Saturday, 28 March 2009

Lessons From St. Trinian’s

imageI’m sitting here watching Sky movies and St. Trinian’s in on again, that’s the 2007 version mind you. I first saw the film last month and as an American with little knowledge of the film’s heritage I did a bit of Wiki research.
I confess that I liked the film. Before you think me a perv for schoolgirls, I thought the French teacher was the hottest. TrĂ©s chic. Anyways…I liked the non-political correctness of the film. Not only did the film depict rebellion against political authority, the film itself was a slap in the face of all those prigs up their own arses. According to Wiki, it wasn’t even released in America…some reader correct me if I am misinformed. I can only imagine the tempest it would cause.
For those who have not seen the film, it depicts school girls (ages 12-17) engaging in acts ranging from theft, making and selling alcohol, demolitions, drug use, sex-chat hotlines, and gratuitously implies one girl giving a blowjob to extract information. I’m sure I’ve missed bits.
St. Trinian’s began as a comic panel series by Ronald Searle in the 1940’s and then became a popular series of films in the 1950’s. According to Wiki, “[St, Trinian’s] pupils are wicked and often well-armed, and mayhem is rife. The mistresses (as female teachers in Britain were known at the time) are also disreputable. Cartoons often showed dead bodies of girls who had been murdered with pitchforks or succumbed to violent team sports, sometimes with vultures circling; girls drank, gambled, and smoked....The films implied that the girls were the daughters of gangsters, crooks, shady bookmakers and other low-lifes.”
The real St. Trinian’s was inspired by St. Trinnean’s school in Edinburgh established by Miss C. Fraser Lee in 1922 and closed with her death in 1946. She followed the Dalton system of education which focused on self-discipline rather than school-imposed discipline. Thus it was said that St. Trinnean’s was the school “where they do what they like.”
There are still Dalton schools throughout the world. The most noteworthy being the prestigious Dalton School of New York. It’s the kind of school whose waiting list is filled with the names of the spawn of the rich, powerful, and influential and whose graduates are almost guaranteed to follow in their parent’s footsteps.  It strikes me that the children of the wealthy get the Dalton system which encourages freedom and individual responsibility and accountability while the middle-class and the poor get government approved scholastic brainwashing factories.
My impression of the girls of St. Trinian’s is that they are not rebels. The teachers imposed very little discipline and are just as “bad” as the girls. Thus there was nothing to rebel against. In fact the girls are shown to give deference to their teachers. Besides, I figure true rebellion is a label thrust upon you by those who feel rebelled against and not one self-consciously applied. Anyone who plays the rebel or rebels for the sake of it is just a poseur. True rebellion requires purpose and someone to piss-off with that purpose.
Of course there is a long list of teen rebellion movies. The bad kids with hearts of gold who play by their own rules. I think people have a vicarious attachment to these films born in the contrast of their own lives of quiet desperation. Unfortunately, these films oft depict rebellion for rebellions sake without any genuine purpose save being wild and crazy and defending their right to party. I say unfortunate because anyone inspired by these role models emulate the image and not the substance.
I think St. Trinians was a bit different. The start of any film shows the characters in their natural state before it is disturbed by the narrative conflict. The girls are running an illegal distillery, engaging in petty crimes, and other below and above board profit making ventures. They reminded me of lion cubs. Baby predators play-fight with each other to prepare for their adult life of predator vs. prey survival. Likewise, the girls practice some pretty valuable life skills by being unruly and yet this does not seem to interfere with the school’s ultimate purpose, to educate them and prepare them for life. If the former head girl shown is anything to go by, we see the girls going-on to lead successful career lives.
In one of the deleted scenes I found on YouTube, the headmistress is giving the new English teacher a tour of the grounds when they come upon a fight. Not only does she refuse to stop the fight she shouts tips to the combatants. As she explains, “In other schools, girls are sent out quite unprepared into the merciless world. When our girls leave here it is the merciless world that has to be prepared for them.”
The challenges for the protagonists in the film come from two sources. One is the bank foreclosing the school at the encouragement of a greedy second-rate businessman and the other is the government in the form of the over-eager Minister of Education. He wants to parade the school before the press as an example of the decline of discipline in British education. He doesn’t want to close the school, but to break their spirit. Of course the girls must save the school to avoid being sent off to “normal” schools. Therefore the object of the rebellion is not directed towards the school itself, rather towards an imposed external authority.
Freedom is the right to do as you damn well please, however, there are a few caveats. With freedom comes responsibility and consequences. These are the natural checks and balances to freedom. When in the name of political correctness, socialism, mercy, forgiveness, parental concern, politeness, fear, weakness, misguided idealism, or sympathy these natural checks are circumvented, then all hell breaks loose.
There are of course the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness, but there is also an implied right – the right to defend those rights. If someone pushes you and you don’t push back, then you have given silent consent to your rights being violated. The level of response is up to you really, but it should be a proportionate response. The failure to respond breaks the law of consequence, or at least diminishes it.
There will always be people who want to mess with you, by which I mean violate your rights. I’m not talking about people that you don’t like or those with whom you disagree. You must accept and respect the rights of others just as you expect others to accept and respect your rights. This balance between individuals creates a line of mutual respect. Crossing the line meets with dire consequences. As well it should.  In older times it might result in a fatal duel.
There are certain Objectivist and libertarian views that I hold with some reservation, such as the instigation of violence. The idea is that the only rational response to violence is violence; therefore violence should only be used in response to violence and never initiated. I agree in principle; however one must be prepared to punish those who cross the line with an appropriate response, which in some rare cases may include violence. Also, any response to violence requires both the ability and the will to respond effectively with violence. This means preparation a forehand, such as misspent youth. We have to let the cubs tear into each other and don’t spare them the consequences of their actions.
Perhaps I read too much into this film. Where I see lessons in freedom and anti-establishmentarianism others see yet another teen rebellion movie or some girl power fantasy film. I’m sure both can be read. And yet, when one of the look-out girls refers to the Education Minister’s approaching motorcade as “black eagle”, in obvious reference to the Nazis, it seems the film makers may have had more in mind than sucking-up to the teen girl market. Perhaps they were subtly sowing seeds of dissent against a fascist nanny-state.
The atmosphere of St. Trinian’s School both encourages freedom and personal responsibility in the girls, but also the ability to defend that freedom learned through Darwinian conflict, the so-called anarchy. Freedom starts at home. If your tolerate family, friends, and randoms imposing on your freedom, treading on your rights, then you will tolerate your society, media, and government imposing on your freedom. So take a lesson from the curriculum at St. Trinian’s and don’t let them get away with it.