Innocence and Media

I’m frequently tempted to introduce my sons to the movies and shows I watched as a kid. Whenever I do though, I’m reminded very quickly of how ridiculously dark and evil the messages were. Every Disney movie has a 15 minute section in the middle aimed at making children (and their parents) cry. “Hey, look at this wonderful family of deer. Aren’t they cute? Don’t you just love the woods and your own mommy and daddy so much right now? Yes… Yes, you do? WELL YOUR MOTHER WILL DIE A VIOLENT DEATH AND YOU WILL BE ALONE FOREVER!” Wait, what?

Sometimes I wonder if Walt Disney was evil, like his creations were cloaked attempts at inflicting deep emotional gashes in children. Maybe he was trying to heal his own childhood wounds by sending young people on sadistic emotional Tilt’a Whirls. It seems like a vestige of the pioneer era when parents had to introduce their kids ASAP to the harsh reality that people and animals they love die every week. What exactly was Old Yeller supposed to teach us? The perils of love, and how to weep ourselves to sleep? I had less of an emotional reaction to Hotel Rwanda.

It’s not just Disney. Even the TV shows I watched in the 70′s are socially antiquated. Tom and Jerry and The Roadrunner elicit a confused laugh in my 5 year-old son. His face says, “Daddy, why am I laughing at this coyote being crushed by an anvil over and over again?” The Simpsons have been lampooning this bizarre reality for a decade with The Itchy and Scratchy Show. The more horrific Scratchy’s death, the harder Bart and Lisa laugh.

Even so, for some reason, I’m still determined to get my son to watch all the “great” programs I grew up with. My favorite was The Super Friends, which I bought on iTunes a while ago. At first, it seemed like Silas was enjoying them. Of course, he had valid questions, like, “Why is Wonder Woman’s plane invisible but she’s not?” and “So, ummm, Aqua Man doesn’t really do anything?” Still, I felt like maybe I’d found a show that wasn’t too violent, but also wasn’t painfully cute and sweet. If I had to listen to a Care Bear say it had a tickle in its star tummy one more time, I feared I would go into a trance and perform a Walter White on a Teletubby.

Of course, if you watched The Super Friends, you know that The Wonder Twins, Zan and Jayna, are the highlight. “Wonder Twins powers activate! In the form of an eagle! And a bucket of water.” Zan always got the worst deal in those transformations. Jayna could be any animal, but Zan had to be a form of water, yet there was no jealously or resentment. That’s possibly the most unbelievable part of the storyline, and that includes their purple buck-toothed backwoods space monkey, Gleek.

Unfortunately, The Super Friends was made in the 70′s, and sometimes tried to address “social issues.” In one episode Zan and Jayna were called upon to save a young jive talkin’ African American from being assaulted by white surfer dudes. The hugely Afro-ed guy was just walking down the street, minding his own business, doing his best George Jefferson strut, when the arian kids pulled up next to him and announced, “Hey, man. I think you’re in the wrong neighborhood.” That’s when Zan and Jayna swooped in to teach the boys an important lesson in racial harmony. Of course, living in a bucolic and heterogenous neighborhood just outside of New York City, racial disharmony is a completely foreign concept to my 5 year-old, so I was left trying to figure out whether to explain the LA riots, or why hate crimes happen.

Maybe next time we should just watch Fantasia. I’m much more comfortable talking about LSD.

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Star says:

When I was a child my grandma called my mom in a panic because I was just screaming and crying nonstop while she was babysitting.  There was a huge thunderstorm, but I had never been afraid of rain, thunder or lightening before.  Mom asked what we had done earlier that night.  The answer?  Watched the Wizard of Oz.  There you go.  Been terrified of (and fascinated by) flying monkeys ever since.