November 30, 2012

The Berenstain Bears Lend a Helping Hand by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Berenstain Bears Lend a Helping HandBerenstain Bears Lend a Helping Hand by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

The Berenstain Bears. Not a fond memory on my part. The only ones I enjoyed as a young child were Bears on Wheels and The Berenstains' B Book. Neither of these explicitly feature the Bear family; they might have been pre-Bear family books, as a matter of fact.

And when it comes to the Bear family, there's a lot to complain about. Papa Bear goes from being understandable and well-meaning, if a little bungling, to a raging maniac who has the tendency to cross over into psychologically abusive territory.

But then there's Mama Bear. I cannot freakin' stand this character. She is the most self-righteous, presumptuous, meddling woman in any children's book I've ever read, and she is presented as some kind of saintly patron of motherhood who can never do anything wrong.

This time, after several panels of her children trying to claim they've beaten the other by having a large piece of cake, a better spot in front of the television, and more jelly beans, Mama decides to, and I quote, "mend their selfish ways".

Is the life you're leading different from the book I'm reading, Mama Bear? Because I saw your children having silly, not even angry "arguments" about whose piece of cake was bigger. Sure, that's annoying, but the only thing remotely objectionable about their behavior is that they started pushing on the couch in front of the television. That needs to be your moral; don't shove your freakin' siblings, 'cause someone could actually get hurt that way if you're careless enough. Instead, the moral you pulled out of your ass is "Selfishness is bad!" when their behavior had nothing to do with genuine selfishness!

But the idea she has to get them to "mend their selfish ways" isn't horrible. She makes sure they spend some time with a very old neighbor of theirs. After a few minutes together, their neighbor asks if the Bear children would like to help her out by cleaning out her house for payment.

And then Mama Bear turns into a bitch again. Her children don't want to do it, and I'd say that's a bit rude, but what can you do? You can't force them. Oh, wait! You can if you're Mama Bear!

You see where this is going. She volunteers her children without their consent, then informs the elderly neighbor that they will not be accepting any payment. Who the hell does she think she is? When you do work without payment under your own consent, it's volunteer work. It's charity. It's helping a friend. When you do it because someone else has taken away your choice and forced you to do it, it's forced labor. You know, a distasteful and often condemned component of slavery, serfdom, and the penal system? Yeah... That's cool.

On the other hand, the "helping people" moral of the final few pages is wonderful. The children help the old woman do something that would have been difficult or even impossible for her to manage on her own, they learn about her interesting past and old belongings, they each find a cool toy she lets them keep, and they even convince her to have a yard sale instead of throwing her old things away--they've helped an old, probably stressed for cash woman earn some money, and helped reduce landfill waste, meaning there's also a pro-recycling moral to top it off.

But as always with Berenstain Bears books that teach morals that I don't mind or even support, I'm just horribly disappointed that the intended moral had to be corrupted by the parents' disrespectful behavior.

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