4/25/21: The Children’s Hour (1961) — Part II, Anatomy of a Slander #poetry
I was wondering about slander. I was feeling the delicious liberation of realizing that negative relationships only endured in my psyche because of attachment and not love, and I was able to cast toxic people and experiences from my memory as surely as they had already been eliminated from the external and concrete details of my existence.
But then …
another question arose … what of the slanders of my detractors? Did they take something real from me, damage me in some way? Was I lacking in skills of self – protection, and was there something for me to learn in that regard?
I knew the law has criminal and civil causes of action for slander, and compensates damages resulting from slander when proven. But I wasn’t looking for a legal answer. I wanted an existential one.
Slanderers had interfered with my general reputation in the community, that I was part of at the time, and they had affected how individuals who treated me with affection and even admiration acted towards me after the slander occurred. Positive circumstances turned negative as friendship and social position turned into suspicion and insult.
Was I damaged existentially by slander, and if so what were the existential remedies?
I was not damaged existentially by slander. Slander actually helped me.
I came to this conclusion with the aid of Art, that great mentor in all questions existential and human.
I tried to think of a movie that dealt with the theme of slander. The only one that I could remember was Lillian Hellman’s story, “The Children’s Hour”. “The Children’s Hour” provided me with useful instruction.
Slander is not the act of an individual. It is the act of a community. In “The Children’s Hour”, Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine are headmistresses who own a private school for young girls from wealthy families. It looks like a beautiful place. The girls ride bicycles and have piano recitals and study elocution.
One young girl hates the headmistresses. She overhears the aunt of Shirley MacLaine’s character imply that MacLaine is a lesbian who loves Hepburn’s character. The girl tells her grandmother that she heard that MacLaine and Hepburn were lovers. The grandmother then creates all sorts of problems for the headmistresses, ultimately destroying the school, Hepburn’s engagement to a doctor played by James Garner, and causing MacLaine’s character to commit suicide. It is later revealed that this it is actually true that MacLaine is a lesbian that loves Hepburn. Slander can be related to a true fact. The lesbianism is not the issue. The intolerance of the lesbianism is the lie. The grandmother’s and the general community’s condemnation of MacLaine’s character is the toxicity in the story. Hepburn’s character was not a lesbian, but what if she was?
Slander is a way that communities purge themselves of people who are better than they are. Every character in “The Children’s Hour” reveals either moral weakness or lack of personal integrity and strength, with the exception of Audrey Hepburn.
Poor Shirley MacLaine succumbed to the slander and killed herself, giving the haters what they wanted.
James Garner’s doctor doubted that Hepburn loved him because of the lie, and proved unworthy to be her husband.
The little girl was an insignificant mediocrity who ignited the conflagration for petty and childish reasons.
MacLaine’s aunt was bigoted against her own niece, and reviled and humiliated MacLaine for her entire adult life.
The grandmother persecuted Hepburn and MacLaine because of her personal prejudice.
The parents who removed their children from the school followed a herd mentality instead of making moral determinations for themselves.
Hepburn and MacLaine were great teachers. Hepburn was a great person, who remained loyal to her friend MacLaine after she knew about her lesbianism. Hepburn thought and felt for herself. She wasn’t corrupted by the bullying community pressures.
The movie’s last scene takes place at the funeral for MacLaine’s character. Hepburn attends and then walks silently away. She walks past the doctor and the grandmother and the crowd from the community with focused integrity, and on to her new life.
Slander is a way that communities purge themselves of people who are better than they they are.
It doesn’t have to be lesbianism. The smartest person might be purged. The artist might be purged. The saint might be purged. The good person might be purged …
The superior person, the person of excellence is a threat to the toxic group. The group has its power structures and has its hypocritical substitutes for actual mores that it doesn’t want threatened.
Toxic communities are collections of terrified people who huddle together in order to maintain an illusion of safety. The toxic community promises security, but is really only committed to maintaining itself. The frightened members of the group think they are protecting themselves, but they actually become slaves to an abstraction that they have created. The biggest fear of all becomes opposing the community in some way.
Whenever the superior person honors his or her reason or conscience or divine inspiration, and deviates from the conformities of a toxic group, slander will occur.
The answer to slander is to walk away as Audrey Hepburn did at the end of this story. She walked out of her old life and on to her new one. This action is often called courageous, but it is actually the sensible choice. The other alternatives are self-destruction like MacLaine’s character, or self-betrayal like Garner’s.
Communities can be motivated by true values or motivated by fear. The most dangerous place to be is to be surrounded by fearful people.
The lie of slander reveals the truth about all those who participate in it.
Live in truth.
Be guided by truth.
And you will find appropriate friends and lovers and communities artistic and otherwise. You will lose nothing except exposure to the mentality of the people of the Lie.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas