We are often told that America is the “land of opportunity.” While this is true, we often overstate the case by telling our children that they “can become the President of the United States.” Again, while this is technically true—mainly because America’s top office does not depend on royal or noble bloodlines—it is still functionally improbable. In a well-meaning effort to try to set our children’s sights for their future careers high, we actually train them to overlook the lower level and lower visibility occupations that happen all around them on a daily basis. Hoping to inspire them, we actually frustrate them.
Last night, my family watched Bee Movie, the over-hyped, little-watched, full-feature animation film written and voiced by Jerry Seinfeld. My curiosity got the best of me now that the film is on DVD, because I never really “got” the marketing for the film that began almost a full year before it hit theaters. Now I know why. Bee Movie is not really a “sound-bite” film. Just like the TV show that launched Jerry Seinfeld into the public vernacular, Bee Movie is a film that must be understood as a sum of its parts. None of the humor in the film makes much sense in the context of a two-minute trailer. This is why most of the marketing for the film fell flat and failed to motivate people to go to the theater when it was finally released. But now that I have actually seen it, I think that Bee Movie has quite a lot to offer; if only to help counteract the “occupation invisibility” that I spoke of in the first paragraph.
Barry B. Benson (voiced by Seinfeld) is a young honeybee that has just graduated college and is preparing to select his occupation in the beehive. His father is a honey-stirrer who has great hopes that his son will follow in his…um…wingtips. But Barry is not content with choosing a menial career to do for the rest of his life. He wants to see both the world and his name in bright lights. He can’t understand why his best friend is content with life in the beehive and decides to join the “pollen-jocks” for a pollinating mission into Central Park. When Barry gets separated from the team and breaks the cardinal bee rule of not talking to humans, his life’s work becomes apparent to him. He sets out on a crusade to sue the humans for stealing all of the bee’s honey. Barry’s narrow goal of creating a proletariat paradise for his fellow bees ends up creating a major catastrophe for the rest of the world. It is here that Bee Movie adds a welcome echo to the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28.
When Barry realizes that bees have an important role to play on a grand scale in the world’s ecosystem, he also begins to understand that individual bees play a great role in the beehive in the seemingly menial occupations, like honey-stirrer. His foray into the big bad world gives him an appreciation of the interconnectedness of things. He sees how politicians and pollen-jocks are mutually dependent and how the depreciation of either one is bad for the whole civilization. This is where parents should be focusing their attention as well. Although we all want to believe that our child is the next President, the fact of the matter is that he is not. While this may be a tough pill to swallow, it should ground us in the realistic aspirations of what God is calling our children (and us) to be. Ever since my oldest son has been five years old, he has wanted to be a marine biologist. While this may or may not become a reality for him, I must encourage and prepare him to use the talents, abilities, and interests that God has given him so that he can best glorify and enjoy Him forever. This is the cultural mandate in action. Our sons and daughters (as are we) are called to both high and low profile jobs within the Kingdom. We do them (and ourselves) a great disservice when we teach, either directly or indirectly, that only the high profile jobs are the “important” ones. In fact, this cycle of importance is a trap within itself as C.S. Lewis masterfully pointed out in his address at King’s College in 1944 (available online here). Like a beehive, society is an interrelated, interconnected macrocosm of queen-bees and worker-bees. If we are constantly preparing our children for life as queen-bees, they will never be fulfilled as simple worker-bees. But, if we prepare them for a life of service as worker-bees, they will make much better queen-bees when and if that opportunity arises.
P.S. As a full disclaimer, Bee Movie has some mild innuendo that is to be expected from a Jerry Seinfeld film. Nothing along the lines of the TV show, but it’s there nonetheless.