Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Profound Message of "The Emperor's New Clothes"

Walt Disney’s Emperor New Groove turned out to be a thoughtful, very hilarious animated movie, but it doesn’t have the depth of the classic short story that inspired its title.  “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was first published in Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales Told for Children. First Collection., and it’s one of my most favorite “children fairy tales” ever, for it is an amusing tale that conveys a thought-provoking, profound message. 

The story tells of a vain, probably narcissistic emperor whose only concern is wearing the most exquisite clothing and updating his extensive wardrobe collection.  One day, two swindlers presented themselves as tailors to the emperor and offered to weave for him a special, extraordinary clothing that has a remarkable feature: it is rendered invisible to those that are incompetent or stupid.  The emperor’s vanity and curiosity got the better of him and he commissioned the two swindlers/tailors to make it.  Furthermore, he believed this will allow him to kill two birds with one stone – aside from getting to wear this special clothing, he would also be able to determine which among his subjects are stupid and incompetent.  And so, the two swindlers – having been provided with the gold payment and elegant materials that they asked for – proceeded to “work” on the fabric.  People, of course, didn’t see a thing, but not wanting to be considered “stupid and incompetent” talked and behaved as if they have seen it.  The emperor himself, when the fabric was presented to him, was horrified for he can’t see anything, but had to carry on as if he did.  With no one admitting that he actually couldn’t see anything, but pretended that he could because of the self-conscious fear of being shamed and exposed as stupid or incompetent, nobody was able to realize that others were also dealing with the same predicament as his.  The emperor even paraded the “clothes” in front of his people, but he was in fact naked the whole time.  Everybody knew that the emperor wasn’t really wearing any clothes, but they cheered and praised the “emperor’s new clothes” for they didn’t want to be branded as stupid or incompetent.  The ruse would have continued if not for an innocent boy – who had no concern of his self-image but merely acknowledges whatever his eyes show to him – that loudly pointed out the fact that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes.  The father initially hushed him, but that one remark of honesty incited the crowd to admit to themselves that the boy was right, that they can’t see any clothing, that the emperor was indeed naked.    

The tale illustrates a sad facet of Men’s depraved nature.   The truth is something we will repress it if it will cause inconvenience and unpopularity.  We are more concerned with maintaining our comfortable status quo; we are more concerned with what people will think of us.   Hence, we prefer conforming to the popular thought of the majority, even if what we honestly perceive is actually the opposite of that.  We pretend to adore the beauty of the emperor’s clothes when in fact what we really see is the nakedness of the emperor.  We readily embrace hypocrisy if it’ll preserve our pride rather than undergo the uneasiness brought by truthfulness.  

And the absurd thing is that the “popular thought of the majority” is sometimes itself an illusion.  Everyone is afraid to speak the contrary in fear of being ridiculed as foolish.  But, ironically, by trying to protect his image from being deemed foolish, one is actually being foolish by carrying a pretense.   Just like the emperor who wanted to avoid humiliation by actually doing something humiliating – parading himself nude in front of his people.   

In this world dominated by superficiality and hypocrisy and vanity and lies, we really need more people that have the childlike boldness and non-hesitance to straightforwardly blurt out the truth.  Oftentimes, at the early stage of falsity, all it takes to break the general facade is a tiny voice that can candidly point out that the emperor has no clothes on.  One drop of honest declaration could lead to the eventual admission of the truth by the majority who initially chose to repress it. 

Indeed, it is important to call the bluff of falsehood as early as possible.  For if no one would do so, this falsehood would eventually evolve into delusion.  And delusions are harder to break.  When it reaches this level, untruth is adopted as the majority’s accepted version of “the truth”, and declaring the genuine truth then will result to graver persecutions (e.g. death).  So at the earliest opportunity, it’s imperative to demolish falsehood, before it becomes terminal.

Still, regardless of the extent of falsehood’s influence, whenever we encounter truth, we are morally obligated to uphold it, no matter what the degree of difficulty we could receive from doing so.  “The truth shall set you free.”  Freedom is what’s at stake here.  And great will be the punishment for those who knowingly and pridefully suppress truth and practice duplicity – it’s going to be worse than suffering the laughter and shaming from parading naked in front of people.      

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