Thursday, October 13, 2005

TV: Friend or Foe?

TV: Friend or Foe?
Stacey Greenberg

On his first birthday, Jiro’s favorite present was a universal remote control (sans batteries) that my husband bought at the thrift store. When we handed it to him, he instantly lost interest in all of the other toys and books he had been given. He ate his birthday cupcake with one hand while clutching the remote with the other. After cake, he crawled into the living room and pointed it at the TV. I laughed and said, “Look how smart he is!”

Once the novelty wore off and he realized it didn’t actually do anything, the battery-less remote was tossed aside and forgotten. He went back to grunting and lunging toward the real remote whenever he got within ten feet of it. “Where’s his fake one?” Warren would ask.

“He doesn’t like the fake one,” I replied.

When a friend was over a few weeks ago, Jiro was in his highchair changing the channels, turning up the volume, and enjoying a snack. A little embarrassed, I laughed and said, “Isn’t that cute? He likes to watch it work. I bet he’ll be an engineer someday.”

My friend, not one to mince words (and not a parent) said, “I bet he’ll be a couch potato someday!”

I laughed along, but thought to myself, Maybe he’s right. Maybe the continuous Baby Einstein music is brainwashing me!

My three-year-old, Satchel, is also a fan of the little screen. Like his brother, he spent many mornings in his highchair watching “Sesame Street” or a Baby Einstein DVD while we got ready for work. For a good two years he was all about Elmo. Anything red was immediately incorporated into his vocabulary in terms of the fuzzy red monster. Fire trucks became Elmo trucks, roses became Elmo flowers, and so on. (Even now, he can often be heard saying, “We’re elmost there!”)

Satchel can mimic complex choreography while holding a light saber, sing “We’re off to see the Wizard” while skipping through the dining room, and explain why Violet Beauregard turned into a big blueberry, among other things. When his dad had to leave town for a long dig, Satchel started watching a Hakaider (Japanese movie circa 1970) DVD because he missed his daddy (who resembles the main actor). Now we own the box set of Kikaida (a spin-off of Hakaider, also circa 1970) DVDs and Satchel loves them despite the fact that no one speaks English.

I don’t know whether to be worried about my kids’ love of TV or not. If they didn’t regularly stand at the front door clamoring to go to the trails, to the playground, to the yard, anywhere with bugs and dirt and fresh air, I might be more concerned.

Still, when I was pregnant and reading books on cloth diapering, unschooling, and natural living, I never imagined I’d have two kids so immersed in popular culture.
For example, I’ve overheard Satchel having the following conversation with a dad at the playground:

Satchel: Scaling the railing, “Anakin got his hand cut off.”
Dad: A little surprised, “Oh really?”
Satchel: “Luke Skywalker got his hand cut off too.”
Dad: Curious as to the extent of his Star Wars knowledge, “Who cut off Luke’s hand?”
Satchel: “Darth Vader.” Not one to hold back when prompted, “When Darth Vader grew down, he became Anakin!”
Dad: Clearly overcome, he looked at his thirteen-month-old daughter who was making eyes at Jiro, cleared his throat, and tried to hold back his tears.

Okay I made that last part up. But the guy was impressed. He followed Satchel around for a good thirty minutes “talking shop.”

When we met another dad at the playground who grew up in Hawaii watching Kikaida on TV like Warren, he tried to endear himself to Satchel by singing the theme song. Satchel got a grin on his face and blushed a little. Then before running back to climb on top of the tunnel slide, he quietly said to me, “He’s singing it wrong.”

On some level I think it is pretty cool that he is watching a show in Japanese and can not only sing the theme song, but can follow the story. And Kikaida is about the funniest show I have ever seen. Think William Shatner as a young Japanese mechanical man (named Jiro, no less) in tight jeans who carries a guitar, rides a motorcycle, and fights evil robots like Orange Ant, Blue Buffalo, and Green Mantis. It’s awesome!
I really don’t think TV is inherently bad. Sure, if my kids watched TV around the clock it would be bad. But in small quantities it can be quite nice, especially if it allows me to take a shower uninterrupted. I let the kids watch a little TV in the mornings and a little at night. It is usually a DVD or something on PBS so there are no commercials.

The commercials are what I object to the most. This is the chant I hear when shopping for toilet paper: “I want Buzz snacks! I want a Spiderman skateboard! I want Dora the Explorer Band-aids! I want Darth Vader shampoo! I want Bob the Builder underwear!” If I have another kid, before it is too late, I’m going to buy some Blues Clues stickers and put them all over the organic produce.

For now, I am doing the best I can to raise my boys in our consumer culture. As long as they always answer the question, “Who wants to go outside?” with a resounding, “I do, I do!” I’m not going to sweat a little TV.

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