The Self-Esteem Movement

Today I’d like to have a look at what’s often referred to as “the self-esteem movement”, the tendency in recent decades for children’s self-esteem to be prioritized in their upbringing and education. This topic was brought to my attention by a friend of mine, who had me read this piece by Luke Epplin for The Atlantic. In his piece, Epplin, argues that many films geared toward children in recent years have reinforced the centrality of self-esteem, depicting characters who seek to break out of conventional, functionary roles to do extraordinary things. He criticizes this theme, claiming that the success of characters in films like Turbo, Planes, Kung Fu Panda, Ratatouille, Wreck-It Ralph, and Monsters University is unrealistic. The characters in these films really are not physically, intellectually, or otherwise suited to the social roles they wish to take. It’s not possible to just will one’s way from being a crop dusting airplane to being a racing plane–racing planes are built to race, crop dusting planes are built to crop dust. I’d like to explore the implications of Epplin’s argument more widely, taking it outside of film and applying it on a larger scale.

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