I took my 6-year-old daughter to a birthday party yesterday, and fell into conversation with another middle-aged dad (of a 5-year-old girl) about strategies of paternal self-defense in relation to our children’s DVD diets. This is a very important subject to any man who hopes to negotiate fatherhood with his sanity intact, for reasons I’ll explain. Anyway, it took us about five minutes to discover that our respective sprogs shared an abiding fascination with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and that both had even given it the same alternate title : “The Space Movie.”
Chuck, the guy I was talking to, told me he’d had equally great results with Dr. Strangelove. I told him that just wasn’t going to work for me, because my daughter has zero patience for anything in black-and-white (on the grounds that it “looks too old”), but that I’d gotten a solid 6 weeks of protection from O Brother, Where Art Thou? which, a couple of mild cuss words aside, makes for topnotch, high-repetition kiddie fare, and that I’d found both Hello, Dolly! and Singin’ in the Rain to be both worth their weight in unobtanium.
Before I take this any further, I want to make clear that I’m not indulging myself in any Neal Pollack-style Alternadad bullshit here, nor crowing about how unbelievably brilliant my progeny is (although she is, of course, unbelievably brilliant). I’m talking about issues of stark survival, from a viewpoint of narrowest self-interest.
Under enhanced interrogation, I might even admit that the scene in 2001 where the one ape clubs the other to death might be construed as just a tad violent for a 4-year-old, which I think is how old my daughter was when I first showed her “The Space Movie.” But I’d also have an array of counterarguments at the ready.
First, she’d already been digging on Hellboy for a year by that age.
Second, the psychological impact of that one fatal beating is surely evened out by the ensuing, math score-enhancing sequence of the space shuttle docking with the space station to the uplifting strains of The Blue Danube.
Third, and most important, the deleterious effects of a single monkey murder (even if witnessed a few hundred times) is nothing compared to the potential negative impact of being raised by a father suffering from high-dose exposures to the likes of Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Squeaquel, Milo & Otis, Baby Geniuses and all the rest of the awful crap that it is my solemn duty to protect her from her interest in/affection for.
Mind you, the problem isn’t just shrill, cynical Hollywood Twinkie-filling like the aforementioned. Some of the most maddening programming aimed at kids today is actually to be found on nominally instructive and improving cable venues like Nick Jr and PBS Kids Sprout. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you are probably unfamiliar with the vocal stylings of Moose A. Moose and Laurie Berkner, the hushed, pious moralizing of animated series like Arthur and and Hey, Franklin, or the crazy-making Dadaist repetitions of Dora the Explorer and Blue’s Clues.
My point is, young-fathers-to be, it’s a fucking jungle out there, and once Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed comes into your house, it’s going to be about as easy as bedbugs to get rid of. And unless you and your missus can afford to hire a full-time, Montessori-trained nanny/laundress/cook/masseuse, you will inevitably and routinely find yourself backsliding into that most unforgivable of parental sins, using the television as a babysitter.
But there’s no reason to pay for that sin here in this lifetime.