Recently a friend wanted to celebrate my birthday by taking me to Stratford, Ontario, to see a stage performance of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. As usual at Stratford, the acting was excellent and the staging was imaginative and breath-taking. And yet there were disturbing signs among the audience that our culture is slipping further and further into the abyss.
When I was still teaching high school English in a public school, each year I would take students to Stratford to see either a Shakespeare play or some other significant drama. Prior to the journey, we would study the drama ahead of time so that my students would have a full grasp of the dialogue, actions, and themes.
In addition, my students were required to wear proper attire befitting such an august venue: dress shirts, pants, and shoes for the boys, and dress skirts or slacks, shoes, and blouses for the girls. No athletic shoes and no jeans were permitted. The students knew that I had already set the pattern by wearing dress pants, shirts (with a tie), and shoes each day in the classroom. And, of course, they were expected to act appropriately in the theater or face possible death.
But even then (twenty years ago), my students were shocked by what some students from other schools wore and how ill-behaved they were. On one occasion, after we had witnessed some barbaric behavior on the part of such students, one of my pupils asked, “Can we go again when there are just adults there?”
I only share my experience for the purpose of perspective. When I was growing up, all students and teachers were expected to dress and act in a proper fashion. But that was then, and this is now.
When my friend and I entered the theater, my “Spidey Senses” were instantly triggered by several teen boys walking ahead of us. They were dressed in jeans, tee-shirts, and athletic shoes. On their heads were various baseball caps, some of which would stay there the entire play.
They were soon joined by the female classmates, who also apparently wore whatever they wanted, for I could not describe any of them as being “dressed up.” One girl wore jeans with large holes at the knees. My guess is that she won’t wear that outfit to the prom.
I couldn’t help but wonder who the teachers were of these misfits. And then I saw them–a man and a woman. She wore a denim blouse of some kind and dark slacks. He had a rather loud plaid shirt and a light pair of slacks. There was nothing to indicate that they, at least, knew how to dress for a live stage performance or set an example for their students.
My expectation was that, once the play started, these students would be talking with each other and, in general, disrupting the performance. Surprisingly, that didn’t happen. However, nearly every one of them had their cell phones out, and during the play, the cell phone lights would be going on and off as they received and sent texts. The bare-kneed girl next to my friend must have texted or received texts at least fifteen times. It apparently never occurred to them that their lighted cell phones were a distraction to others. Or, more than likely, they didn’t care.
Now, to be fair, there were other students in the audience who were dressed nicely, especially two private schools that require uniforms all the time.
And, sadly, I must report that many adults in the theater also dressed as if they were going to a picnic. An older gentleman who sat in front of me wore shorts, and I may have been the only adult male wearing a tie. If adults are unwilling to dress appropriately, then why should young people?
I also wonder how many teachers in the audience adequately prepared (or were allowed to prepare) their students for the play by discussing the the major theme. After all, the character of Aslan, the great lion, is clearly a Christ figure. He sacrifices his life on a stone altar to redeem the soul of one of the children who has betrayed his siblings. Afterward, he rises from the dead and leads the good creatures in Narnia to defeat the evil forces led by the White Witch.
A private school teacher could discuss the theme but not a public school teacher. The animus in government schools toward Christianity is such that even reading the play could be considered a violation of the so-called separation of church and state.
This is pure speculation on my part, but I think the ill-dressed students near us probably knew nothing about the theme of the play. Of course, it is always possible that they were texting their friends to find out why the giant lion was willing to die for some spoiled, whiney child. Possible–but not likely. Besides, there friends wouldn’t know anyway.
We have substituted the sacred for the profane and the beautiful for the ugly. Our “brave new world” is neither brave nor new. Instead, it is as old as paganism and just as crass, cruel, and vulgar.