I remember being young and watching Disney, all the stories revolving around some character growing and learning, becoming a kinder or more appreciative person. Then as a teenager I watched shows like How I Met Your Mother – although the stories were silly and funny, they still had a moral message. The characters still learnt something about themselves or other people, most of the rules revolving around helping others.
But lately culture has moved away from moral values. Popular films like Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri and shows such as Game of Thrones have been questioning the value of morality that has been a pillar of entertainment culture throughout the years.
But it’s not just current releases that portray immoral protagonists. The Mentalist depicted a man helping the police while furthering his vengeful aims to catch the killer who murdered his wife and kids. Even Sherlock shows a main character pushing boundaries, going behind the authorities and taking the law into his own hands. The Hunger Games, a massive film and novel franchise, shows the main character placed in an arena to fight to the death with 23 other children and teenagers.
Culture is pushing the boundaries of morality, increasingly showing more daring and law-breaking individuals as they interact with the world in their own way. But is what’s being shown on the big and small screens illustrating the changes in our civilisation? If our culture represents our society, are we no longer moral? Or are we so moral that we don’t need a moral backbone to our entertainment? I’d say we are still moral, with or without the complex and questionable characters appearing in mainstream media. But that’s not to say there’s no place for moral teachings in our culture today.
And here’s why: it’s hard to root for main characters who are fundamentally wrong. The cute, fluffy feels of Elsa and Anna as they realise how much they mean to each other as sisters are sometimes preferable to watching the hardened Mildred Hayes setting the police station on fire. Sometimes it’s nice to have a story with a clear good and bad guy, where morals act as morals should and it’s clear whose side we should be on.
Further to this, growing up surrounded by media that promotes moral teachings can never be a bad thing. If you ever dreamed of being your big screen hero – let’s face it, we all did – then you’ll know how inspirational some characters are. So why shouldn’t these characters be moral too? Kids can aspire to have their moral judgement alongside athletic prowess or great hair. However, I don’t think moral lessons from entertainment are absolutely necessary. Films like Pirates of the Caribbean, where Jack attempts to sell Will’s soul to avoid being eaten by a Kracken, are not moral. Yet I don’t see flocks of young Pirates of the Caribbean fans losing their sense of morality because of this.
So is morality relevant in today’s media? Potentially not. But should it still be there? Yes, because sometimes it’s just nice to watch.