I faithfully watched the TV series CSI for the first few years. Forensic Files with wisecracks and cleavage. But by the time the show spawned to Miami and NYC, I was over it.
Last night, however, post-Thanksgiving feast, I was desperate for video wallpaper. I guess programmers figured everyone in America’s on the nod by nine, because pickin’s were slim.
So I settled on a CSI episode, “The Grave Shift,” the first day on the job for Dr. Langston (Laurence Fishburne). One of many “put the new guy on the spot” scenes involved the doctor helping to lift (“with your legs”) the charred body of an arson (soon-to-be-ruled murder) victim. As he lifts, part of the dead man’s crispy shoulder skin cracks off into the good doctor’s hand—like an overcooked turkey drumstick. He hands off the black chunk to Nick. [Insert Laugh Track Here.]
I hear complaints about the desensitizing of children to murder, death and destruction via those dreaded “video games.” Perhaps that condemnation comes from parents who have never actually watched/played Left 4 Dead, Halo or the classic GTA series. Personally, it requires way too many hand/eye/fine-motor skills for me. But I’ve watched Morgan play for hours. And, yeah, those games are filled with murder, death and destruction. But, as my 15 year old always reassures me, the operative word in that sentence is “games.”
Funny, of all the forensic-related programs I’ve seen, the most respectful treatment of The Dead (real or prop) I’ve witnessed has been on Dr. G: Medical Examiner. There the human body is blurred but splayed open like a vivisected bullfrog. Yet that person is still referred to by name with reverence for the life lost.
I mean, when a missing child is a beautiful little angel who everyone’s praying is reported as a discarded body discovered by cadaver dogs the next day, the syntax changes. “Angel” becomes “It.” That instantaneous dehumanization upon death feels like a far greater dis than simply blowing off the head of a CGI hooker.
I don’t care what any educational study or parents’ reactionary group may say, television with all its faults, is still a rich, thought-provoking tool for parents. Granted, you can’t use it as your one-trick pony, but Morgan has seen an array of images I could never imagine. Talkies enhance text.
Earlier this week we were reading a short narrative from a novel suggesting ways/reasons Stonehenge was built. First of all, M’s not too keen on fiction. Give him just the facts, please. He wanted no part of the whole Harry Potter phenom. And the only reason he enjoyed The Swiss Family Robinson is because it’s chocked full of primitive technologies, nature studies and gunplay. So I knew I’d need to beef up this lit.
We went to our Usborne Encyclopedia of World History for better illustrations, full of cut-aways and little sound bites of info. It basically showed Morgan everything that corny story had told him. The idea of carving the stones at the quarry made perfect sense to him. The use of the wooden sleds led to a conversation about the Egyptian pyramids. Which (don’t tell my son) led back to our lesson on Cultural Diffusion. Monuments like Stonehenge, incidentally, were built in Western Europe hundreds of years before the pyramids. So who taught whom? Space aliens? Another tangent.
The next afternoon, Morgan called me to “Hurry,” into his room. Channel surfing he’d come across a documentary about, you guessed it, Stonehenge. It wasn’t Ancient Mysteries narrated by Mr. Spock, but it was close. Not too dry, with some credible female archeologist tromping around recounting everything we’d read. Then she moved on to theories about the Silbury Hill earth mound near Avebury, Wiltshire actually being a signal tower for synchronized Pagan rituals. Human sacrifices, perhaps? Now Morgan (from the Welsh or Old English, meaning “great and bright,” with all its Arthurian implications) was hooked.
Finally when I asked him if he’d like to visit England, “Maybe,” was his reply. And like I’ve said, for my teenager, that’s as positive of a response as I am gonna get.
When I saw the news report about Volumes One and Two of “Sesame Street: Old School” being released on DVD with the warning that the episodes are intended for “grown-ups,” and may not “suit the needs of today’s preschool child,” I thought I’d caught an old SNL clip of Chevy Chase’s Weekend Update.
I grew up watching animated animals annihilate one another only to spawn and start again; Popeye the Sailor storm around muttering stuff I didn’t quite understand while beating the shit out of anybody who crossed him; and a prehistoric baby with a bone in her hair selling Welch’s Grape Juice in primetime. Now, that’s “Old School.” And if you really want a kid’s show for “grown-ups,” check out Betty Boop prancing around in her lacey slip and garter belt. Hubba-hubba!
Both my kids, even though they’re 20 years apart, grew up watching Sesame Street with their mom. And although I can’t remember ever needing to have a conversation about it, I’m sure neither would credit Alistair Cookie of “Monsterpiece Theater” with any pipe-smoking or pipe-eating addictions and then attempt to sue Sesame Street because of it. But the producers’ lawyers must have felt the need, fearful that there’s gotta be somebody out here who would.
No need to sing PBS’s praises. You can take their programming or change the channel (especially during a Ken Burns marathon.) But the real, non-litigated damage is the tens-of-thousands of parents who will mindlessly buy into that laughable CYA disclaimer and now view the show with suspicious eyes. They may even add Sesame Street to their Cable TV’s Parental Block list along with Nip/Tuck and reruns of Jackass.
Too bad, because I’m pretty sure seeing grown men go airborne in metal shopping carts would suit the needs of today’s preschool child pretty well.
A few days ago, I chuckled and cringed my way through the On Demand movie, Jackass 2. If you’re not familiar with the franchise, it’s basically a bunch of guys on either side of 30 who enjoy wearing Speedos, getting hurt and having objects shoved up their asses. It’s a guy thing.
Morgan and Bill had gone to see it in the movie theatre and Billy’s still bitchin’. Truth is—there ARE funny skits. Something about young men in shopping carts slamming into a wall just tickles my funny bone. But watching a guy push a large fishhook through his cheek (on his face, not his butt) is not my cup-of-tea.
Obviously I rarely censor what M watches. Other than X-rated films (that he’d had to order via PPV and I’d see on the Comcast bill), he can watch what he wants. And eventually, we’ll talk about porno, too. I pay attention to what’s on when I wander by his room and sometimes he changes the channel. He’s either watching some hottie on SPIKE or a puppet on PBS. Sooner or later, he winds up closing his door. (Something I was never allowed to do on Aldershot Rd.)
On occasion, when he’s watching a documentary about skinheads or starving children, we talk about it. If it’s one of my favorites, I give a minute movie review. But mostly, I just leave him to it. I know the influence, for better or worse, of the silver screen and video wallpaper.
But while I’m suffering through Jackass 2, I told M that it bugs me that he’s watching it. I worry that all those adolescent pranks and toilet humor will rub off on him. But, then, Hello? Morgan IS an adolescent. So when I explained that during those hours when he’s up and I’m asleep I worry that he’s doing something crazy, he said I was the crazy one.
He’s right. This is a kid who gets nervous using the microwave.