Sunday, September 19, 2010

let's do the time warp again (again)

Children's television is interesting. Cartoons still rule, but there is a ton of variety for today's media-savvy and -saturated child. When I was little, I remember my brother and I creeping downstairs and turning the T.V. volume on low to watch Saturday morning cartoons, with Speed Racer and other Japanese animation, Mighty Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Popeye, and Felix the Cat as top favorites. I've loaded the iPad with lots of Popeye and Felix cartoons, which are available via the Internet Archive for a similar purpose—getting me a little more me time on A Sunday morning.

Cartoons were something you waited for—a weekend treat. There was the occasional after-school kid programming too, like Batman and Underdog, but many afternoons dad got home early and then we had to switch the channel to—yuck—the news (booorrriiinnggg!) When we got a bit older, we also watched "family" programs in syndication that we might have missed first-run, like Lost in Space or The Brady Bunch.

I actually bought the Lost in Space DVDs for my daughter. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. The shows are a bit of fun nostalgia, and I got a kick out of her asking to see "Mish, Mish!" when she was a toddler. Translation: the appeal of the antics of Dr. Zachary Smith is apparently still strong. Or genetic.

Now kids don't have to wait until the weekend or after school for kiddie-fare, as these shows are available on 24-hour cable channels, run by commercial stations, or even PBS.  Not so sure that's a good thing, but that's how things are. My daughter has discovered Tom and Jerry, a cartoon I never really watched or liked when I was a kid, but do enjoy watching with her now. And of course there is my beloved Flintstones, along with the whole Hanna Barbera canon. And no child's education is ever complete without the benefit of Bugs Bunny.

It has been interesting to me that she is "discovering" so many cartoon characters from my childhood, as well as cartoons like the Smurfs and Snorks and kid shows like Teletubbies and Barney that were first seen by kids who are now in college. I don't necessarily want to hang out and watch with her as much when she opts for Barney, but as much as that show has been slammed by adults, I find it less obnoxious than Dora the Explorer. Barney may be beyond corny, but at least the show is gentle and soothing. I appreciate the snippets of Spanish that Dora may (or may not) be passing along to her young viewers, but what is with all the yelling? The show is shrill, at too high a pitch, and quickly goes from annoying to unwatchable for me. That goes for you too, Diego.

As much as children's programming is decried (and there is a lot of crap out there, without a doubt), I have been pleasantly surprised by quite a lot of the modern offerings. Some of our favorites correspond to great children's books: Angelina Ballerina is a funny and beautifully drawn program about a young mouse who is also an aspiring ballerina. Max and Ruby captures the collage-style of Rosemary Wells's original illustrations and the humor of the brother and sister bunnies. Little Bear is as charming as the classic Maurice Sendak stories. Babar manages to keep the spirit of the de Brunhoff books while sending Babar on further adventures. Rupert is a new discovery for us, but has wonderful fairy-tale-like stories and great animation, and Franklin is cute and fun to watch. Also good are Make Way for Noddy, Dragon Tales and in moderation, the inimitable Spongebob Squarepants. I have to admit a fondness for the 90s animated Batman, and the Avatar series, which we also watch, now that she's beyond toddler age

As she gets older she more and more wants to watch programs that feature actual kids. For a while, that meant the syndicated re-runs of 80s/90s Full House, fueled by cute Uncle Jesse and the twins. Lately, it's been the Disney channel. The Disney Channel has been brilliant in exploiting this childlike desire to watch other kids. My daughter especially likes the boys in The Suite Life. I have relented and let her watch these shows, but after a bunch in a row (followed by The Wizards of Waverly Place—yeah, right, that's a realistic downtown New York) and other equally inane sitcoms), I am starting to consider a moratorium. Apart from the broad slapstick and surprising amount of bodily function humor (I'm not grossed out by fart jokes, just surprised to find them on Disney), what I really can't stomach is the endless Disney-product shilling: for more unfunny comedies, DVDS, etc., etc. It's not like any of these shows actually tell a story. It's just mindless fluff. Oh well. I guess it's this generation's Brady Bunch. But my dad didn't let us watch that show endlessly. Moderation's the key, here, I think.

I grew up with T.V. and would never be one of those folks who "just watch PBS." I am just too fond of pop culture. I don't want television to substitute for reading or playing outside for my child, but there is no real danger of that. I admit that "Saturday morning T.V." buys me some time in bed on a weekend morning so that I can get a little extra relaxing time, much like my parents got to sleep in while we watched Speed Racer all those years ago. I find it funny, and I guess, a little bit reassuring, that a lot of the same characters, like the Pink Panther or Yogi Bear or Top Cat might be amusing my little one as I put off getting up and starting my weekend day—for just a little while, until the inevitable "Mooooooom ..."

Updated, reworked, re-written, from Associated Content ...
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