like Canada is blessedly immune to this stuff, alas, I must burst a bubble. The original Canoe article is gone, but Arstechnica copied the whole of it in 2001.
BLACKSTOCK, Ont. (CP) — This sleepy Ontario farming town was in shock Friday after two residents were charged in what police call one of the worst cases of child abuse in recent memory.
“People are dumbfounded,” said Mike Carlson, who works at a local gas station in the town of 4,600 about 40 kilometres north of Oshawa.
A 49-year-old man and his 40-year-old wife surrendered to police Thursday amid allegations that they kept their two teenaged sons caged in baby cribs wrapped with wire mesh and forced them to wear diapers.
For fear of identifying the youths, the names of their parents were not disclosed.
A police news release alleged the children were shockingly mistreated.
“The youngsters were forced to wear diapers, remained in their cribs for hours, suffered physical punishment and did not receive adequate food,” the release said.
Keeping the children locked in cribs allegedly went on “on a daily basis for years,” police said.
Few people in town seemed to know much about the family, which has lived in a rented farmhouse on the outskirts of town for about two years.
Now let’s get back to Despicable Me and the despicable lack of give-a-damn toward these orphanage scenes. Aside from a “but he saved those girls from it!” auto-response, keep in mind there were other girls (we saw one in a box, recall) still stuck living there under a tyrant who’d torture them in the very same way as these stories demonstrate. Those scenes are treated as barely of interest, except as a minor plot device when Gru discovers Dr. Nefario called that tyrant and had the girls returned to that little slice of hell. They were distracting Gru away from his true purpose, after all, so good riddance.
Back to the Hathor site.
The girls are sad when they’re booted back to the orphanage with the abusive head of the orphanage–but never express too much anger about it. Nor does Miss Hattie ever get HER punishment, and there’s not any thought about the other orphans in her orphanage, as some sort of wrap up in the plot. Gru rescues the girls from Vector-but not the orphanage and evil-but-”nice” Miss Hattie. Notice that the rescue is from HIS adversary, but not theirs?
True enough. And while he does wind up adopting them, that’s still a sticking point. The despicable orphanage is allowed to remain problematic yet ignored by everyone, including us movie goers who’ve been lured into insane laughter over the other events in the film and Gru’s very adorable crew of minions who are responsible for many of them.
If you do decide to see this film, take your brain with you. Think about what’s in this movie besides a few sight gags and stylish art design. Is it really something you should let kids watch without comment? Is it okay that a happy ending only happens to some, but not all?