The bliss of no TV commercials for my children

This story is a year old but I’m going through my backlog of saved links, and it’s a nice look at the screen problem and the commercialization problem and the violence problem with kids media.

Electric Youth: Why Susan Linn and the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood Terrify Child Advertisers – Boston Magazine – bostonmagazine.com.

I love that Sweden does not allow commercials aimed at children.  We only watch the public kids channel anyway – and shows streamed from the US without commercials – but I only appreciated the quiet we live in when we visited Turkey earlier this year and the kids saw all these commercials for toys, and they were both fascinated then bored and kind of horrified.

“Oh, no!  Not commercials again!”

They’re still plenty affected by consumerism, but it comes through friends and merchandising, which seems less harmful to me.  So my son loves Star Wars because that’s what his friends play.  So my daughter wants to watch Winx Club (she doesn’t get to) because that’s what her friends play at school.  I can deal with that. It’s better than getting the messages mainlined from the amoral heart of the advertising industry and the timeless world of international toy conglomerates. Instead, they get the characters and stories filtered through play, transformed into a mythic shape, and I don’t care what the mask of the heroine looks like at that point.

Video: The Backyardigans are cool. Especially when they surf.

We used to watch the Backyardigans every night for our brief “afternoon TV.”  Sadly no more.  Because I loved the Backyardigans.  Great music. Great genres. Great boy and girl characters.

I really loved the surf episode with the Afrobeat music. It made me cry once with longing for California.

There are, like, four great songs in the episode, dude. But this, dude, is a good choice on a rainy, icy, overcast day in Sweden.

Dude. (And, yes, I really used to say dude this much.)

Monday links: French parents, the return of the Yellow Wiggle, the end of war and writing with children

Why French Parents Are Superior:  This is a Wall Street Journal story based on a book by Pamela Druckerman, an American mother who lives in Paris.  As of now, there are 571 comments on the WSJ story alone.  The essence is that the French raise better behaved, more respectful children than Americans.  She attributes this to more discipline and boundary setting.

Please.  I might buy this on face value except that she pushes the “cry it out” method with babies.  Huge red flag.  So that got me thinking, and I read the comments, and I realize that Swedish kids are also more respectful and better behaved than the imaginary, spoiled American kids she talks about.  And the Swedes co-sleep, stay at home with their kids longer, and value both mothers and fathers (umm, the French do not, well, not nearly as much).  So what’s the explanation then?  I have no idea.  A northern European conformity?  Just not being American?

Or maybe the book is just a good way to get the American chattering classes, well, chattering. Like with Tiger Mothers, and Wolf Fathers, and all that.

Writing with Children: A nice essay on one novelist – and mother – and her journey in her writing life as a new parent.  I happen to have the opposite experience of the author – having children opened up my writing life and forced me to focus (and I was home as much as many Moms) –  but that takes nothing away from it.

Welcome back, Yellow Wiggle: I sometimes ponder starting a blog about children’s TV shows: their mythic value, the songs, the pop references, the plot structure … the gossip.  And here is some good gossip.  The original Yellow Wiggle is back after years of absence due to illness.  It’s like Blue’s Clues going back to Steve, after Joe.  Except Steve would be old and bald.

I don’t know.  I don’t like it.  The new Yellow Wiggle, Sam, was just fine.  And do the Wiggles really have magic to rekindle?  What’s this about?  Are there money woes in Wiggle land?  Did Sam do something really, really awful to Henry the Octopus?

John Horgon on erasing war from the human condition: John Horgan just wrote a book called “The End of War,” and this is not the only book like this out there right now. This makes me happy. I used to work in post-war grassroots peace projects, and I always liked to think we could go this way as a species. It seems counterintuitive, what with Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, drone assassinations, the militarization of American life, but a good argument is made by both Horgan and the author of the other book, Steven Pinker, that an ever-more-connected and democratic humanity has the potential to move past violence, and, in fact, is already doing so (even if the results of the remaining violence are streamed ever more directly right onto all our various screens).

deconstructing Dora the Explorer

I live in a world of rain forests, tall mountains and loud rivers.  I am surrounded by animals on bikes, magic sticks and am always looking to help out the king’s mommy.  My best friend is a monkey.  Or sometimes I am a monkey and my best friend is a little girl.  I am also stopping a sneaky fox from stealing my stuff.

Yes, my daughter is obsessed with Dora the Explorer.  She lives in a Dora world, it seems, the show a key to unlocking her imaginary world.  This also coincided with a stay at grandma and grandpa’s house.  They had DVR, which meant several new Doras per day, as I recorded every Dora on every possible Nickelodeon network (she got to watch more TV than usual on vacation).  It meant she mixed and matched the characters.  It meant grandma and grandpa spent hours in the a dark garage following a toddler with a flashlight on the watch for that sneaky fox.

At the same time, I am reading The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann.  Don’t ask me why.  It is much too difficult a book for a sleep deprived dad.  But I am reading it nonetheless and it is essentially a tale of myth and tradition and it hearkens me back to all the Joseph Campbell (the inspiration for Star Wars more or less, though that is not his most serious side) I read on my first parental leave, to thinking about stories and religion and mystery.

And I realized that I always choose the Dora episodes that key into a fairy tale or have some element of quest to them.  Forget going to her endless silly parties.  My daughter sees her explore a pyramid or transform a dragon into a prince or plant a magic stick in a hill and watch the barren wasteland return to life.

The show actually seems deeply immersed in classic myth and fairy tales and seems to do it thoughtfully, and I wonder if it is just that they have good writers who subconsciously know the power of these motifs, or whether they consciously mine classic storytelling traditions when they put together their plots.

I mean, come on, if Swiper the Fox is not a trickster, Kokopelli-like figure, what is he?  He is Chaos.  He means no harm but throws our heroes off their quest (much like the scarecrow in Bob the Builder, but what is that about … a scarecrow among machines?!?).  Of course, every plot needs a challenge, an antangonist, but Swiper even looks like Kokopelli, and he straddles the line between most kids shows – either pure good and evil or no bad guy at all.

Hmmm, perhaps I better stop now.  You know, before I get carried away …

a dora the explorer revelation

Before last week, I had watched a Dora the Explorer episode once.  It was in a rooming house room in Port Jervis on our return trip last fall.  We loved being in town for the afternoon, and had dinner with the old neighbors, and saw that the new owners of our star-crossed house had killed the Japanese maple we planted when our daughter was born (they replaced it with a giant blue lighthouse).  Then we realized we had made a horrible mistake in staying the night.  Everything closed in on us, we turned on the TV for a moment, and there was Dora, chirpy and somehow stationary and jumping over a big rock.

So I did not like Dora the Explorer.  Seemed cheap and repetitive and annoying.

I now apologize to Dora.  In English, Spanish and Swedish.

In despair over the crap cartoons on the state kids channel, I went searching online for English stuff, including, out of some desperation, Dora.

We did not find the English version, but we did find the Swedish version.  And then it hit me.  Dora is a bilingual little girl on adventures.  I have a little girl who is often on adventures.

I even liked the Swedish version a lot, because the other language is English (This leads to a slightly strange world view in which everyone with a Hispanic-sounding name speaks accentless English).  And my toddler also speaks English and Swedish.

Sadly, there are only two episodes online, and we are not about to sign up for Swedish Nickelodeon just for Dora.

But we can ask for Dora DVDs for Christmas …