"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Monday, April 30, 2007

Word of the Week - Didactic

Literature or other types of art that are instructional or informative. It does not merely entertain.

I've heard over and over how this is a turn off and discouraged in writing, and based on some of the didactic things I've read, I'd have to agree. I think to pull this off without being "in your face" is next to impossible.

But here's my question. Yesterday I went to the movies with my kids. We saw "Meet the Robinsons." And the last movie we saw was "Happy Feet." Besides ultra-cool animation, the best word I can come up with to summarize these moves is DIDACTIC.
"Happy Feet" was didactic to the point of being painful to watch. Here are the mojor plot points:
1) Save the fish and stop huge fishing boats or all the cute little penguins who dance around will die.
2) Do not throw your six-pack plastic holders into the water of all the cute little penguins who dance around will die.
3) Do not keep cute little penguins who dance around in captivity.

"Meet the Robinsons" was not nearly so bad, but was didactic to the point of sheer obviousness.
1) Don't give up. Keep trying especially when you fail.
2) Keep moving forward.

OK, I haven't reached my question yet so here it is:

Why is it OK for movies to be so blatently didactic when books are criticized so much for being so?

(And my writing is not didactic, so this is in no way a defense of myself.)


Anonymous said...

I don't think it is okay for movies either. I HATED "Happy Feet" for that reason (and I was crushed when it won the Oscar over "Cars").

HipWriterMama said...

I never saw Happy Feet, but loved Cars.

I like books and movies to have an important lesson, but not if it's in my face. When I'm reading or watching something, the first thing I want is to be entertained. If it's entertaining to the point it makes me care, laugh out loud, sob, or gasp, I'll probably appreciate the lesson.

I already have enough things I have to do and worry about in real life. I don't want to feel guilt at something else I'm not doing when I'm reading or watching something. I think the lessons have to be weaved in with an artful hand, a light touch just breezing by, so you can have your own Aha! moment.

I also think it's about choices. Didactic books or movies tend to moralize to the point where if you don't do this...doom and gloom will follow. You don't really feel like you have a choice in the matter.

PJ Hoover said...

Don't waste any time or money on Happy Feet. Not even on video. It was one of the rare movies I would have happily left if the kids weren't watching.

Jim D said...

I didn't find "Happy Feet" didactic -- previews satisfied my need (not) to see it. (No small kids to influence the decission). As for didactic children's books: I have mixed views. I guess you would say Berinstine Bear books (sp?) were didactic and we liked a number of them when our kids were small. On the negative side -- two didactic sounding books I refuse to read are "Little T Learns to Share" by Terrel Owens and "The English Rose" by Madonna. There might be a pattern.

There are probably subtle, small things to be learned from a lot of MG and YA books, but they probably come off best when they just happen through character growth which is encouraged.