There are lots of people out there making arguments for what kids should and shouldn't be allowed to watch on TV or in movies. There's ratings systems. There's V-chips. There's congressional hearings. There doesn't need to be an article by me. Instead, I'd like to talk a bit about my observations of the effects of television on Quinn.
In his first years, Quinn had no interest in TV at all. At times we tried to interest him in some show or other. I particularly hoped he'd like Mystery Science Theater 3000 as it showed Saturday mornings and would give us something to both enjoy while Denise got a little extra sleep. But he studiously had no interest at all, in anything. He'd walk out of the room or pick up books and ask us to read or he'd just talk to us. The only thing he wouldn't do is watch.
Finally, when he was about 2, he found some things he liked. The Wiggles and Bob The Builder were shows he liked sometimes or for short periods. Short periods being less than five minutes. The only show he liked enough to watch for longer periods was Little Bear. This is the adventures, not surprisingly, of a male only child who is adored by his parents and who explores his world making friends wherever he goes. Basically, it's Quinn with fur, claws, and fangs.
Being a videophile, I promptly started taping episodes of the show. Byt he time I filled 6 hours of tape with episodes 22 minutes long, many days had passed and, backing up so he could watch some each day, he had already seen most of the episodes many times.
Most. There was one story that consistently sent him screaming from the room. In this episode, little bear tells a story to his friends around the campfire. The story of "Monster Bear." You can just about hear the organ music as the name is spoken, and it would start Quinn to shivering. Then the bear would show up, taller than the trees, and he (Quinn) would run screaming from the room.
Seven minutes later he'd be back, somewhat embarrassed for having been scared, and ask us to rewind the tape so he could watch it again. And the process repeated until, finally, it not only no longer scared him but it became his favorite episode.
There are several aspects of the story of Monster Bear that have filtered into Quinn's life. The most obvious is a love for marshmallows, which turn out to be Monster Bear's favorite food. Oh sure, kids love marshmallows. And Quinn asks for them probably no more often than other kids. What is a joy to watch is the gleam in his eye as he prepares to ask for them (he never actually needs to ask, I can tell by the gleam what he wants) and how he always feels it's necessary to say he wants the marshmallows like the ones Monster Bear eats.
This got me thinking about the stories, fables, and nursery rhymes that populate our childhood and how they might leak out in later life. It will be many years before we know how long and how strongly the memory or effects of Monster Bear are. But last week I picked up a copy of a book I remembered fondly from my childhood. This was Paddington Bear, and I remember my second grade teacher reading it to my class. I didn't remember much of the story, just that I enjoyed it and that it was the source of my trying marmalade for the first time.
I did recall that the story was set in London. But I didn't recall the various chapters about trips to the theatre and to the beach. A chapter where Paddington practices magic tricks and another where he travels on the London Underground. These are all activities and pieces of culture that have ended up as favorite things in my life (witness the British spelling of theatre up above). Whether this early book programmed me for them or just made me sufficiently aware of them to let me pay attention longer and be more interested in them later in life I do not know. But Iam certain there was some lingering effect.
Quinn's taste in TV programs is changing. He's starting to move away from the Nick Jr. age level of shows and get interested in some of the older shows. He's starting to like Scooby Doo and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Last week he saw me copying an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 onto DVD and realized the statue above my desk is of one of the characters from the show. Now he wants to see more of "that guy's show", though he's only really interested in the sections with the puppet skits. We tried a Batman episode (of the animated variety), but it was too dark and grown up for his little head. Keeping in mind the lesson of Monster Bear, I intend to be cautious about the things I let him watch. I hope you will do the same.