Wednesday, September 27, 2006


The Cult of Napoleon Dynamite

There's a new subculture developing - the cult of Napoleon Dynamite. If you understand why someone would say "Sweet!" instead of "Cool!"; if you get a "Vote for Pedro" reference; or advise someone that they need "skills" to attract a girlfriend; or know what the "dance sequence" is, then you are probably already part of the cult. If you don't, then viewing the film Napoleon Dynamite would be the first thing you would have to do. Why has this film, which is seemingly about very little, touched such a nerve in so many? Some have argued that it "takes you inside geek culture," which some deem a fascinating place. Ironically, as the film let's us know, in the world of Napoleon, he's actually cool (compared to his brother. his uncle and his friends). Advice from Pedro on getting a girlfriend: "Probably build her a cake, or sum-ding." Napoleon is not unlike the "Whatever I feel like I wanna do!" kind of person in all of us. He just says it outloud, and punctuates it with an exasperated "Gosh!" But the film is about taking great joy in the little things in life. Witness Napoleon's reaction to Pedro's bike: "Dang! You got shocks, pegs... Lucky! You ever take it off any sweet jumps?" At its core, film's overwhelming appeal is its theme of self esteem. Napoleon believes in himself in a way that teenagers who are hung up on status or the endorsement of others never can. Napoleon is definitely not "text book" cool, but he doesn't seem to give a shit about that - which in turn, of course, makes him cooler than Fonzie himself! (Cooler than The Fonz? Wow, does that show my age or what?) As one pundit put it (and I agree) "not caring is a liberating, even subversive, message...[it's] the ultimate rebuke to the conventions of cool." The film is about friendship and taking chances. But finally, Napoleon Dynamite is a film about optimism. Napoleon to Pedro before a key speech: "Just tell them that their wildest dreams will come true if they vote for you."

Napoleon Dynamite is a great film for all the reasons you mentioned and at least one more. Because much like an adolescent..nothing makes sense but it all goes perfectly well together and Friendship stands above all.

Many people (especially teens) can quote chapter and verse of ND -I know this to be true because I work in a Middle School - because it resonates with something inside them. Yes, even when he says he hates "tater squashers." Let's face it, we all hate it when someone messes with our food!

Last year my Student Leadership Team did a retreat and the facilitators used clips from this movie as discussion starters. The kids were not only quoting the lines along with the movie, but were making the connections between the film and the topics. So much so that it prompted us to start a "Dynamite" Club this year after school. Using the themes of ND as a guide to teach social skills to at risk kids.

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