Pleasantville’s Take on Humanism

In many ways, the opening scene in the movie Pleasantville can be describe as a show of the great stride our society has made in humanism. The scene shifts from one classroom to another, showing the different lessons that are being taught in different subjects. Despite the different teachers and subjects, each lecture appears to have a similar idea. The first lecture, led by a college counselor, explains the competition for obtaining jobs: “… For those of you going on to college next year, the chance of finding a good job will actually decrease by the time you graduate.” The counselor continues reviewing statistics showing that competition will raise in the job market. The students feel uncomfortable upon learning this, so the counselor explains that good grades are the ticket to one of the higher-paying jobs. I the next classroom, a health teacher explains that “the chance of contracting HIV from a promiscuous lifestyle will climb to one in one hundred and fifty. The odds of dying in an auto accident are only one in twenty-five hundred.” The next teacher, in a science class, explains human effects on the environment. The teacher says, “from just four years ago when ozone depletion was at ten percent of its current level. By the time you are twenty years old, average global temperature will have risen two and a half degrees.”

All of these lessons are about actions that humans consciously have taken or can take, and what the effects of our own choices will be. Making the choice to obtain good grades to achieve career ambitions is really a more modern idea, related to humanism. It shows a shift away from believing in natural order and relying on human reason to secure a successful adulthood. The health teacher also expects her students to rely on human reason, saying that only a promiscuous life style will give someone a high chance of getting HIV. And, the most controversial idea of all is about climate change and the depletion of the ozone layer, which is being taught as a result of human activities and choices, rather than any supernatural being having done this to our environment. The purpose of the film including these scenes in modern school classrooms was to present all the problems that our society has, which are very poignant for a protagonist like David, who desires the idealized society of Pleasantville. But at the same time, the film is, in a way, showcasing to the audience several of the ways in which our society views problems with humanism.

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