What I feel to be a subconscious theme which runs through many, if not all children’s programming is the ‘perfect little bubble’ syndrome. The main character and his or her friends and family are set in an environment which is, for all intents and purposes, liveable. If there is suffering found in that environment, it is the job of the protagonist and hero to change things for the better. This is a fairly successful paradigm, and encouraged children to better their home, their bubble.
At this point, however, there becomes a conflict of interest; a very unintended conflict, to be sure, but a conflict nonetheless. The conflict emerges from the unasked question or, “What is your home?” Is your home restricted to the walls in which you live? The block? The town? The county? The state? The country? The planet? At some point, a bubble is made in the mind of the child, the bubble of the home, the bubble of that which matters to the child. What of those things outside that bubble? Are there other bubbles? What if there is suffering in those bubbles outside my own? What of them? The ‘perfect little bubble’ syndrome encourages children to clean up their own bubble, but does not take into account those bubbles beyond. In fact, in many cases, this syndrome can instill the idea that there are no other bubbles at all. Whatever is in your bubble is all there is, or all there is that matters. We see it in how the youngest of children can still exclude others from their group of friends, how a child can clean up his or her own mess but leave another child’s mess untouched, how a child can comprehend the value of his or her own allowance, but have no concept of appreciation for a friend’s money or a parent’s money. Applying this mindset to an adult is the basis of biases, and the foundation of cultural and economical divisions across the planet.
Certainly there are people in the world working outside of their own bubble, those people who travel to other countries for the sole purpose of making things bigger and better for those who have nothing. How many role models of children do we have which inspire such acts? How many TV show and movie protagonists do we have which are truly ripped from their bubble and thrown into another, and instead of striving to escape and get home, immediately work to better the place they have found, not against the wants of those who live there, but with them and for their benefit? Have you thought of any? Neither have I.
Meet the Robinsons was not the most widely-acclaimed movie of the year in 2007, but it had its moments. For me, one of the most exciting aspects was the location. The futuristic metropolis society which Wilbur brings Lewis to is a booming land of prosperity, and every time I watched this movie, I would leave thinking, “Is the whole world like that, or just that one city?” Reworking the plot of this movie could be a great starting point for the kind of protagonist our children need to overcome the bubble. A young child, born to a very intelligent, innovative, and successful family, with the knowledge to create great things and the empathy to know when people need help, goes out beyond the booming metropolis, outside the bubble, and explores the world. In that, the child comes across places which are making due, places that are thriving but not excelling, and even places where one meal a day and no medicine is normal. In every place, the protagonist child works with the people of the new place to develop bigger and better things to fit what they need as a people, a culture, and a society. A key to this is not to have the protagonist want to make these places exactly like his or her home. The hero wants to help make these places a better version of what they already are. This is the model which can inspire children to help without imposing on others, and to make the bubble obsolete.