The truism runs that sequels are never as good as their predecessors. A number of movies have challenged that truism, as others have confirmed it. In this sequel to Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed! (reviewed here), Katharine DeBrecht has actually topped herself.
Hamper tells the story of two sisters, Janie and Sam, who want to save enough money to buy a special bike. They decide to earn the money through babysitting.
However, they do love their TV, and through it are aquainted with the world of Hollywood. Their "favorite TV show" is called "Stars Know Best." (Does the picture of Whoopi Goldberg leering out of the idiot-box qualify this as a horror story?)
Their plans start out all right -- until the first night. Their closet doors burst open, and they're invaded by Hollywood starlet "Daisy Smears," who looks an awful lot like another recent pop tart, who still makes occasional tabloid headlines. Daisy persuades them that her line of accessories are "all the rage," and gets them to buy an official Daisy Flowerpot Hat.
She takes all their money, leaves them with flowerpots, and heads off to be the special guest at the Boycott Velcro March. Why? "They need me because I am a STAR--which makes me an EXPERT on everything!"
This pattern repeats every night, as a different star pops out of their closet, sells them something they don't need so that they can be fashionable, and takes all their money. It's sort of a case of The Lyin', the Rich, and the Wardrobe. In the course, they disrespect the girls' upbringing, family, and values.
Every time, the star makes a sale, then exits to appear at some worthless cause. Each always point out that her presence at these events is necessary because she's a star, "and therefore an EXPERT." But as the girls' behavior (and dress) changes, they find babysitting jobs harder to come by. Finally, they dump the junk they'd been sold, and go out to play with a girl who had simply babysat, earned the money, kept it, and bought the cool bike.
I read this to my family of six, ranging in age from six to me. Everybody enjoyed, everyone laughed at some point or other. We all agreed that the humor was better-conceived and better-executed than the first book; and there was a lot of it. The title even fits the story this time! My youngest boys (6 and 10) loved it, wanted to read it again right away.
The illustrations and caricatures were well-done, the likenesses unmistakable. The art had its own jokes, often aimed at older readers, in addition to what was in the text (Larry King scowling, Oprah running around with a copy of Toenailology for Tots). In this way, the book was a bit reminiscent of Pixar's wonderful productions like Toy Story, which works on many levels of maturity.
On the other hand, Hamper's very strength is one of its weaknesses. Topicality limits shelf-life. Hamper is a great read for kids now, and will be for a few years. However, it can't replace Hop on Pop, because the day isn't far off when kids won't know who Brittney Spears, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, or Hillary Clinton even are. (The sooner, the better.)
Another criticism: the denouement is not fully-realized. The girls just shrug off the glitzy paraphernalia, and go out to play. We're not sure exactly what they learned, or why, or what will change for them. Their biggest realization is that they have no good reason to want to try to look or act like the stars, and that they themselves are "experts" at being themselves.
But this is to replace one relativist value with another. The sisters had mentioned church in passing, once. But no one is on the scene to remind them of Jesus' probing question: "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36).
In fact, this "value" that they embrace at the end is the very "value" that Hollywood constantly preaches: be true to yourself, above all else. If you really feel it deeply in your heart, do it, it's good, because you're good. Perhaps the glitterati are more shallow and openly destructive in their pursuit of the great god Self, but it is the same idol either way. Jesus singled out two commandments, and neither one was "Be yourself" (Matthew 22:34-40).That message is absent from the book. The diagnosis, then, is pretty good; the prescription misses the ten-ring.
Still, one has to love the skewering that Hollywood gets in this book. The point can't be made often enough, nor in enough ways, that most "stars" get a soapbox through no personal qualities or achievements beyond their looks, and/or their ability to pretend to be other people, and say things others have written for them.
For instance, I loved The Lord of the Rings. But the idiot who very ably played Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) used his fame to go around trashing our country, the war, and our president. I thought at the time that Mortensen really should preface every appearance with the statement: "I am not a person of character, nobility, morals, or accomplishment -- but I play one in a movie; so...."
Here's another example, hot off the press. Carlos Santana uses the talent God gave him, and the freedom American soldiers died to safeguard for him -- to do what? To bash the President and our war against terror -- on foreign soil. What are his qualifications to speak on foreign policy? He's a rock star. That's it.
Santana uses that platform, his status as an expert because he's a celebrity, to extrude such profundities such as these:
I have wisdom. I feel love. I live in the present and I try to present a dimension that brings harmony and healing. My concept is the opposite of George W. Bush. ...There is more value in placing a flower in a rifle barrel than making war. ...As [noted expert-on-everything] Jimi Hendrix used to say, musical notes have more importance than bullets.Yeah, see, you can't get insights like that just by playing a guitar, singing, and doing drugs. Well, okay, you can... but you can't get anyone to listen to them. Unless you're a Star. Then every misinformed, ill-conceived, idiotic bit of moronic burble that you emit is duly broadcast from pole to pole, as if it had value.
If you follow the news at all, you know that this is just one example of many that could be cited.
Back to the book. So insofar as Hamper makes the point that stars deserve no credibility or confidence, and makes it repeatedly, memorably, effectively and humorously, that's a good thing. Now every time some pretty face spouts off some nonsense, I could say, "...because I'm a star, and therefore an EXPERT!" -- and my kids will laugh, and get the point.
NOTE: I received this book as a gift from the publisher through Mind & Media.