Chris Haughton, 2012, Walker Books
We all struggle with our base desires. In many ways our lives are defined by our ability to resist our impulses. That can make or break our careers, our social lives, our finances, our marriages. It’s something that kids especially wrestle with as they feel their way through the world. Watching them struggle to not do the thing that every bone in their body is crying out to do can either be good for a laugh, or one of the most agonisingly suspenseful experiences in the world.
We all want to be good, sure, but what does that actually look like in a world full of temptation? Clearly we can’t deny our urges exist, or we’re wading into Orwellian thought-crime territory. It is unfair to judge us by our thoughts. No, ethics must be concerned with how we present externally, through our actions.
It is our capacity to contain ourselves that counts.
In George’s case, he loves to eat cake, chase cats, and dig holes. Don’t we all.
Will you be good? His host, Harris, asks. “Yes.” Says George. “I’ll be very good.” I hope I’ll be good, George thinks…
That’s an interesting concept as well. He has the cognition to know what good is, to know what is expected of him, as well as the self awareness to know that it’s in no way a certainty.
And so he inevitably sees a cake in the kitchen. He said he’d be good, but he loves cake.. what will he do… Oh no, George! He eats the shit out of the cake. Demolishes it. And when he sees a cat he chases it, and he digs a massive hole.
Harris gets back. George tries to play cute like nothing has happened, but there’s no getting away from the scenes of utter destruction in front of them. There’s a whole damn cake missing.
George is even disappointed in himself. This was his battle as much as anything else, and he’s lost. He said he’d be good. He hoped he’d be good. But he wasn’t. He’s devastated, and a tear falls down his cheek. Utterly gutted.
What even is good? Surely we can’t blame George for wanting to eat the cake a dig a hole. In some hedonsitic circles, indulging in our impulses is considered a virtue. Many find it a therapeutic release. And no doubt it is. Bottling our impulse our whole lives can be draining and unhealthy. And now we have seen entire industries popping up to support their controlled fulfilment. People can throw axes in warehouses, scream in the woods, engage in radical honesty, or see specialised sex workers. No doubt they all function better in society as a result.
The Simpsons dealt with this in season 7, episode 5, “Bart’s inner child”. Bart declares “I do what I feel”, and a self help guru amplifies the message and the town explores the consequences of such a view. Of course things quickly devolve to anarchy, troubling even the original trouble maker himself, although admittedly this could be more due to the fact that his gimmick has been taken, and he no longer enjoys his outsider status. Regardless, when the town begins to fall apart because people “don’t feel like” doing their jobs, the family realises that maybe this particular pot was best left unstirred.
But back to the living room which George has torn up. To Harris’s credit, he doesn’t get mad. It’s quite admirable actually. George has the maturity to recognise that he’s stuffed up, he made a mistake, he’s sorry, and he wants to make up for it. He offers Harris his toy. Harris suggests going for a walk, which is a great idea.
On their walk, they encounter all of George’s previous temptations, and he walks past them easily. Clearly he’s grown from the experiences. He’s prepared for it now, and he’s in a better position to tame his impulse.
Then he comes to something we haven’t seen before: A garbage bin. What will he do? George? It ends on a cliff-hanger, which is rare and fun. I can’t think of another book which does that.
In many ways, this is a story of hope. It is a beacon of light in a world dogged by addiction. The spirit is strong, and we can overcome.