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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Death and Cartoons. We Know Drama...

I’ve come to the conclusion that watching children’s television is like going to Disneyland: both of them make me want to put forks in my eyes and end the misery.

At this point, you may be wondering why I don’t like Disneyland. But that’s another story, for another time (though I’ll give you a hint: my family was killed by a rogue Imagineer with a penchant for Imagineering death traps while humming Disney themes… very sad).

Seriously, though, I remember that I actually used to LIKE cartoons. And now I don’t. And I wonder why.

No, don’t give me that guff about “you’re older” or “you’re wiser” or “you’re not smart enough to follow along after getting hit in the head by the Imagineer.” Because I should really restate here: I DO like cartoons. I just don’t like the ones my kids are watching.

And it suddenly dawned on me why: because cartoons today are devoid of drama. In my day, we wondered whether this time, THIS TIME, Wile E. Coyote would finally get to catch, kill, and (presumably) eat the Road Runner. Real stakes. Real drama (now I sound like an ad for a TNT show).

Now, however, we have Curious George wondering if this time, THIS TIME, he’ll be able to properly plant a flower in the next door neighbor’s garden.

In MY day, Pete was Mickey’s arch-nemesis, and to be honest I’m pretty sure he was the embodiment of Satan in all things Disney. Donald had anger management problems that bordered on the psychopathic.

Now, Pete is a big, though curmudgeonly, grump who always learns his lesson at the end of the day. And Donald has clearly been seeing a competent shrink who’s got him on some serious meds, because he rarely has more than a mild flare up.

I get why, I really do. The shows today are more about “values” and “education” (whatever those phrases mean in today’s sinkhole of moral and educational relativism). So rather than teach good story structure and dramatic tension, they teach being “nice” and maybe how to count to ten.

On the face of it, it seems like a good thing, but I wonder sometimes if we aren’t selling our kids short, just a little. Are we teaching them to accept everyone and everything as “good,” and short-circuiting their critical and creative thinking skills? Are we teaching them that everyone is “nice” and “okay,” simply because they’ve never run into someone trying to whack someone else with a nice solid anvil?

Above all, are we stealing from them the knoowledge that a train tunnel drawn into the side of a mountain WILL in fact end up having a train come out of it to squish the bad guy?

I don’t know the answers. I know that my kids watch Mickey Mouse with a look that most resembles a lobotomized cucumber, but when I turn on one of my DVD episodes of Transformers (over mommy’s stern objections, because she is actually a good person, unlike me), they get roused, excited, engaged, involved.

Which all brings me full circle to my beginning thought, and to its ancillary: I hear so many parents complain that their kids are growing up too fast, that they are turning from infants to toddlers to kids to teens in the blink of an eye. And I am forced to ask myself: is it because that’s what kids do naturally? Or is it just because we make them watch more grown-up shows and do more grown-up things because we, as parents, frankly want to kill ourselves occasionally when faced with “just one more” viewing of “Curious George Saves the Man in the Yellow Hat From Being Embarrassed When he Loses his hat”?

Questions for the ages, I guess. But I don’t have time to answer them: the Care Bears are calling.*

* And the Care Bears don’t even have Professor Coldheart any more, for heaven’s sake! Where’s the drama? The Greek playwrights of old are spinning in their graves.

1 comment:

Bartlett Fam said...

the cartoons of today SUCK! they have rude characters and teach no morals. thats why in my house we like watching popeye & pink panther. now, those are some good cartoons!

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