A Case for Un-Educational Viewing
I have occasionally been one of those annoying idiots who think to themselves, “Should I ever have kids, they’ll only rarely watch TV, and when they do it will be educational.“
This morning, I realized that I’ve been a giant (if mostly internal) hypocrite about part of that equation.
It’s probably true that any child of mine wouldn’t watch much television. I didn’t as a kid. This was, of course, partly because we had strict rules about it at Mom’s house.
In reality, though, I didn’t watch much TV because I was usually either outside riding horses or bikes, skating, skiing, hiking, climbing, and just plain running around or was off at ballet class or gymnastics. When I wasn’t doing those things, I was usually reading, writing, or painting. Even when I did watch TV, I was usually drawing at the same time.
In short, I would take sitting around and watching TV as a sort of last-choice option when I didn’t have anything better to do. I’m not really great at enjoying passive entertainment (unless it involves watching horses, dance, or figure skating).
I like going out and doing things and running around, and I’ve noticed that many kids tend to like doing doing those things as well. It’s not that screen time is inherently evil. Rather, there’s a strong probability that any child growing up with me as a parent wouldn’t watch much TV purely because, in short, who’s got time for that?
The world is too full of trees that need to be climbed; of knees that want skinning.
So that’s not the hypocritical bit. It’s the “educational” part that I rather ought to rethink.
Here’s the thing: as kids, my sister and I had a fairly limited selection of videos, and literally none of them were specifically “educational”—and yet I learned a great deal from them.
We subverted Mom’s rules by watching hours and hours of movies at Dad’s, though we also read books aloud every weekend, went to parks and museums, and listened and danced to 20th-century jazz greats like Thelonius Monk and Charles Mingus. There were a few wildly inappropriate choices—I vaguely remember some version of Samson & Delilah that was terrible, had terrible music, and struck me as inappropriate, which is saying something, given that my parents pretty clearly regarded kids as Adults, Only Smaller®(1).
- Conversely, I often feel that adults are basically just Kids, Only Bigger®. I suppose it’s a matter of perspective. At any rate, I still have no idea what I’m doing as a so-called adult.
To be fair, most of these were seminal 80s coming-of-age movies that Dad bought because he liked them. We had The Explorers(2), The Goonies, The Labyrinth, and The Never-Ending Story(3) at our fingertips and we watched at least one of them just about every weekend(4).
- Curiously, I didn’t like The Explorers the first time I saw it. I think I might have just been too young to “get” it. I was about five, and very into The Rules, and very annoyed at the characters for flouting The Rules and risking Getting In Trouble. Later, it became one of my favorites, except [SPOILER ALERT!] for the icky kissing part. Because ew, gross, kissing, amirite?
- I eventually developed a crush on a character in every last one of these movies: Wolfgang, Data, Jared (because David Bowie, ffs), and Atreyu. Much later I decided that Sarah was pretty cute, too. It’s kind of weird to realize that my penchants for Nerdy Dudes With Glasses and Tough-Pretty Boys In Leather goes back that far, though.
- …Usually while gorging ourselves on soda, chips, and (in my case) gummy worms. Oh, yeah, and ice cream. At Dad’s place, we were all bachelors.
The Explorers taught me (among other things) that persistence and ingenuity can accomplish almost anything. It also taught me one of the greatest Dad Jokes known to humankind, the infamous “Rolls-Canardly Gambit.” I have been known to use this joke on bike rides.
The Goonies (and an entire childhood as The Weird Kid) taught me that it’s okay to be weird, and that sometimes it takes a weirdo who refuses to accept “reality” to solve big problems. Like, you know, saving the town from landgrabbing golf-course mavens and relocating everyone to “Murder City” (it takes a child to save a village?).
The Labyrinth taught me that imagination and reason aren’t enemies; that they can overcome adversity; and that mistakes are no reason to give up.
The Never-Ending Story taught me to believe with conviction in the unbelievable, and never to allow the outside world to crush my imagination. It also spoke to the power of grit in the face of hardship. It taught me that when your heart friend sinks in the Swamps of Sadness, you GTFup and keep pushing forward in his memory.
On the outside, it also kind of taught me that first impressions aren’t everything, since Bastian struck me as an insufferable, whiny git at the outset but grew on me. I think that’s what’s supposed to happen, though, as he learns to believe in himself.
We also watched anime, from which I learned to value stoicism, teamwork, protocol, and even moar grit. And teamwork. And protocol. Because Japan. Also Giant Robots.
Nature shows, red in tooth and claw, imparted important lessons about the distinction between the acts of predation that animals undertake to survive and cruelty, which is largely a human invention—not to mention the fact that suffering and death are parts of life.
Even when I was foru years old, nobody shielded my eyes when the gazelle or the bunny got whacked. I think that probably made me a better person than I might have been. Life is hard, and you have to practice looking at hard things if you’re going to face up to them someday.
We even watched some plain old cartoons, like Thundercats and (for some reason) old reruns of Thundarr the Barbarian(4). They were pretty good at imparting lessons about loyalty, kindness, empathy, and integrity (between awesome battle scenes).
- I’m not sure how this happened. This show was before my time, and yet there it was at some weird hour. Was there a programming exec secretly crushing on Ookla the Mok? Was someone magically beaming it straight into our TV? Was there a timewarp inside our TV (I favor this explanation; the TV was old)? Who knows?
There are any number of intentionally-educational shows that attempt to teach the same lessons I learned from a bunch of 80s fantasy-adventure flicks. Often, they fail: they’re trying so hard that they come across as preachy or even a bit smug. They’re like shredded wheat(5)—good for you (if you don’t have celiac), but tasteless and hard to swallow.
- I keep dying of laughter because Autocorrupt insists that this phrase should be “shredded what,” and I always hear it in my head like, “Shredded whaaaaaaat?”
You know what you get, though, if you iron your shredded wheat into crunchy squares and add a little oil (FAT! NOOOOO!) and salt (OMG! SODIUM! DEADLY!)?
You get Triscuits, which are freaking delicious (and still good for you: I like to eat them for breakfast).
So if I ever have kids, I’m not going to make them only ever watch the video equivalent of Shredded Wheat. In going to introduce them to Triscuits in the form of the 80s movies my Dad showed me, along with 90s classics like … um, are there any? I apparently missed the 90s entirely (sounds about right; I was too busy riding horses, dancing, abs playing the violin). I think The Lion King might make the cut. And, of course, they will know the joys of Harry Potter in both the written and the visual form. And eventually Monty Python, if I play my cards right.
And because it was one of the greatest gifts our Dad gave us, I will read them The Wind in the Willows, The Hobbit, andThe Lord of the Rings.
Probably none of these things are, in the strictest sense, “educational.”
But what a poor world this would be if all we ever ate was shredded wheat(6).
- Say it with me: “Shredded whaaaaaaaaaaat?!”
Posted on 2016/12/20, in adulting, adventures, it is a silly place, life and tagged armchair parenting I guess, everything I know I learned from un-educational movies, shredded whaaaaaaaaaaaat?!. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.