Last Saturday afternoon I had the opportunity to attend a local home-school production of “Honk.” The children did a wonderful job with their parts. They were spot on with their lines and the choreography and staging were well thought out and executed. The Director obviously did a first class job. The support staff and the pit orchestra were spot on and marvelous. I especially liked the work of the men on the spotlights and the chap who played the French Horn.
However, admitting from a technical perspective that the play was well done, does not mean that from a worldview perspective that HONK was a success. In point of fact, from a Worldview perspective HONK suffers immensely. Now, its my hope that someone explained the Worldview faults to the Christian cast and staff of HONK but just in case that didn’t happen I wanted to offer a Worldview critique of HONK in hopes that some of the children who were in the play, or their parents, might stumble upon this critique and so think twice about the message of HONK.
HONK is a knockoff on the Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Ugly Duckling.” HONK was first produced in the mid 1990′s and even a progressive source like Wikipedia could say that the message of HONK was, “a message of tolerance.” Now certainly the Christian applauds tolerance when it is applied to physical features and it can be argued that it is a Biblical concept to say that it is not proper to judge a book by its cover alone. So, we can applaud HONK when it is teaching that a certain tolerance is to be expected from Christians.
However, “Tolerance” can also be translated to mean, and in our culture is often translated to mean, that we should be accepting of God dishonoring worldviews and behaviors. Very few people would deny that “Tolerance” has been used as a cudgel to beat the particularity that a Christian Worldview demands over the head. And this theme of “Tolerance” was everywhere to be found in HONK. There was dialogue on differences. There were songs on differences. The whole play had as sub-theme, Tolerance of differences.”
G. K. Chesterton once said, in a fairly well-known quote, that “tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” I understand what Chesterton was getting at but as I don’t think it is possible for a man to not have convictions I think it is more accurate to say that “tolerance is the virtue of the man who is seeking to change everyone’s convictions.” Tolerance is the virtue enjoined by men who are seeking to alter the categories of virtue. Tolerance becomes a crowbar that pries back the current idea of virtue among a people, in order to allow new categories of virtue to come to the fore.
Now, once again, I immediately concede that HONK did not explore worldview tolerance as an overt theme. On the surface all that was explored was what we might call “feature tolerance.” However, it is a small step, in terms of application, from saying that we must be tolerant of people who have funny or odd physical features and saying we must be tolerant of people who have odd and strange worldviews and moral behavior. When you combine that just stated observation with my conversations with several of those who have been involved in this Theater program, in past years, where I have personally witnessed a level of worldview tolerance that might well be characterized as some form of relativism, one can easily understand my concern about how HONK could be used as a tool to advance unhelpful and non-Christian views of tolerance. Parents who might care about such ideas should be made aware of such observations so that they can sit down with their children and explain to them the difference between feature tolerance and Worldview / Behavior tolerance. I understand that children and young adults don’t typically have a well developed worldview and so I don’t overly fault children for being childlike in their worldview. Still, I believe we as adults, should do what we can to help children think like epistemically self conscious Christians.
Other Worldview concerns of HONK.
1.) The male Father figure (Drake) is depicted as an irresponsible doofus. The female figure (Ida) is portrayed nobly and yet she has low views of the male figure. Drake constantly seeks to escape responsibilities. Ida is the one who goes searching for her ugly duckling son. A role that traditionally falls to the male figure. This all is out of the feminist worldview play-book.
2.) Motherhood is spoken of in a mixed voice. Early in the play Ida sings of how children make the task of Motherhood seem worthwhile. Yet at the end, In Drake’s song about Motherhood, he sings,
Where’s the joy in motherhood,
an endless round of chores that have to be done
And when you think you’ve seen the back of them,
you’ll find in actual fact you’re back at square one
There’s no joy in motherhood or if there is its something I just can’t see
Yet Ida seems to cope with all of this,
and then on top of that she puts up with me
Of course there is a role reversal going on here for as Drake laments Motherhood, Ida is out searching high and low for the Ugly Duckling child. Still, these mournful lyrics regarding Motherhood, might have been easily written by Betty Friedan or Emma Goldman, well known 20th century Feminists.
3.) What is interesting is that even though “tolerance” is advocated at the end of the play Ida makes the comment to her, now revealed Swan son, that he should go with the swans since “birds of a feather should stick together.” So, there is recognition in the play that tolerance only goes so far and that differences belong collected together.
4.) More subtly we see guns being villainized as the heroic geese are shot out of the sky by the mean hunters.
5.) People in general are cast as dolts. Whether it is the Farmer who casts his net over the ugly duckling or the hunters who shoot the geese, people in the play are treacherous.
6.) On a slightly different note, I would also elicit a protest of putting 15-17 year olds in positions where they have to show affection to the opposite sex during the play. There is a awkwardness at that age that serves a salutary purpose and breaking down that solicitous awkwardness in young adults is not a healthy idea.
There are other scenes that are even more subtle, but because they are so subtle, and because I don’t want to be accused of reading things into the play that allegedly were not there I won’t bother detailing those scenes.
I don’t necessarily oppose plays like HONK, though I would suggest out of all the plays in existence certainly better plays could be chosen to preform that might better reflect a Christian worldview. I don’t buy the idea that theater has to be done by children in order to explore themes that might be difficult.
Please realize that in all my views I am just an ugly duckling who doesn’t fit in and who is just different. I trust people will be tolerant of my views. After all, I’m just different and different is good. And as we learned from one of the songs in the play,
I’m just different
y’all like peas from the same pod
no wonder y’all make fun of me
life’s harder when you’re odd
but different isn’t scary
different is no threat
and though I’m still your Christian brother you forget