Monday, January 15, 2007

THE CRAZY WORLD OF MODERN KIDS' TELEVISION

My wife & I were the sort of annoying pre-parents who made all sorts of proclamations about how closely we'd be regulating our son's TV viewing, how he'd be limited to 30 minutes a day, how we'd drop everything to read to him when he got bored, all that crap that everyone who hasn't had a kid yet promises themselves and others. When the reality of child-rearing hit in 2003 - well maybe a year and a half later, when he had formed into something more than a blob on the blanket on the floor - it became obvious that television was a godsend, a magical device that instantly gave the parent the opportunity to eat dinner in peace, to wash dishes, to even read the paper for a friggin' change. Hey, 30 minutes is nothing - another show couldn't hurt, right? And maybe another after that? "Sesame Street"'s an hour - surely we can get a bunch done during that time? Wow, it works! And he's digging it, too.

What has helped calm us both is the fact that 38 years after the first episode of "Sesame Street" aired in 1969, there is actually an abundance of quality educational, instructive, sunny, not-too-annoying shows out there for the preschool set. When I counsel myself about his mind rotting from the TV he's watching, I look at the actual product on the tube, and it's truly hard for me to see where the damage would be coming from. See, we have a Tivo, a lifechanging device that you can get for fifty bucks & then another 12 bucks a month after that. That allows us to pre-screen the shows for the ones without commercials, store up the ones we approve of, and dole them out as we see fit. We also still keep the TV viewing to about an hour in the morning and another hour in the evening, always with us supervising in the room & sometimes watching with him (and of course, all rules such as those are made to be broken). My son totally goes berzerk when we watch a rare "live" show with commercials, and freaks out that his show just abruptly stopped for ads, which he has zero concept of; he also can't fathom why he can't immediately watch another episode of, say, "The Backyardigans" when the one he's watching has ended - because on the Tivo we can just keep them rolling as long as we've stored 'em up, and have the lack of parental discipline to cut him off.

There are a handful out there that truly impress me besides "Sesame Street", which is still the gold standard. I actually enjoy the Disney Channel's "Little Einsteins", an animated show with revolving "rescue"-type adventures by a cast of four preschoolers on a red rocket - a white boy, a girlie girl, a tomboy, and a wisecracking African-American boy. Each show is scored by a famous composer - Grieg and Tchaikovsky seem to be the default choices - and features the paintings of an artist such as Van Gogh. To hear my son routinely command me to walk "adagio" or "allegro" is something to behold, particularly when I have to ask him what those words mean. I also approve of "The Backyardigans" (four suburban African-American hippos with names like Uniqua and Tyrone invent backyard adventures like ice treks, volcano climbing and pirate shennanigans before Mom calls them in for their snacks); "Zoom" (on PBS, almost exactly like the one I worshipped when I was a 1970s kid, minus my first crush Julie); "Arthur" (a little trying at times but always a good "lesson" to be had); and "Charlie & Lola" (a British import, drawn in this great animated cut-&-paste style that's a blast to look at and actually kind of funny besides).

Must to avoid are of course "Barney" (simply horrifying, and so dumbed-down it defies description to even a two-year-old), "The Wonder Pets", "Bob The Builder" (awful) and "The Wiggles", which I know some people swear by but which drives me bananas. The fact that it's "rock-and-roll" themed does nothing for me in the least. And my kid thinks it blows too. I still am struck by how generally good the good ones are, though. I have no doubt they're challenging his mind, reinforcing concepts of reading & counting beyond what we already do ourselves, and giving this only child examples of how kids deal with conflict or problems, and the rewards or punishments that come from proceeding correctly. I think they finally figured out the secret recipe for quality kids TV a few years back, just as adult TV seems to be undergoing a fantastic renaissance right now as well, and I'm glad it's peaking right when my kid's inquisitiveness is as well. Respectful disagreement welcomed.

PS - Apologies to any readers who are bummed out that I even indirectly wrote about my kid, something I promised I wouldn't do when I started this blog. I know it's not punk in any way, shape or form, and I promise to tackle deep underground subcultures like Fuck Off Records, the films of Jodorowsky, and Spock/Kirk erotica in future posts.

8 comments:

MoeLarryAndJesus said...

Zoom? Jaysus, you've lost your mind. That show sucked so hard in the '70s that I'm pretty sure it had something to do with the whole Bermuda Triangle urban legend. I guess I'm a few years older than you, but Zoom was considered to be three levels less cool than testicular cancer. Those kids were putrescent little suck-ups.

Ween your kid off of this shit as soon as possible and start with a steady diet of old Outer Limits episodes and the Flintstones and spaghetti westerns and Spartacus and 1930s-era horror films and, of course, a very occasional Bridget the Midget porn flick. You'll be glad you did.

luKe said...

I know it's not punk in any way, shape or form, and I promise to tackle deep underground subcultures like Fuck Off Records, the films of Jodorowsky, and Spock/Kirk erotica in future posts.

any parent of young children knows that little brats are often punk as fuck: they are loud, abrasive and nihilistic so the subject fits detailed twang perfectly!

Spills said...

I take whatever opportunity to foist my tastes on my two kids. Both of my kids (6 and 4) love: the Addams Family, Speed Racer, Go Go Gophers, Underdog. Now, are these enriching and educational? Probably not.

SDD said...

My 13-month-old daughter enjoyed the chase scene in The French Connection.

Seanrude said...

I don't have kids, but I do have tivo, and I agree that it is a life altering device. I can watch complete football games in a little more than an hour, never miss an episode of South Park, my wife has a ten episode backlog of Law & Order, and I can watch my favorite squidbillies episodes whenever I like. Tivo is up there with fire and the wheel

jon manyjars said...

Jay, I have kids who watch the Backyardigans, so I know that they are not "four African-American hippos". Only Tasha is a hippo. Tyrone is a moose. Pablo is a penguin. Uniqua is not based on a real animal. And they are all different colors, so what made you decide they were black? You might be interested to know that John Lurie has done some of the music for this show (as well as the kids' show "Oswald").

Jay said...

Jon, you're definitely right about the different animal species - my bad - DUH - of COURSE Pablo is a penguin. But if their dialects don't give away that they're African-American animals, then they're 'hood-hoping white kids pretending to be "street". I choose to go with the easier, and more likely, explanation.

djmark said...

aw man you can't hate on the wiggles, some of those songs are straight up 60's garage rips. the songs are better than those freakin' canadians the doodlebops (though dee dee is sort of hot).
but you are right little einsteins is good and barney sucks. big time, especially those creepy stepford kids on there. *shiver*
when my kids were younger teletubbies pacified them, i love that show. soooo weird. makes you feel like you are on drugs.