I posted a link to this on the nerdmom facebook page. But I decided this morning it's too good not to re-post here. My dear friend Andy who writes at ThePaperBall wrote this to read at the KGB in NYC last week. Andy is a genius. I read the novel he wrote for his thesis when he was getting his MFA at Columbia, and I have to admit that I cried for oh I don't know, the last 40 pages. Genius. So here is his take on kids tv. Love...
At least that becomes the question when you have kids.
Not there yet? Never plan to be there? Don’t want to even jinx it by remotely considering it? I understand, but you will at some point have a child in your charge and you will ask that question.
It’s nearly impossible to resist the urge to grab those slices of sanity which Television provides when you’re raising a kid. I couldn’t. Can’t. Even when I let the kids grab a dvd off the shelf at the library, the first thing I look at is it’s running time.
“This one? 75 minutes. Works for me, let’s go.” It’s in the car, while driving back home, giddy at the thought of having an hour and fifteen minutes of freedom when my daughter extends her arm between the two front seats holding the dvd and asks:
“Is this a scary movie?”
At the red light, I take the dvd and reassure them both that “Pilates versus Yoga – it’s Go time!” is not scary at all, realizing full well that in my haste, I harpooned my 75 minute bubble. Defeated, I pass it back to my daughter who now huddles with her brother over the cover intrigued more than ever.
“Is the man in the diaper Pilate?”
“Yoga is a jedi, right?”
“I am so excited to see this story. Thank you, Daddy!”
“Me too! Thanks Dad.”
A moment like this makes you feel like Father of the Year.
Some people sidestep the guilt of “plopping them in front of the Television” by going out of their way to justify the program, as if defending a dissertation.
“Oh, Baby Einstein is so interesting, it really pushes your child to understand the abstract—awakening sensory appreciations that will solidify in the frontal lobe of their ever-absorbing brain.”
I’ve watched Baby Einstein with my children and hurdled the coffee table to hit the stop button because something was solidifying in their frontal lobe that made them scream, cry or stare wide-eyed but not in a “I’m so fascinated” way but more a frozen question of “oh the humanity, why have you laid such horror before me?”
I’m not sure how beneficial these dvd’s are anyway. Does a spinning fan blowing colored streamers underscored by Chopin really instill a deep understanding of the abstract? But then, I remember the chicken. If you plan on watching these, you may want to close your ears for this spoiler. When you and your child least expect it, a chicken will appear on a black stage, clucking sans music, slowly working its way across the screen. There’s your “abstract” I guess. Oh, and as soon as that chicken crosses off camera, there’s a smash cut to a Jack in the Box fully sprung with garish clown makeup accompanied by what must have been a “boo” done in post. The extreme close-up the clown is more startling than the “boo” which sounds as if a relative was in from out of town visiting the studio and wondered if they might have a chance to “lay something down.”
Images random. Weirdness hypnotic. The only thing it awakened in me was annoyance. All of which, however is cradled in brilliant compositions brought to life on an electric synth—my guess, a Casio that ran on three double A’s. But, for as much as I rail on it’s production value, lack of cohesion and its overt manipulation of anything bright, flashy or furry—it provides a good thirty minutes to feel domestic again— to strangely enjoy the freedom of using both hands to wash dishes or fold laundry.
My generation grew up watching two shows: Sesame Street and The Electric Company. Of course there were others tossed in the mix, but when I mention “The Friendly Giant” “Romper Room” and “Hot Fudge” I realize that these shows may have been of a more regional fare.
Today, thanks to research and academics (the hell with story and entertainment) every cartoon or I should say “educational animation experience” pretty much follows the simple three-part model: loss, search, reunion. You’ll have to find your own turning points, rising action, falling action—but for broad strokes, here it is:
Part 1. Baby animal is lost, looking for its “mama.”
Part 2. The journey to find the mama.
Part 3. Baby finds mama.
Part one is tearful, devastating, there is no rhyme or reason why the baby squirrel got separated from its mama. Was it an argument? Was it a mistake? Did mama squirrel just reach her limit? We don’t know. We’ll never know.
Part two’s journey to find mama is far from perilous…maybe it involves getting stuck in some mud or encountering a silly troll, who never even asks a riddle but dances around with messed up hair repeating, “I’m the grumpy troll.” “I’m the grumpy troll.” No danger. No heightening. I’m just asking for some drama. He IS a Troll. Issue a quest or threaten their lives, give us something to keep us watching. Like, “I’m the grumpy old troll who needs the crack and crumble of small children’s bones to survive” maybe then, an audience would perk up and realize, “Yeah, you wanna’ reunite this baby squirrel with its mama? Well, it’s not going to be easy. You gotta’ get passed that troll—and you gotta’ want to do a thing like that.”
Of course, no sooner than you blink, part three arrives and all is right with the world as the story wraps. The mama and baby are brought together and thank you’s and gumdrops rain from the sky as everyone, even the grumpy old troll and the puddle of mud who rises from the earth into human form join the celebration as everyone dances until the credits roll. What’s in store for the next episode? The same episode. The same episode that plays for a week. This so the child will remember and get rewarded while watching something that they can recite, recall and predict.
Yay, we’ve cut the balls off Clifford.
I won’t go into my difficulties accepting Dora the Explorer into our household—she is there anyway, but when she comes on, I leave the room. It’s a civil relationship if nothing else. Basically, it comes down to this: I do not like being yelled at. She yells. She stares at you and yells. With her intonation and the way those chocolate brown saucers drill through you, it’s as if she’s adding just enough space at the end of each question or statement for the word “dumbass.”
“Do you see the mountain?” “Well, do you?” “Do you see the mountain, dumbass?”
“Can you say ‘Abuela’?” “That’s Grandma in Spanish.” “Can you say ‘Grandma’ in Spanish?” “Can you, dumbass?”
There’s also a sense of peer pressure when she commands you to do her bidding.
“Say run.” “If you want the armadillo to survive, say run.” and then the monkey with the oversized snow boots (hey you’re wearing snow boots in Mexico, dumbass!) starts jumping up and down chirping in. “Say run.” “You can do it, say ‘run’.” Soon every creature of the jungle is screaming at you to run. “Do it! Say run! Say run! Say run dumbass!”
But even Dora, the girl who steals my daughter’s heart and is still able to siren my son’s attention from homework, gives me a twenty-two minute break and for that, Dora and I understand each other, tolerate each other, even, respect each other. She gets airtime, I get me-time.
Some cartoons are simply throwaways. Whip cream teetering at the top of the educational food pyramid. We won’t actually learn any forensic lessons from those kids in the Mystery Machine. Daffy duck’s beak isn’t an example of a mallard’s remarkable cell regeneration. He gets his face blown apart by a double-barreled shotgun. Okay. Big cats chase mice. Coyotes chase roadrunners. Anvils flatten heads. Not a lot of lessons, but there is something to be said for entertainment.
There is a show, however that is dangerous and must be yanked off the air. This show unlocks something sinister in our children. In our house it is the name that must not be spoken…a show that I personally would swap out for an animated version of SAW. This show from Canada is called “Cailou.”
Cailou centers around a 4 year old boy who gets upset, whines, and then gets his way. Great. That’s fantastic. Thanks Cailou, next time give childcare a peck on the cheek before you screw it. My children didn’t whine nearly the amount they currently do before the little bald headed kid came on the scene. Oh, yes…he’s bald. Something to do with his name meaning “smooth pebble” in French. That’s fine, but let’s compare bald-headed characters for a second. Charlie Brown v. Cailou. First of all, and let me be clear, Cailou couldn’t carry Charlie Brown’s shorts. He shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as Charlie. In Charlie Brown, we had the angst, the pathos and reality. He never whined when things went bad, he just screamed to the heavens with a barbaric yawp of his own: “ARRGGG” or “WHY?” So, what does a kid learn from Charlie Brown? Shit happens, that’s what.
Let me give you an example of a Cailou episode. Cailou wants a hockey stick. The one he wants is for an adult. Cailou whines and whines because he wants the big stick. After gentle responses of “but Cailou, that’s a big stick, for big people” he continues to pitch a fit. That’s right, baldy, keep whining and soon enough, you’ll get your way. Presto. Cailou walks out of the store with a stick that’s too big. He tries it on the ice and falls down. Cries. Realizes that this stick is indeed for big people and goes back to the store and gets one that he should have gotten in the first place. By the way, in real life, no store’s return policy says, “Oh, the little fella scarred it up on the ice? How cute? Let me just take that as a loss and give him a brand new one.”
Charlie Brown would have tripped over the stick, lost the game and laid motionless on the ice until he worked out the whole turn of events in a dramatic soliloquy:
I bought the wrong stick.
I should have listened.
I didn’t listen and now I’ve lost the game AND I’m stuck with this big stick because hockey sticks are expensive and the minute you drive off the lot, you lose over half the value. I’m stuck with this and I have no one to blame but myself.
It’s all my fault.
There’s tremendous value in “Good Grief.” Grief is Good. Expose the kids to the “sometimes things don’t work out the way we’d like them to” aspect in life and that’s not a bad thing. Instead, this generation is weaned on the wussy whine of a French Canadian four-year-old.
“Mommy, I want a cookie.”
“But, Cailou, it’s almost dinner.”
“But I waaaaaant ooooonnneee…”
“Oh, okay, Cailou. Here you go.”
Maybe Cailou is dying. I never thought of that. Maybe they’re just trying to make this kid as comfortable as possible until the ink runs dry on the storyboard.
If you are not a parent, if you don’t intend on being a parent, if you have no reason to believe that this affects you in any way, guess again. These are the children of the future. These are the people who will be at the reigns of industry, commerce, invention, technology and diplomacy. Are you willing to elect a future president who will begin to whine at a NATO summit because we don’t like other countries being meanies? Will we be on the brink of finding a cure for cancer, but never succeed because suddenly the scientists “didn’t feeeeel liiikkke runnnning the control group.”
But here’s the problem, even the whiner gives me time…but the sacrifice for the present, bites my future in the ass.
Is it worth it?
At the very least, we can lead our children out into the yard and hold a football with a finger and tell them to give it a kick.
What happens as they approach the ball—is your choice.
I used to be a single girl in San Francisco, and after that, a single girl in LA, before that I was a baby in Michigan. But then I met Nipper Knapp. We played guitars and smoked cigarettes (me for real, Nipper Knapp not so much), and listened to Wilco, and took pictures, and laughed at each others jokes, and travelled all over, and then we had a BABY. After the initial shock of our lives being rocked like a Scorpion song, we've settled into a new set of wildly entertaining endeavors, that I think the world needs to know about.
So who is Mrs. Nipper Knapp? A photographer, an actor, a dancer, a dreamer, a doer, a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker. Actually I'm a really sarcastic shell of a person, who can barely contain my disdain for my fellow man. I'm a real people person. I sell stuff on tv. I love weddings. I like to embroider pillowcases, and grow corn in my backyard, and eat tacos. I'm obsessed with midcentury design, and lots of other things that white people are into. I'm a midwesterner living in Los Angeles, and I'm never going back. Except Christmas and Summer. I'm a Christmas and Easter midwesterner. Did I mention I grow corn...