Monday, November 28, 2011

Demon Television...Or Not (From the Cleveland Post, June 30, 3022)

"Nothing but junk on TV these days, kids watch way too much of it and it rots their brains." This is one of the most prized tenets of Curmudgeon-dom.

Which means my License to Curmudge might be in jeopardy, because I'm not too sure of that any more. Sort of.

Don't misunderstand me: I still have a hate-like relationship with television. I like watching history unfold in real time, like the Florida court proceedings in the 2000 election and, of course, the events of 9/11. And there are programs my husband and I watch together and talk about in a way you can't do with books.

But make no mistake: television will suck your brain out and steal your life if you aren't careful. Sitting over there, quietly talking to itself, it is not harmless. Even when you aren't listening, it plants ideas and images in your brain, and it rarely has your best interests at heart. Talk about environmental toxins.

TV is always trying to sell you something, and that, in my opinion, is especially insidious in the case of children. No good can come of the programs they create just to sell toys. No, sirree.


Pokemon cards entered our house this past school year. In case you are not familiar with them, they are the trading and game cards spun off a video game created by Nintendo in 1996. Pokemon (pronounced po-kay-mon) means "pocket monster." Cute name, but definitely monsters.

Our children's interest in the game was followed by desire to watch the TV show, which lead to interest in another franchise marketing show, Bakugon Battle Brawlers. "Bakugon" means "exploding sphere" in Japanese. These toys had come into our lives earlier and are really pretty neat - spheres the size of golf balls that pop open into dragon-like creatures when they come in contact with a magnet.

Now, maybe its just that these TV shows are created according to a different aesthetic. Or maybe they are just really cheap: making the characters' mouths move when they speak just cuts into profits.

Our children's excitement in anticipation of a new episode is matched only by our powerful distaste for anime and bad stereotypes and desire to get as far from the TV as possible.

Yeah, well.

Then I started noticing what happened after the television was turned off.

First, the games. They are creative, unpredictable and encourage the development of logic and strategy. They are not electronic, so all the scoring and rule-keeping is done the old fashioned way. No brain rot or anti-social encouragement here.

Then, kids being kids, there are the unofficial games, the ones that they make up themselves peopled with characters and events from the toy franchises. Children don't limit themselves to cards or toys. Parents may need to limit them to the outside, however.

And then there is the artwork. My daughter began drawing stock characters from the game cards. Now she has ventured out to create her own characters with their own names and stories. And our son, like many before him, discovered his inner artist at the hands of tyranny: drawing these characters (after finishing his class work, of course) was the only way he could play with them in school.

And so I have to reconsider.

At this point, it seems to me that TV only reinforces the values children have already been taught by the humans in their lives. If the adults in the house are curious and like to learn, television will become a tool for learning and exploring. But if a family pays more attention to the people on the screen than they do to each other, then that lesson will far outweigh the value of even the most tedious PBS documentary.

Family relationships come first. And maybe this recognition points to the root and purpose of the best Curmudgeoning: the need to be reminded of the boring stuff we should already know.

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