When I was a kid, my parents didn’t let me watch Miami Vice. And when I became a teenager, capable of staying up until all hours, Saturday Night Live was on the no-watch list. In my wife’s childhood home, there were no Bewitched reruns thanks to all the witchcraft, although her dad thought it was perfectly appropriate to let his young kids join in on The Benny Hill Show and Dynasty. And now that we have two kids of our own—a boy, six, and a girl, who turns five this week—we get to make our own choices about what television shows and movies they should and should not watch.
Our kids don’t have much exposure to movies or shows that aren’t decidedly made for children. They seem to like that anemic little boy known as Caillou, and for whatever reason, The Berenstain Bears rank high. It’s not that I mind them learning the good lessons these shows seem to impart. It’s just that both programs are terribly, horribly, utterly boring. Meanwhile, my son makes frequent requests for the apparently far more exciting SpongeBob SquarePants. Somehow, we decided that the minimum age for that show is 10. I’m pretty sure we just pulled that number out of thin air. I’ve never seen an episode, and I don’t intend to anytime soon.
The edgiest show my son and daughter consume with anything resembling regularity is Lazytown, which is the only one that I can stomach for an entire episode. It’s not even edgy, really. But at least it’s fast-paced and slightly weird, having come out of Iceland.
Last Christmas, we decided to have family movie night featuring the 1983 classic, A Christmas Story, which is my favorite holiday movie. My son, ever the gun enthusiast, was pleased with the whole Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle scenario, but the movie didn’t elicit even a chuckle from either child. They could barely sit through it. You’d think I had C-SPAN or Meet the Press on or something.
My wife and I did squirm just a little when The Old Man proudly displayed his fishnet lamp major award, what with its wanton display of electric sex gleaming in the window. But more than any inappropriateness for young children, A Christmas Story just isn’t compelling to the younger set. Instead of the movie being a reward, a nice little treat, it became a point of leverage with the kids. Daddy made us watch that movie last night, so today we should get to do whatever we want.
Of course, no matter how I try to filter what they take in, once they’re outside my sight line, I realize that I have zero control. I’m not talking about their friends, since their innocent get-togethers are still considered “play dates,” where the biggest thing parents are concerned about is spreading the tots with thick schmears of antibacterial gel.
I’m talking about our relatives.
There’s a photo somewhere that my sister took of the kids at her house, where you can clearly see an episode of Real Housewives of New Jersey on the TV in the background. “I had the sound off,” was the best argument she could muster, and I don’t even believe her. It’s worth noting that the kids return from trips to her house singing Katy Perry and Black Eyed Peas tunes, which I don’t find even a little cute. She’s taking my daughter to one of those Sweet & Sassy places this weekend for a mani-pedi and French braid. “Nothing on her face!” I demanded. Guess whose house she’s being shipped off to when she turns 14?
And I’m secretly convinced that my son’s obsession with firearms comes from the fact that he spends a lot of time with his maternal grandfather, who likes his Clint Eastwood and finds great value in Wipeout. I think he even tapes episodes of that show—as in on VHS tapes!—for my kids. Who knows what my son is left watching after grandpa nods off for his marathon napping sessions. At least Benny Hill‘s not on the air these days. I hope.
As for Star Wars, the subject came up because of my own interest in seeing the film again. It’s been at least 15 years since my last viewing, and it was my wife who suggested we all watch it together. My immediate reaction was no way, that Darth Vader is just a bit too evil for my kids. They’ve never witnessed an onscreen killing, as far as I know. Is now the time to start?
Some of the ladies in my office weren’t so concerned with the morals and values of Star Wars but more with the prospect that my kids would be scared by the movie. Ah, girls. Then one of my friends said he wanted to be absolutely sure that if I do wind up screening Star Wars for the kids, that I am equipped with the original 1977 theatrical release, not the reedited, re-effected 2007 version that so outraged many of the franchise’s most diehard fans.
Last night, over dinner at a Moroccan restaurant with the kids and in-laws, the subject of the movie came up yet again. My father-in-law didn’t understand what all the fuss with about, probably because he’s quietly remembering the fact that he once let my son watch The Outlaw Josey Wales, which may or may not have happened. My mother-in-law seemed only mildly concerned, asking, “Why do you have to start them so early?” I don’t think she meant “you” to mean “me.” I think she was just talking about society in general.
Then my son piped up, in between bites of chicken kabob and falafel, wanting us to understand that there’s no cause for concern. “I already know all about Star Wars,” he insisted. I’m assuming he’s referring to a brief mention of the movie in The Encyclopedia of Space, a book that he’s always got his nose buried in. “I know who the good guys and the bad guys are,” he added. “Oh yeah? Who are the good guys?” I asked him. With all the cocky confidence of a six-year-old boy, he declared, “Those Stormtrooper guys. They’re the good guys.”
Clearly he’s got a lot to learn.
Unless, of course, he’s talking about that scene where Han Solo and Luke Skywalker put on Stormtrooper disguises to rescue … oh, never mind.