Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fables for our times

Maybe I'm unusual, I don't know, but I grew up hearing the old traditional fables from my parents - the boy who cried wolf, the little red hen, the ant and the grasshopper.

From those, I learned stuff: Don't call for help as a joke or when you don't really need it. Don't lie. Don't expect the world to hand you what you need on a silver platter. Hard work has rewards. Mooching is bad.

But I wonder if maybe we will be rewriting those fables in the future.

Like the little red hen - a favorite of mine, now, and as I've said before, I've more than once muttered, "'I will do it myself,' said the little red hen" when someone was being dithery or obstructionist with the aim of getting out of having to do whatever task it was.

But now, I think the little red hen story - which you might remember, consists of the industrious bird planting and growing grain, taking it to the mill, and baking bread, while her layabout friends were "too tired" or "not interested" in helping. (or they would help, "Later.") And then, at the end, when the hen pulls the final fruit of her labor - a new loaf of bread - out of the oven, there are all the animals that were previously unable to help, wanting to "help" her eat it.

In the version I learned (at least) the hen gets her final justice: she says, one last time, "I will do it myself" and winds up eating the bread on her own. The presumption being, perhaps next time those lazy animals will actually do some work before they expect rewards.

But I wonder if today it would actually be The Little Red Hen, the Tall Slender Fox, and the Pack of Thieving Reptiles:

The little red hen does her work, while her animal friends (the cat, the dog, the horse) lay around and do nothing. But then, as she's pulling the bread from the oven and telling them she will eat it herself, the Tall Slender Fox shows up and tells her that's not the Responsible thing to do, and she and her animal friends must Pull Together for the good of the barnyard, and that he's mandating she share her bread. And as this is happening, the Thieving Reptiles show up and then decide that, even though they don't live in this particular barnyard, they are entitled to a piece of the bread. And in fact, they're entitled to a piece of the bread in every barnyard across the nation.

And so, the little red hen, for her hard work, is left with a slice and a half of bread, a great sense of disappointment, and a bunch of moochy animal friends who have just learned that if they wait long enough, someone will come and bail them out of their hunger.

I suspect that after a few rounds of this, the hen would get disgusted, pack her bags, and go off in search of Galt's Gulch to make a new life.

The other fable was the Ant and the Grasshopper. There are actually two versions of this - the original Aesop where the grasshopper, as reward for his idleness, starves in the cold because the ants don't share. In the Disney version, the ants take pity on the grasshopper and invite him in (but he's expected to play the fiddle to entertain them, so he at least earns his keep a bit. The Disney version is also the source of the song, "The world owes me a livin'" which seems oddly apropos of the comments I hear from a few of the more entitlement-minded students)

Anyway. In the new-new version of this, the Queen Bee of the Parliament of Insects would show up, buzz angrily at the ants, tell them they are being selfish, and they need to learn to share and to shore up the insect world with the fruit of their labors. She then proposes a 90% top marginal tax rate on the ant's work, and tells them they should be glad they don't produce that much, because SEE how they'd be penalized?

At the same time, the grasshopper has food and other worldly needs lavished on him. He winds up outfitting a fancy "crib" and spends time with several lady grasshoppers. Meanwhile, the ants sit in their mound and seethe with resentment, and vow to vote out the Queen Bee at the next Insect Parliamentary Elections - if only they can find enough disgruntled insects who haven't been pandered to.

In the end, the ants make it, though not happily. They scrimp and save and manage to be able to repair the mound when it gets damaged in winter storms. They then plan wisely and harvest just what is needed to keep them alive the next summer.

Unfortunately, the grasshopper, not sure what to do with his copious free time (since the world has given him the living it apparently owed him), winds up with a serious honey habit and has to go into rehab.

(I originally wrote that as the grasshopper died of a honey overdose, but that seemed a tad mean)


nightfly said...

Galt's Gulch! HAHAHAHAHA! Brilliant. I'm half-tempted to Mapquest the place.

The Fifth String said...

Bravo, Ricki! Very well done!

WV: rowele - what some of the more "entitlement-minded" seem to need to get them off their duffs.

Mr. Bingley said...


WV: glyeadro - Gwyneth Paltrow's next child...