Johns: Be Good to Those who Don’t Deserve it: Mary Poppins, Mr. Banks, and Magic

This article originally appeared on the blog of Heretic, the magazine of We Are Libertarians.

It’s perhaps the most unnatural thing a person can do. Turn the other cheek when struck. Washing the feet of your enemies. Serving those who wish ill upon you. Why should we grant kindness to those unworthy of it?

Let’s examine Mary Poppins. I know, I know, not exactly a philosophical font, but it has a distinct message and a rather powerful one at that. For all of the colorful characters in the film, there is actually only one dynamic character. Mary Poppins herself is always firm and pleasant. Burt is always goofy and upbeat. The children, Jane and Michael, want magic and then experience magic, but their demeanor never changes. Mrs. Banks begins the movie having already converted to a revolutionary for women’s rights and she ends with that same goal.

It is Mr. Banks who embarks on an unwanted journey from a rigid man of routine into a gleeful father and husband. It’s easy to lose focus on him amidst the joy and high jinks of the rest of the cast. But he’s the most important character in the entire film.

This is not to say the other characters serve no point. Actually, quite the opposite. Mary Poppins, Burt, the children, and several other wacky characters combine for an environment of love, magic, and joy. Ultimately, it is this culture that gives them the strength to make an end to the suffering of the film’s odd mix of protagonist and antagonist (Mr. Banks). While he is clearly the reason the wife is not free to express her political beliefs, the maids sulk around, and the children live sheltered lives, he is still sympathetic. Burt reminds the kids that their father is struggling. He might deserve to struggle based on his behavior. But leaving him to suffer alone is not going to change his oppressive nature.

Michael has earned tuppence and wants to feed the birds with it. His father wants him to invest it in the bank. In the end, Michael gives the tuppence to his father, forfeiting his own fun for his father’s appeasement. When Mr. Banks is sacked, he stares at the tuppence. How great a sacrifice Michael made for him! How hard was his heart to take that bit of hard-earned joy from his son? In a fit of overwhelming humor, Mr. Banks gives the tuppence to Mr. Dawes Senior, the sulky bank owner. Upon doing so, the ancient-looking owner dies of laughter, much to the delight of his son (Mr. Dawes Junior) who had never seen his bookish father so happy in his very long life.

Now, Michael could have done what was fair and just. He could have kept his tuppence and fed the birds. But his sacrifice set in motion a feeling enthusiasm and joy in Mr. Banks and, by extension, the fellow bankers. This joy is eventually delivered back to Michael and his family. His father fixes his kite, flies it with the kids, and Mr. Banks uses his wife’s “Votes for Women” sash to act as the tail, sailing her once dark secret from him proudly into the air for the word to see. He accepts his wife and children as individuals whom he cherishes.

It’s not often possible to directly track how the good that goes around comes around. But it is nevertheless true. The world of Mary Poppins is fantasy, but the man who’s heart changes, Mr. Banks, lives in reality. He never goes on a magical journey. His story is real. He represents the villains in our lives, our authority figures and bosses that deserve a swift kick in the shins. But if we give them that kick, our situation only gets worse. If we give them our tuppence, our service, we will help them to enter our world of magic; our world where people are good to each other. And isn’t a lifetime of a cheerful relationship better than feeding the birds for a few minutes?

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