Everything is awesomeWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been a bleak, ugly winter. Unrelenting snow has buried the region and cold temperatures have settled into bones like quiet termites eating into wood. The stream of snow emergencies and school closings has made it difficult to establish any new year rhythm. The horrific death of two Toledo firefighters, Stephen Machcinski and James Dickman, allegedly caused by an arson, has left us reeling with grief and the introspection spawned by tragedy.
The malaise is real and colors every icy, slippery step. So as we wait for spring and an end to the arctic blasts and polar vortexes, any moment of levity is welcome as shallow solace.
One of the great joys of raising children is the unexpected bursts of pride they inspire when they demonstrate they are paying attention to parental lessons. An act of philanthropy by our 5-year-old son Sean and a subversive movie song have brought some sunshine to an otherwise Dickensian season.
We recently tried to break the cabin fever spell with a matinee trip to the theater to see “The Lego Movie.” I expected a 90-minute commercial, and I got that, but I also saw a thoughtful, witty, visually stunning story that ranks as one of the best family movies Hollywood has produced in a long time, a well-written film that makes kids laugh and adults grin with equal skill.
Nearly every kid who leaves the movie walks away singing one of its songs, “Everything is Awesome!!!” Written by Shawn Patterson, Joshua Bartholomew and Lisa Harriton and produced by former Devo leader Mark Mothersbaugh, it is sung by the pop duo Tegan and Sara, with help from the Andy Samberg rap trio The Lonely Island.
In the movie, the joke is that the song is deliberately simple pablum (“Everything is awesome!/Everything is cool when you’re part of a team”) designed to keep citizens brainwashed as happy little worker drones. It blares from every radio in the block city with a cheerful repetition that could effectively replace waterboarding as a means of torture.
The song, from a movie that serves as an ultimate commercial element of consumerism, skewers commercialism with an open bite-the-hand-that-feeds glee.
“Blue skies, bouncy springs
We just named you awesome things
A Nobel Prize, a piece of string
You know what’s awesome?
Trees, frogs, clogs
Rocks, clocks, and socks
Figs, and jigs, and twigs
Everything you see, or think, or say
The real joke is that the song is so successfully infectious, kids take its message as an honest slogan and sing it with fervor and passion. Irony is lost on the preteen set.
Since we’ve been listening to our kids sing “Let it Go” from “Frozen” for three months, it’s good to hear them sing a new song, even if they completely miss the joke. It’s an innocence that I hope survives a few more years, but there are signs that awareness of the real world is already breaking through to them.
In Sean’s class at Herrick Park Elementary a few weeks ago, teacher Mandy Sell Van Dam led a conversation about the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They talked about inequality and King’s dream of people living in a more loving, equal-opportunity world. She asked the children in her class what their dreams for the world were and what they would change to make the world a better place.
Sean, who has been learning to sew and makes tooth fairy pillows for his friends, said he wanted to make stuff to sell to give money to help poor people. The Miller family ain’t lighting cigars with $20 bills, but we are comfortable and blessed well beyond our necessities. We have tried to make sure Sean and his 7-year-old brother Evan recognize their blessings and understand that many, many people struggle with basic survival and that we are obligated to help as we can. So Sean told Van Dam he wanted to learn to sew or create something the class could sell to help poor people.
“I had already planned on making T-shirt scarves for Mother’s Day gifts,” Van Dam said. “I thought we could make them to sell instead.”
She collected old T-shirts gathered by parents and other community members and tie-dye donated by parents (special thanks to the DiPippo family). She cut the T-shirts into scarves and had the class dye and decorate them. On Feb. 11, they sold the scarves for $5 each, raising nearly $500 for homeless families of Lenawee County. It was a great afternoon and an impressive way for Van Dam to connect the dots for the busy little hands and minds she is teaching.
I watched Sean help direct the “customers” and saw him over and over again credit his teacher and friends for the sale as he explained where the money was going.
Sean has already learned to reach out and help people who need assistance; that’s a big deal for a 5-year-old usually worried about dessert, his 30 minutes of TV time and playing dress-up.
I was as proud of him as I have ever been of anything. And for those two hours, in the middle of a brutal winter saddled with great loss, everything was awesome.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and news director for 1370 WSPD. Email him at email@example.com.