Monday, April 16, 2012

Sometimes I Wonder What The Kids Don't Know About

I don't really know when they quit showing Popeye cartoons on TV, but I really don't remember seeing them on after I started college.  Its not like Popeye was all that popular even when we were kids in the late 70's and 80's.  Heck, one night I spent an hour explaining to Jamie what the hell a Jeep and a Sweet Pea were.

I just finished listening to the audiobook of Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (also read by Chabon, who did a great job, I might add).  The book covers a lot of territory, considers adulthood, childhood, his fatherhood, how he relates to his kids, how he related to his parents...  He's got 10-12 years on me, and so is a product of the 1970's, a period I see in my mind's eye with a weird aura of gold and washed out color thanks to the film stock and production values in vogue at the time.

He talks a bit about how we mourns the content his kids have to consume, the formulaic closed-endedness of a cute but structurally dead-ended bit of Dreamworks entertainment.  He admits that between what the 90's called helicopter parenting, and this closed-off world of entertainment, he doesn't think his own kids really understand what it means to have an "adventure".  After all, if you're not letting your kids go beyond the end of the driveway, or out into the yard without supervision, how can you ever experience the unknown?  And its reflected in a lot of juvenile lit and entertainment.

He also discusses how he relates to his kids through media, how he's raising them on a steady geek-diet of Marvel comics, Dr. Who and other bits...  things that he enjoyed alone once, but that is creating bonds within his own family.

I've got no kids.  I don't often think much about passing on my passions to anyone else (Scout, simply, does not care about Superman.  She's sort of an X-Men fan, and I assume she'll grow out of that).

Saturday night I was talking to a younger co-worker and his ladyfriend and they told me they'd never seen any Star Trek.  ANY Star Trek.  At all.  I found this...  mind boggling.

Nick is only 10 years or so younger than myself, but somehow his rich Ohioan upbringing had not put him on a path to wonder at the majesty of Captain Kirk or worry about the fate of the Enterprise.  He had a friend who was "getting into Star Trek", and I could tell they were thinking of Trek as this hipsterish, snarky thing to get into in a goofy retro sort of way.  Not that I got mad, but I was in total shock.  How the hell do you live in America and not watch Trek?  I dunno.  And enjoying it as camp?  What the hell was that?*

But mass media has been created at a breakneck speed since the 1980's, what with the cable spectrum ever expanding, and requiring content to fill those hours up and down the dial.  The common touchstones we had as a generation semi-raised by TV and radio faded, and aside from movies (perhaps our one last, great opportunity for shared cultural experience as children), I don't know that kids will all grow up with the same checklist of "stuff" that became a generational shibboleth for us in that stretch of the Gen they sometimes refer to as X.

But, what it really makes me wonder is if people with kids (and many of you have them, so you tell me) are bothering with some of the stuff that wasn't necessarily the product of comics strips or cartoons.

What is the take on King Arthur these days?  Robin Hood?  Captain Nemo (do kids know that Nemo isn't just a little, cute fish?)?  Tarzan?  The Lone Ranger?  Does Robinson Cruesoe carry any currency these days?  Treasure Island and Long John Silver?  Do kids understand that vampires are Hungarian guys in opera capes and not sparkly eternal teens?  Do teenage nerds still hole up with an Asimov book or let the melancholy of The Martian Chronicles let them wonder about the adults around them and what mistakes we'll make and if we deserve to punch out of our own gravity?

Its not like everything passes down properly to me, and I'm some all-seeing-eye.  Things come and go.  Heck, I knew quite a bit about Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers as a kid, but I hadn't even heard of John Carter til I was an adult with a mortgage.  I don't know what I don't know, if you catch my drift.  But I will bore anyone to tears who asks me the wrong question that leads to a discussion about the pedigree of Superman as a pulp character.**

I don't know if I have a point here.  I just wonder.  I'm not sure there's a curriculum, but as I tend to think of us as bio-electric information carriers wandering around on Spaceship Earth, I believe we've done a remarkably good job of enhancing ourselves to do more than just replicate our DNA over and over.  We also pass down learned knowledge that goes beyond how to gather ants with a stick and eat them.  We have vast mythologies and worlds we build for ourselves, but in seeking to make a profit, we're continually pushing at the boundaries of these same archetypical stories the Greeks put out there for us, and we keep telling them over and over.  Between 2500 years ago and now, how many stories have we had that I'll never know?

What stories did father's tell sons or children tell each other in 789 AD?  I've no idea.  But they got us to a period of books and those stories persisting in a single way, in a single form. What are we losing to make way for product placement cartoons?  What stories didn't me and my peers learn as we sat slack jawed watching Thundercats rather learning the stories our parents could have taught us?  I don't know.  But we did have TV and a lack of will to spend money on original programming for kids.

You guys tell me.

*I mean, yes, obviously, but, also:  no
**poor, poor PaulT


Shouting Hippo said...

My oldest is 6, so there's not a lot of my own childhood I've been able to impress upon her yet. She took to Hong Kong Fooey and Scooby-Doo quite well, and she enjoyed watching the [real] first Star Wars movie. The Muppet Movie went over pretty well, but DVDs of The Muppet Show not so much. The Benjii movies, movies that made me weep as a young child, failed to hold her attention for more than 5 minutes.
But pop culture aside, I'm worried that kids won't learn to tell time on analog clocks. Or learn to write in cursive (which is no longer taught in schools, apparently). Would my kids recognize a telephone from the 1970s? Probably not. And forget vinyl records, LPs, 45s. These are strange days, indeed.

The League said...

Its not just little kids. I had to explain how a record worked to some undergrads working at the library. They literally didn't believe me at first.

Its funny, I had intended to talk about Hanna-Barbera and forgot to mention those shows. I assumed that the likes of Hong Kong Fooey would just get lost.

But, yeah, I know part of it is what parents try to share and what kids will watch as individuals or as a generational thing. And in 25 years what these kids will pass down. Yu-Gi-Oh? Power Rangers? I guess we'll see.

Matt A. said...

I've had a challenge trying to introduce a bit of the "what you should know" about pop-culture into my daughter. She's nine now, and so able to understand more of the bigger things. Unfortunately, if it's not cute and girly, I have a hard time getting her interested.

I was able to get her to watch "The Trouble With Tribbles" Star Trek episode, because they were cute. However, the point of the show was beyond her - she kept asking me during the show where she could get one. Perhaps that's the trouble with kids these days (kids these days!) - they have an expectation that everything media-wise is marketed in all directions, which is actually a fairly reasonable expectation if you think about how it's all presented to kids.

I'm still having arguments with my wife about letting the offspring watch A New Hope due to its violent nature, but after I caught my wife letting the whippersnapper watch The Shadow, I won that argument. Now it's a matter of getting the spawn to actually want to watch it. After all, the boys at school like it. However, I keep insisting to her that there were only three Star Wars movies made, and anything else was just a cheep knock off. Perhaps I'm selling her short - that would be denying the Star Wars Christmas Special.

As for the "current" aimed-at-kids stuff, she likes Monster High and the new My Little Pony stuff. Because, you know, pink and horses.

Fortunately, she really likes Young Frankenstein. There's still hope for the future!

The League said...

The "where can I buy it?" angle isn't just for little kids. I confess I already have a Captain America toy from the new Avengers movie yet to be released. But I do think there's an assumed link to product that you describe that maybe we didn't have as the GI Joe and Transformers thing came along after we were already in existence and not EVERYTHING had a toy line, at least at the start. (I do remember some really sad Dukes of Hazzard and A-Team toys that appeared after boths hows peaked and wondered what kid was playing with those.)

I certainly see it in how the audience that is coming into comics in their late teens thru their 20's is relating to comics as more of a product inspiration mine. "New Aquaman? Cool. Where's the t-shirt and action figure? The... story? Yeah, I guess there was a story... The important thing is that I have found a branding I like!"

J.S. said...

You may not have kids, but I think you have quite a bit of blogging that contradicts the notion that you don't spend much time thinking about passing your passions on to anyone else... ;-)

The League said...

an astute observation. However: "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Mister Miracle comics on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched Elsa Lanchester glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain..."