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Posted on October 10th, 2012, by

Traditionally, the theme of children was central for literary works as well as cinematography. At the same time, often children and their problems were overshadowed by adults, who get used to play the superior role, while children practically always remained on the background, performing secondary functions. For instance, in the book The Handmaid’s Tale and in the film Jesus Camp children practically become a commodity, which adults use as they wish, regardless of interests of children. In such a way, the authors of the book and the film show the audience that adults often ignore children as individuals, who have their own interests, while taking decisions by children without the assistance of adults is practically unimaginable. At the same time, it is worth mentioning the fact that the adult control over children is close to extreme in both The Handmaid’s Tale and Jesus Camp. In both works children become highly dependent on adults, but, what is more important, they have to act, live, and think as adults want them to. As a result, the book and the film reveal the total dissolution of children’s identity in the overwhelming impact of adults who treat children rather as commodity than humans equal to adults.

Basically, children perform a very important function in both films. In actuality, they emphasize the extremes of the communities depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale and Jesus Camp. In such a way, children are perceived as manifestation of the most radical ideas promoted by communities depicted in the book and the movie. At this point, it is possible to speak about a great symbolism of children. Traditionally, children are viewed as innocent, pure personalities which are just starting to learn the surrounding world. Therefore, they perceive all the rules and norms from their environment and, thus, from adults.

However, in The Handmaid’s Tale and in Jesus Camp children are subjects of experiments conducted by adults. In fact, children personify the implementation of the most radical ideas developed by adults. To put it more precisely, children characters depicted in the book and in the film are conditioned by adults, but, unlike adults, who are able to have their own philosophy and the vision of the world, children learn only what they are taught. Therefore, they become a kind of machines which blindly believe in everything they are told by adults.

Such conditioning of children is particularly dangerous in Jesus Camp because the film depicts the real life situation. In fact,  it is a documentary, which depicts the life of the community in a Christian summer camp, where children are lectured, if not to say bombarded, with information, which defines their set of values and through which they understand and perceive the surrounding world. To put it more precisely, children are taught in accordance with the Christian conception of the world and they learn rules and norms of the Christian community which actually maintains the summer camp. Children do not have a choice in their learning. They simply take values and rules imposed on them by adults for granted. In such a situation, it is very dangerous that the ideas and values adults impose on children are quite radical.

At any rate, these values and ideas are religious by their nature. Symbolically, as children learn from adults, they eventually become even more devoted Christians than adults. It fact, it seems as if children are more radical than adults, who actually teach them, are. This is very important for the understanding of the function of children in the film because it proves that children are conditioned, but effects of such conditioning may be potentially dangerous. However, the film does not really reveal any serious danger to society from the part of these conditioned children. The film rather shows that children are a kind of commodity in hands of manipulative adults who believe they taught their children for good, but, instead, they raise up radical and intolerant people. For instance, Levi, one of the main characters of the film, preaches a sermon at the camp, for he attempts to be like his father, and in his sermon he declares that his generation is key to Jesus’ return.

Obviously, this is a typical manifestation of not an ordinary religious faith, but rather some fanaticism and radicalism. Moreover, Levi has already got no way out of the religious path in his life. In such a way, good intentions of his father to raise a devoted Christian ends up in the formation of a convinced Christian who is unable to adequately perceive the world beyond Christian community or the world which has no idea of Christianity. The director of the film makes the audience wondering what would happen if this boy encounters a radical representative of another religious movement.

Hence, the film perfectly illustrates that conditioning of children by adults threatens to the future of the society because, if all children are so radical and fanatic, in a way, in their beliefs, the world is likely to slip back to the Middle Ages. However, all these warnings are rather implicit than direct. The director of the film simply attempts to present facts concerning the life of children in Jesus Camp, while the audience should makes its own conclusions. Thus, viewers can agree or disagree with the film, but they cannot deny that children are treated as a commodity by adults and this may be very dangerous.

In this respect, The Handmaid’s Tale accomplishes the film in regard to the depiction of effects of conditioning of children and their treatment as a commodity. Unlike the film, which rather implies the danger, the book directly depicts the community where children are conditioned since their early childhood and the new society is really appalling. To put it more precisely, the author of the book depicts the society after the nuclear pollution. In the result of the catastrophe which struck the world, people had to start a new life in a new country, the Republic of Gilead, and with a new society.

Obviously, children are the last and main hope of adults since adults have become infertile in the result of nuclear and chemical pollution.

This is why they attempt to create a new race. For this purpose they select only healthy children who can continue the life of human race. At first glance, the life of the new society is logical and rational since it is quite natural that people want to survive. However, on reading the book, it becomes obvious that the new world is far from perfect. The selection of children is absolutely dehumanizing since children who have some defects are murdered, while it is only keepers, the children who are born healthy, that stay alive. In fact, it is quite symbolic that adults call these children keepers because they are supposed to be keepers or guardians, saviors of the human race. Adults believe that these children will continue the human race and they will create a new, ideal world, which is grounded on fundamental religious principles, which are strikingly similar to principles developed by the Christian community in Jesus Camp. For instance, the abortion is forbidden in the Republic of Gilead, which is controlled by the religious leaders, who have established a theocratic regime in the country. Similarly, the Christian community in Jesus Camp also stands for the ban of abortion and, remarkably, children also participate in protests against abortion and they grow up being convinced opponents of abortion, although they are unaware of potential threats to the health of babies and women which the ban of abortion can bring. However, children as well as adults in the Republic of Gilead are less concerned with health of women and babies. Religious principles and survival of human race are their main priorities. This is why they readily accept the murder of unbabies, babies born with defects.

At the same time, it is important to stress that keepers grew even more radical than the theocratic authorities. The future of this new society seems to be clear. It is obvious that adults conditioning children raise the generation which will live in a totalitarian and cruel society, where humanistic principles will be totally replaced by religious radicalism, fanaticism and concerns with the survival of human race. For instance, in this new society sex is viewed as a mechanism of reproduction solely, but not as a pleasure. Hence, adults, who wished to create the ideal generation, which actually may sincerely believe that they are also key to Jesus’ return as Levi does, have created a new generation which is intolerant, radical and puts religious principles and utilitarianism above all. As a result, there remains no room for humanism.

Thus, on analyzing the function of children and their role in The Handmaid’s Tale and Jesus Camp, it is possible to conclude that the book and the film warn the modern society against conditioning children and making them a mere commodity.  In fact, both the film and the book are very convincing. The film strikes the audience with the documentary evidence of conditioning of children and their radicalization by adults. The audience can see it and feel it. In this respect, visualization helps consistently to reach the audience and involve the audience. In such a way, the director of the film can convey the message more effectively and it is easier to convince the audience through visual and audio messages rather than through plain text. Nevertheless, the book is also very convincing. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that the book depicts more dangerous effects of conditioning of children and their treatment as a commodity. On the other hand, it is obvious that the author of the book just goes a bit further in her research of the problem of conditioning of children, while the director of the film apparently could not go beyond the boundaries of the real world, because it was a documentary film.

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