Friday, January 25, 2013


I've always liked Roald Dahl. Like any self respecting third grader, I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, though I have to say Matilda was my favorite. Matilda is about an unappreciated genius born into a family of television addicts. Much like Mike Teavee in Chocolate Factory. According to the Roald Dahl wiki, Mike is a "violence-obsessed, anger fueled television fanatic, who is seldom away from his television set." Dahl apparently had a thing against TV. When they adapted his novel "The Witches" into a motion picture, he stood outside the cinema with a megaphone, warning people not to see it. Which makes sense, because they completely screwed up the story.
A few months ago, I was browsing on and found this little piece entitled simply 'Television'. This is where Dahl sums up his feelings about the ghastly machine, just in case we didn't get the message before.

The most important thing we've learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set --
Or better still, just don't install 
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we've been,
We've watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.

(Last week in someone's place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they're hypnotised by it,
Until they're absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don't climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink --
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?


'All right!' you'll cry. 'All right!' you'll say,
'But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!'
We'll answer this by asking you,
'What used the darling ones to do?
'How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?'
Have you forgotten? Don't you know?
We'll say it very loud and slow:
THEY ... USED ... TO ... READ! They'd READ and READ,

AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!

And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching 'round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it's Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
Front Cover
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There's Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole-
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-

Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start -- oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They'll grow so keen
They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did. 

 I cherish and admire Mr. Dahl, but I can't agree with him. Opinions like his were common in recent decades.  They still are, though most moral guardians have gotten bored with the crusade against television. And they grew up watching it themselves. So they've switched to preaching the evils of the Internet. Which makes me wonder. What atrocious forms of media will I be shooing my children from in 2033? Hmm...I've never been fond of video games...but they'll probably be offering gaming scholarships by then.
I like TV. I like books. My all time favorite show is Nelvana's Redwall cartoon. Especially season three, which contains many things Dahl would've approved of. Pirates, ships, cannibals, smugglers, gypsies, queens-no whales, but the characters are nearly eaten by a large fish once. I never would've discovered the Brian Jacques books without the show.

So maybe they do some good after all.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be

Behold, the all-seeing Plato.
"What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?"
-Plato, 4th Century BC

They spend the next sixty or so generations quoting you in graduation speeches.
At least nowadays, sculptures are allowed to have eyes.

What's this, color? Sculpture ain't like it used to be.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Do We Really Need Role Models?

It seems that every time I read some article about popular culture-books, movies, TV shows, internet-I hear a lot about the 'influence' they have on a young audience.

Disney gets a lot of backlash for their heroines. Ultra thin, helium voiced princesses who fall into comas and await rescue. Oh, and they supposedly make us anorexic.
Um, sorry, but you're idiots. Anorexia is a medical condition. And what would happen if Disney made a chubby princess? Anybody else remember the Cookie Monster controversy?
And it doesn't stop there, of course. Take Katniss.
A twelve year old girl is selected to kill other teenagers. Her older sister volunteers in her place, because death is bad. And they're trying to kill her, which worries Katniss, because death is bad. Then her friend gets eliminated from the game and Katniss cries. Because death is bad. Then she nearly has to kill a boy she cares for, which is a very stressful experience, death is bad.
The conclusion?
"We can't allow our children to watch this! It's graphic! It's gory! It's gruesome! It promotes death!"
Everybody from Katniss to Hermione is supposed to be a role model. The moral guardians wonder, "What's the appeal here? What's the message? What's the inspiration? What's the moral?" Never mind that we're reading for entertainment.
Singers and actresses get caught up in this too. Supposedly, we're all Miley Cyrus clones. But this is only relevant for females. Nobody cares whether Justin Bieber is setting a good example for preteen boys. Which, by the way, he isn't.
I don't have role models. Heroes, yes. I've always admired firefighters. Navy SEALS too. And Joan of Arc, Susan B. Anthony, J.K. Rowling, George Washington, those guys aren't bad either. Just face it. The world is full of awesome people. But that doesn't mean I'm going to join the military.
I listen to Taylor Swift, but I don't care what kind of clothes or hair of paper airplane necklace she's flaunting.
Now I'm talking about role models in popular culture. Parents are an entirely different matter. You want a kid who doesn't smoke, drink, and have sex? Here's a hint. Don't smoke or drink. And have the kid in wedlock. It works. You can't complain about your kid's problems if you're doing the same stupid things. Well, you can, but then the kid can call you a hypocrite.
Here's a good rule of thumb:
If you don't want your kid to watch, read, wear, or do it-

We're not stupid. If we want role models, we'll look for them in the real world. That is all.