My “Dog Days” Hangover

Last night $61 got me, a friend, and our five boys tickets to see Dog Days, the latest movie based on the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. My buddy and I were in survival mode — both moms were away, all evening, and the money we shelled out was gold. It bought us the undying affection of our kids, for two hours at least.

The movie surprised me. Much of it is really, really funny. For this boarding school teacher, the riffs on “Spag Union” — the menacing boys’ prep school Greg Heffley will be shipped off to if he doesn’t shape up — were priceless. And there’s an aura of sweetness and tenderness throughout the film that made it feel, in the hellish context of middle school, almost redemptive. The whole time, my boys and I leaned close together, absorbed.

One of my curses, though, as someone who teaches about ethics, race, media, and popular culture, is that I can’t turn off my critical mind at the movies. And sure enough, this morning I woke up with a Dog Days hangover. Now “Dog Days” feels dangerously conventional, dangerously nostalgic. It gives us a whitewashed version of middle America in the 21st century: a virtually all-white cast living an all-white summer fantasy, with the slim, sparkling, country-club bikini blonde as dorky Greg’s ultimate prize. In this America, non-white characters are mere accessories, adding a dash of color and spice — the undersized, heavily-accented Indian boy who pops in for comic relief, and the stunning but vapid teen country club receptionist.

Call me morbid, call me twisted, but I woke up this morning with thoughts of Wade Michael Page. Remember him? The Wisconsin shooter, the white supremacist who had raged for years in his band about what had happened to the “real” America that was so “white and free”? The guy who couldn’t stand the sight of people who didn’t look or dress like him?

“Dog Days” is powerful stuff — the stuff of dreams, the stuff of desire. But our kids need to know that it’s mere fantasy, a childish, outmoded, and ultimately distorted vision of race and gender in America. Kids of all races deserve better.

Photograph by the author. Today’s book recommendation: Searching for Whitopia, by Rich Benjamin.

About Tom Simpson

Tom Simpson teaches religion, ethics, philosophy, and human rights at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH. He is the author of *American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism, 1867-1940* (University of North Carolina Press, 2016) and nonfiction essays about Bosnia for the Canadian literary magazine *Numero Cinq*. Born in 1975 in Olean, NY, he earned the Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Virginia, where he specialized in American religious history. He writes, teaches, and lectures about religion in America, popular culture, Mormonism, and Bosnia. He lives in Exeter with his partner, Alexis Simpson, and their two children.
This entry was posted in Books, Fatherhood, Film, Gender, Humor, Media, Parenting, Peacebuilding, Popular Culture, Race, Raising Boys and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to My “Dog Days” Hangover

  1. Hae Sung Shim Brown says:

    really enjoyed reading your reflections on a sweet dad and sons night out…it’s true…as our nation’s news media continue to sweep the news of the Wisconsin shootings under the carpet, it’s important that we stay sensitive to how we reflect diversity and embrace difference especially in the children’s media forum…thanks 🙂

    • Tom Simpson says:

      Thanks so much for this, my friend–the thought occurred to me that I could have been watching the exact same film in Olean in 1982, when media makers (except for Sesame Street, pretty much) didn’t even try to offer an image of a more diverse society. It’s disturbing to me that such a popular movie can revert / regress in this way without feeling any pinch at all at the box office….

  2. Tom … thanks for visiting Pairodox Farm. I haven’t had anyone even ‘blink’ at the statement of philosophy we put together – thanks much for taking the trouble to read it and like it. Also thanks for the follow. Finally thanks for the like on my most recent post. I took a quick look at Wayne Street Soul and promise to migrate back again – lots to do on the farm today. I did take a quick look at your ‘About’ entry to learn that you’re at Phillips Exeter … funny that I should discover that this morning. Quickly … did my undergraduate at Harvard and earned a Phd at Syracuse. Taught for eight years at a small liberal arts college for men in Indiana (Wabash College) and have been teaching at Lock Haven University since 1995. I’m a tenured prof. in Biological Science (with interests in Zoology and in Evolution) and am looking to switch gears at the ripe old age of 52. Any chance Phillips Exeter has interest in an overly trained, much experienced, biologist – with a thing for sustainable agriculture? My wife and I are both from the east and we’re looking to move closer to home. I don’t want to retire just yet but am looking for a bit of an academic change. Is there anyone at Phillips I might talk to? Anyway … thanks for all the interest in Pairodox Farm.

    D

    PS: If we ever do meet – I’ve got lots of interesting views on the early rise (dare I say, Evolution) of religion – it would be nice to talk.

    • Tom Simpson says:

      Thanks so much for the visit and this great introduction — my family just spent a summer on a farm in central PA, so we felt an instant connection to you and your blog. And the photographs you post are simply stunning…I’d follow your blog for those alone. Drop me a line at tom_simpson17@hotmail.com

  3. Rick Simpson says:

    I don’t think you’re wrong, Tom, not for a moment.

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