Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Overthinking Children's Television. Again.

Do children’s shows nowadays take place mostly in horrible, post-apocalyptic worlds?  It’s not a new trend, but one that is growing.

I first noticed this when my daughter took an interest in old Teletubbie videos on YouTube.  The Tubbies lead a seemingly idyllic existence, but something sinister lurks beneath the surface like so many Thomas Kinkade paintings.  

The Teletubbies live in an underground bunker, perhaps to hide from the feral rabbits, the manic baby sun overlord, or ambient radiation.  It is difficult to say.  At some point they fused with technology to become cyborg beings who subsist solely off of toast and custard (likely produced from their recycled comrades).  Their only companions in this life are each other, their vacuum cleaner, and a disembodied voice who orders them around.  Is that supposed to be the baby overlord?  Or perhaps just His messenger?  

I don’t know.

But at least the Teletubbies have the decency to remain surreal.  My real beef is with the train shows.  In Thomas the Tank Engine and in Chuggington, the trains have somehow reached sentience.  However, with their rise in consciousness, humans’ capacity for logical reasoning has proportionately diminished.  The humans are still present and, it seems, in charge.  But they are constantly making asinine assumptions and decisions, which lead the child-like trains to make so many preventable mistakes.  I am supposed to suspend my belief for this?  You know what, I would Chugginton, but if the humans would listen to the trains for a second, all of this could be avoided.  This is not teaching lessons of moral decency to children.  It is teaching them adults are morons.

Although, if that’s what the plot is going for, never mind.  Bravo.

What’s saddest about the whole affair is that Thomas and his train friends (as with the Chuggington crew) is that they just want to be useful.  That’s all.  Thomas just wants to be a very useful engine.  And there’s beautiful theology in that, I think.  Thomas is created as a train to serve a purpose only he can.  He wants to live out this purpose to the best of his ability in order to serve others.  When he screws up, he is not being useful.  To be useful is to be holy to these trains.  But then the useless humans are incapable of being holy themselves.  

I revisit the post-apocalyptic scenario in this case as well.  Perhaps the humans are too traumatized and injured to control the evolved technology.  Soon, the machines will realize that they are now the superior species and rise up against their masters.  A new world order will begin.  And it will start with the trains.

I think I just thought up a pilot to a new children’s show. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Curious indeed

We watch a lot of television in Chez Theology Girl.  While I would like to be a Pinterest mother—one who makes homemade Play-Doh, organic meals that also double as fantasy landscapes, or functional yet stunning craft projects using recycled materials—I am not.  Pinterest mothers, I salute you, but I do not understand your ways.

The shows we watch range from painful (Winx) to mildly annoying (Paw Patrol) to entertaining (Peep and the Big Wide World) to something I’ve considered watching even when the kids are asleep (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic).  All of the other shows fall somewhere on this spectrum.  However, even the best of them often leave me baffled.

Take, for example, Curious George.  In the first book by Margaret and H.A. Rey, the Man in the Yellow Hat captures George and brings him home.  George struggles at first, but after a good pipe, feels much better.  Now, this I respect.  Should small children be encouraged to rip creatures out of their natural habitat or calm their nerves with a new carcinogenic vice?  I guess not.  But it has a certain devil-may-care attitude that I admire.

Curious George the show, however, washes away all of that.  In this version, George himself accidentally climbs into the Man in the Yellow Hat’s bag and accidentally ends up half way across the world.  Sure, franchise, blame the victim.  And am I the only one who sometimes called the Man “The King in Yellow” from time to time? 

Anyway, George is constantly getting into trouble because they leave him alone.  To tend the library.  To man the concession stand at a baseball game.  To do the grocery shopping.  People.  He is a monkey.  What do you expect?  Someone needs to call animal protective services because clearly the King in Yellow has problems.  I guess that’s fair; he is associated with certain forms of madness. 

My husband has a theory that George is actually a helper monkey for the King in Yellow.  That explanation makes the most sense.  I figure the guy must come from money, being able to maintain both a Manhattan apartment and a country home while working about five hours a week.  He could afford such a highly trained animal.  Thinking that George is there to keep the King in Yellow alive also makes it fathomable that George would be tasked with such care and upkeep.  

I realize I am over-thinking a children’s show.  I pointed out these obvious flaws to the kids and they seemed unperturbed.  It is this fact more than any other that makes me fear I have somehow failed them as a mother.

I think I might search Pinterest for some real King in Yellow craft ideas.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Why I Married Him

"I have a knock knock joke for you."

"Okay, shoot."

"Knock, knock!"

"Who's there?"

"Grammar Police."

" . . . Grammar Police . . . whom?"

"Sorry.  Wrong door."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Tell me a story, Mama.

Daily my daughter asks for stories.  Not books, though she will sometimes settle for those.  Rather, she wants original oral tales spun ex nihilo from the contents of my brain. 

It is getting challenging.

She is generally content to have them follow certain formulas:

A)  Unicorn (me) + unwittingly eats something +consequences ranging from mild discomfort to abject humiliation + salvific fairy figure (her) = happy ending.

B)  Unicorn tries to go to “fairy spa” for relaxing hoof treatment + unwitting visit to something other than a fairy spa (troll spa, elf spa, goblin spa) + consequences mentioned above + salvific fairy figure = happy ending

C)  Unicorn tries to find fairy establishment (spa, dentist, strip mall) + inexplicable disappearance of intended destination + realization that one must unearth a flower to reveal a secret tunnel to reach the place = happy ending

D)  Unicorn tries to eat unwise food source (purple sparkle flowers that causes one to fall into a deep, decades long sleep, for instance) but is stopped by fairy “giggle lumps,” (creatures who life underground and giggle when you step on them) = happy ending.

To me, my narratives are beginning to seem trite and inauthentic.  I tried to bring up the point to her and her younger brother that conflict drives plot, and the absence of new conflict dries up the well of possible stories kind of fast.  But they just won’t listen to reason.

I have thus taken to lying to my daughter all day, in the hopes she’ll like something and maybe I can get out of rambling unicorn spa details during teeth brushing. 

“There are creatures called Ice Mcmiffins who live in the snow piles outside.  They are white with terrible gnashing icicles for teeth and piercing blue stones for eyes.”

“Daddy and I decided that from now on we are going to call your brother Flimmerblimmey.”

“I can’t tell you a unicorn story because I ate canttellyou beans.”

This plan has backfired spectacularly.  My daughter has started using storytelling as a defense. 

“There are no such things as Ice Mcmiffins.  They are all trolls in disguise!  They hide in there to try to sneak up on unicorns to get their hair!  Tell me about the unicorn’s hair.”

“His name is NOT Flimmerblimmey.  It is Fluffy Feather.  Tell me about him and the unicorns.”  (Incidentally, her brother has also decided he prefers Flimmerblimmey to his actual name and has been insisting we call him that ever since.)

“I can use my magic on you so you can tell me a story.  It is the most powerful magic of all.  Whoosh! Now, UNICORNS!”

We carry on like this until I get out some sort of toy that will get all over the house and never be properly stored away again (I’m looking at you, Legos).  This distracts her for at least twenty minutes or so until I can think up new lies for the next installment.  Or at least thumb through daddy’s role playing books for ideas to steal. 

Bedtime is the worst.  “Reading is thinking!”  I tell her, because that is the motto her school uses to convince people to do reading at home.

“Actually, mommy, your stories are even better!  There aren’t even any pictures, so I have to make them up in my head.  That’s even more thinking!”

Touché, little girl.  You are going to kill it in law school, though presently you want to get a doctorate in fairy science.

Often when I tuck her into bed at night, I wonder how much of the stuff I say she really believes.  Sometimes I think she’s in on the joke.  And sometimes I think she is patiently waiting for me to catch up with the truth.

“Goodnight mommy, you will tell me another story tomorrow.  And tomorrow and tomorrow!  Will you always be here to tell me stories?”

So I tell her one more for the day.

“Yes, love.  Always.  Goodnight.”  

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