Last weekend, I saw again the lovely kids’ movie, Gnomeo and Juliet, a great retelling of Shakespeare’s best known work. Aside from the lack of “thee and thou”, it pretty much sticks with the basic plot. Two families, the Montagues and Capulets, have a long-running fued, which becomes confused when two young members from these rival families fall in love.
Shakespeare’s original Romeo and Juliet of course grabs us most because of the tragedy this rivalry brings upon the lovers – it ultimately kills them. There is still a little of that in Gnomeo and Juliet, although they obviously tame it down a little for the kids. But what this animated retelling does capture, that the original does not, is the sheer and utter stoopudity of the whole situation.
The story begins, “Two households, both alike in dignity” – these are two families that, actually, are pretty respectable. Yet for some unexplained reason, they have come to hate each other. It seems that, for both families, the only reason they hate the other, is because the other hates them. If you asked a Capulet what specifically they don’t like about the Montagues, you sense they’d say, “Well, I don’t know… No, they seem to be fairly nice and everything… it’s just well, they hate us so much, so…” And a Montague would say pretty much the same thing. If the only reason we hate somebody is because they hate us, it’s all becoming a little silly – nothing highlights that more than seeing a bunch of garden gnomes fighting.
Prejudice is always stupid. One of my favourite sayings is, “Prejudice breeds ignorance, and ignorance breeds prejudice”. Usually we have a prejudice towards people we don’t understand, and it is our prejudice that stops us from learning more about them. We feel we don’t need to learn more about them, because whenever we find something we don’t know about them, our prejudice fills in the blanks. You don’t know what “they” eat (whoever “they” are)? Don’t worry, your prejudice will come up with the answer for you – clearly, “they” must eat children, or something. It doesn’t matter to us that this is actually a fiction, because our prejudice reassures us of how right we are, compared to the fiction we have turned “them” into. The most “successful” prejudices are those that so effectively fictionalise “them”, that they cease to be human at all – they become animals, or demons, or at the very least, morons. But precisely because it is fiction, built on stubborn ignorance, is why prejudice is just so stupid.
Prejudice can be caused by stupidly focussing on any number of things: a person’s skin colour, their location, their gender, their family, their style in clothes. But by far the stoopudest prejudice is when we are prejudiced against somebody precisely because we think they are prejudiced against us. That is a stupidity that is so stupidly stupid that it ought to be misspelt. It is the height of stoopudity.
Many people seem to have a prejudice against Christians, because they think we’re all judgemental hypocrites who just want to make them look bad. That might be based on a few Christiany jerks they’ve met, but it’s not based on the vast majority of Christians. I know it’s not, because most of the Christians I know (and I know quite a few) are not like that at all. They’re decent, honest people, who actually have a lot of compassion, if you give them a chance. I might also suggest sometimes certain Christians think wider society is out to get them, when really, people are just trying to make their way as best they can. They make mistakes, sure, but so do all of us.
The solution to the ignorance/prejudice cycle is listening, actually filling the gaps in our knowledge with the reality, not our prejudiced fictions. When we talk to them, we find out “they” don’t eat children, “they” eat burgers, just like, well, “us”. Sure, we might not agree on everything. In fact there may be some big issues to work out. But maybe, if we listen, and throw away our prejudices for a while, we might actually tackle those issues much more effectively. And who knows, we might even fall in love. At the very least, we’ll be no longer seeing a fiction, but the real person before us.