'The Lorax' versus 'Kony 2012': Media Double Standard at Work

Their plan was to make the villain infamous in a way that would resonate with average people, especially young people. The filmmakers seem to have succeeded to the extent that the film is a hit, but the reviews haven't been kind.

Many say it dumbs down the issue in ways that are both offensive and misleading. What does choreographed dancing have to do with international politics anyway? Do we really want this reduced to something suitable for four years olds? I'm talking of course about "The Lorax," one of the shallowest pieces of anti-capitalist dreck you're likely to see in theaters this year. 

It's possible to make a charming children's film around these themes. In my view "WALL*E" did a pretty good job. But "The Lorax" manages to offer all of the smarm with almost none of the charm. I learned that the hard way when I took my family to see it over the weekend. The little ones enjoyed the colorful spectacle, though even they were yawning in the middle. But as an adult there is almost nothing redeeming about this preachy, obvious, cutesy, and ultimately boring film.

The Dr. Seuss children's book on which it's based was never my favorite, but it conveyed its message with a certain charming, mythic quality. Here, the parable is lost inside a ham-fisted frame story which was obviously needed to turn the 30-minute short into an 85-minute film.

As you've probably guessed, what struck me most as I watched "The Lorax" was how similar the film is to the viral You Tube hit "Kony 2012." The Kony film has been excoriated for dumbing down a serious problem to the point that it seems targeted at toddlers. Here's a bit of one scathingreview:

If one watches the music-video-style evocation in Kony 2012 of crowds of young people joyfully mobilizing en masse to demand Kony's arrest, it is quite hard to believe Invisible Children's claim that their campaign encourages deep thinking -- or, frankly, any thinking at all -- beyond the expression of moral outrage. In the end, this is Kony 2012's deepest flaw. For what it is actually peddling (under the flag of grassroots activism and a universal ethics of caring) is little more than a cheap techno-utopianism that conflates the entirely admirable wish for a better world with the belief that knowing how to move toward it is a simple matter, requiring more determination and goodwill than knowledge.

Brutal. It's also completely applicable to "The Lorax" which is just as full of cheap sentiment and empty utopianism. If anything, the comparison is unfair to the Kony film. After all, Kony is a real person and his crimes are real crimes against real children. "Kony 2012" may be simplistic, but there is no amount of context or detail that can change who Kony is or what he has done.

By contrast, "The Lorax" bares little resemblance to any earthly reality. It presents a fake, plastic world in which capitalism is nothing but a form of greed and corporations are nothing more than rapists of the natural world. There is no recognition of the tremendous advances that accompany things like plastics and assembly lines for commercial products in the real world.

Nor is there the least bit of awareness of the filmmakers own hypocrisy. How many plastic Blu-ray and DVD discs will they sell of this product? A zillion and three, I fear, all stamped out on a massive industrial production line.

One of the things I found most annoying about "Kony 2012" were the shots of choreographed young people (making a peace sign for instance) which turn the cause of stigmatizing Kony into a dance number. "The Lorax" goes one better by adding cheesy musical numbers to the story. The songs themselves are passable fluff but feel completely out of place here.

"The Lorax" was always a melancholy story about looking back on a mistake. Upbeat rock tunes don't feel remotely integral to the story. If "Kony 2012" shows us how far news has pushed into the territory of entertainment, "The Lorax" shows that the opposite is also true.

Our entertainment has now pushed into a kind of sloppy and shallow take on the news in a way that is neither thoughtful nor educational. Curious then that the Kony film has attracted so much negative push back even as "The Lorax" rakes in millions offering eco-pablum to an audience of children.


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