Some years ago, when our teenagers were tots, my husband and I took them to a puppet version of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." Or was that "The Three Bears and Goldilocks"? Turns out, we were seeing "the other side" of the old story. Here, Goldilocks was no wandering lass improbably meeting up with an even more improbable household of bears, but a human interloper vandalizing the home of her fellow mammals.
When the bears came home from their walk, happened upon Goldilocks' mischief and chased her out of the house, they were acting in fright, not anger, and had no thought of, say, devouring the heroine -- which is often the conventionally climactic possibility in this and other such fairy tales. The puppets made it clear that the whole incident resulted from a lack of communication. Everyone -- bears, children -- should listen to one another because, as the puppets sang in conclusion, "there are two sides to every story."
This really burned me up. First, the kids in the theatre were too young to have their Goldilocks narrative down pat, and, therefore, too young to have it messed with. And who did these puppeteers think they were injecting a dose of moral relativism into age-old tales? It's not that Goldilocks is a rallying figure exactly, but there's a disconnect here. For kids still grappling with moral absolutes known as right and wrong, it's very confusing to contend with the "alternate" message: essentially, that there is right and right again. For the preschoolers in the audience, this was just the beginning of their postmodern education.
It's no coincidence that this anecdote comes up in the aftermath of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's obscene caper across New York City -- from Columbia University (with a threatened detour to Ground Zero), to the United Nations, and to the Intercontinental Hotel where he hosted a dinner for 50 American guests from academia and the media. The same childlike ethos of right and right again -- moral relativism -- of the PC puppet show was the institutional rationale that permitted Ahmadinejad's terrible public relations triumph over America. I fear it has only convinced him that he can win more.