Alcott Held Hostage, day 8 — infantainment

“My children find the windows in our apartment far more fascinating than the T.V.” — urbaniak

This will change, and sooner than you think.  When the change comes, you will want to move fast.

It is, of course, extremely important that your infants be able to identify and watch television programming at the earliest possible age.  Hopefully you exposed them to TCM while they were still in the womb, so that they will already have dim racial memories of George Saunders and Claudette Colbert.

When they are what Chuck Montgomery refers to as the “canned ham” stage of life, just about anything will do.  My son Sam was perfectly content to watch Kurosawa when he was three or four months old, and the two of us once whiled away an afternoon watching Rififi, which held the child spellbound through the 25-minute wordless heist sequence.

However, soon, say four months from now, your matched set of tykes will demand entertainment, and they won’t have the patience for Twentieth Century or the world-weariness to appreciate Citizen Kane (my five-year-old son upon reaching the end of Jurassic Park: “Ah well, another happy ending”).

(Honestly, the kid is a born comedian.  Last night, as he was going to sleep, one of our cats came in and did something crazy.  Sam, on the edge of sleep, sighed and said “Cats these days…”)

Anyway, before Clockwork Orange, before Venture Bros., before Kim Possible, before Scooby-Doo, before even Teletubbies, there is Baby Einstein.

I cannot recommend this series highly enough.  They are utterly homemade, the early ones anyway, feature non-nauseating Honest-to-God classical music and, most importantly, do not feature a narrative.

I don’t actually know how when kids start to “get” narrative, but a good indicator is that a two-year-old can watch War of the Worlds and not be particularly frightened, but a three-year-old will cower under the sofa at an episode of Winx Club.  It has to do with identification with the protagonist.  If the protagonist is frightened, about anything, the child with the dawning narrative skills will be frightened as well.  Before that point, it’s all just input, honestly you could let them watch Reservoir Dogs (although that’s probably too talky).

Anyway, BabyEinstein.  I recommend starting with Baby Mozart and Baby Bach.  Here’s what you get: Some Guy playing Popular Classics on a synthesizer, and random shots of toys, colors, faces, clocks, more toys, puppets, etc.  Babies will find it fascinating.  And the nice thing about a lack of narrative is, you won’t get tired of watching it either.  Because there is no content.  There’s nothing to get hooked on.  And if you get that Mozart sonata stuck in your head for a day, well, that’s better than the theme song to Magical Do Re Mi.

There are some later Baby Einstein videos that stretch the concept a little too thin, and the Baby Newton video features a rhythm-and-blues song about shapes that is a little too catchy (and involves a clown), but these well-worn tapes have saved more than one afternoon in my house.

Anything with animals.  There is one tape called something like Mozart Nature Symphony or something and it’s just about perfect.  30 minutes of Mozart and gorgeous “how’d they get that shot” animal photography.  There are two Baby Doolittle animal tapes, which mix live animal footage, some quite good, with skits involving animal puppets which are reductive in the extreme.  Like, Beckett’s Act Without Words II kind of reductive.

Oh.  And Koyannisqatsi.  One night when Sam couldn’t sleep, this movie kept my hands from around his neck for over an hour.  I don’t think he made it all the way through it, but who could these days?

But this brings me to the real point.  These videos claim to be “teaching” something to your infants.  Maybe so, maybe not, and I don’t really care.  The benefit, as far as I’m concerned, is not education, or even entertainment, but survival.  It’s that they allow Mom and Dad to have a 30-minute conversation.

I just realized, I showed Sam Jurassic Park but refuse to show him Bambi.  How ’bout that.
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33 Responses to “Alcott Held Hostage, day 8 — infantainment”
  1. greyaenigma says:

    I just realized, I showed Sam Jurassic Park but refuse to show him Bambi. How ’bout that.

    On the grounds that it was too disturbing, or too Disney? Some sort of Dreamworks contract deal?

    I saw a man teaching his toddler (infant?) daughter to play Go at Powell’s today. It was very cute. I should have gotten a picture. Get them to learn young. Apparently some famous pros started as early as three.

    • Anonymous says:

      On the grounds that it was too disturbing, or too Disney?

      Oh, we show him Disney all the time. There is nothing comparable in terms of quality and durability.

      But he got very upset at the dad’s death in The Lion King, and my wife and I decided that Bambi could wait until he’s 7.

      Oh, and FYI: the last time I suggested he watch Antz, he rolled his eyes and said “Da-ad, I don’t want to watch one of your movies…”

  2. leborcham says:

    >>(Honestly, the kid is a born comedian. Last night, as he was going to sleep, one of our cats came in and did something crazy. Sam, on the edge of sleep, sighed and said “Cats these days…”)

    Did you spawn Walter Matthau?

    Young children identify more with animals than other humans. A threat to a parent is more frightening to a young child than a threat to the child. Hence, BAMBI is by far the most disturbing film any child could be shown. The gruesome torture those poor kids go through in JURASSIC PARK? Children will laugh.

    • Anonymous says:

      Except that many adults die in Jurassic Park, unless you mean the child’s parents.

      • Todd says:

        Well, here’s what happens to the kids in Jurassic Park:

        1. They are cornered by a T-Rex. This I thought would be too much for Sam, but at the end of the 8-minute sequence (one of the most brilliantly staged moments of its kind), Sam turned to me and said “That’s what scared mommy? That wasn’t scary!”

        2. The boy is caught in a tree and a falling car almost drops on him. Mildly exciting, but not scary at all, at least to Sam.

        3. The girl gets sneezed on by a brachiosaurus. Not scary at all.

        4. The kids get caught up in a gallimimus stampede, which ends with a T-Rex attack (on the gallimimuses). The girl is scared, the boy is fascinated. If this moment was scary, Sam didn’t show it.

        5. The boy is electrocuted and is knocked unconscious. This moment was suspenseful but not scary to Sam, and the tension is broken nicely by the boy waking up and saying “…three.” (see movie for the rest of the joke.)

        6. The kids are chased through the kitchen by two velociraptors. This sequence, also brilliantly staged, was thrilling to Sam, but not really scary. I could feel him getting excited, but he when he gets scared he has no problem asking me to turn something off (like, you know, a Scooby Doo computer game at Cartoon

        7. The kids, along with the adults, are chased by velociraptors through the compound. Sam jumped at exactly one moment, where the velociraptor jumps up toward the camera.

        (It’s worthy of note that Spielberg blatantly stole two effective shots from Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time; the velociraptor jumping up at the camera and the T-Rex bearing down on the children through the roof of the car. Spielberg (and Lucas) produced Land, so maybe the shots were his idea all along, but still I note it.)

        But mostly, Sam was excited but not scared by Jurassic. He’s seen all the quite staggeringly astonishing Walking With Dinosaurs DVDs, which prepared him for watching realistic dinosaurs interacting with humans, and he knows a lot, and I mean a lot, about dinosaurs, which allowed him to view them rationally as animals, not as monsters who want to destroy us.

        But it’s interesting to note that Spielberg deliberately removed the kids’ parents from the narrative, perhaps to make the tension of that relationship less burdensome. Instead, he has Sam Neill stand in for dad, and gives him a dislike of children so that he has something to, ahem, learn during the movie.

  3. popebuck1 says:

    My sister used to swear by the Baby Einstein nighttime go-to-sleep video – it would put her daughter out like a light, reliably every time. During a family vacation we tried it on my brother’s kids too, and it worked like a charm for them too! I’m convinced there’s some kind of insidious Hypno-Ray involved.

  4. craigjclark says:

    Ah, yes. Koyaanisqtasi — or as one of my friends called it when I let him borrow it, the Total Perspective Vortex (a device in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that shows the person who uses it their place in the universe). Philip Glass for the win.

    I have another friend who watched movies like Starship Trooper and South Park when his son was younger. As he got older, it was discovered that he would only go “moo” when he saw a South Park cow, never when he saw a real one. If that was the only ill effect, I’d say my friend got off light.

  5. eronanke says:

    Claudette Colbert> All. Her version of Cleopatra is, by far, my favorite. She reminds me of a PG Mae West.

  6. gazblow says:

    Oh. And Koyannisqatsi. One night when Sam couldn’t sleep, this movie kept my hands from around his neck for over an hour. I don’t think he made it all the way through it, but who could these days?

    Back when I was in college, lo, these many years ago, a bunch of friends convinced me to see a midnight show of Koyannisqatsi after a long, long day of tech rehearsal. As the film started with images of clouds and clouds and factories and factories etc, I kept asking myself “Is the story gonna kick in at some point?” When I realized it wasn’t, I promptly fell asleep, my head against the wall of the theater. I woke up as the final explanatory credits rolled to hear my seat neighbor say, “That was the most amazing film I’ve ever seen in my life!”

  7. urbaniak says:

    Thanks for the suggestions. I remember one of those videos from being over at your old place. The one with the dragon puppet or whatever it was. Alligator?

    • eronanke says:

      Nipple Slip?
      (deletion doesn’t work on ME! Mwa-ha-ha!)

      • urbaniak says:

        A second after I posted that I remembered that I was referring to Claudette Colbert in “Sign of the Cross,” not “Cleopatra,” so I deleted it. But yes. “Sign of the Cross.” Nipple slip. I have reached the bottom of the barrel of my film geekdom.

    • Todd says:

      That was, I believe, Baby Bach. The dragon is “Shakespeare the Dragon,” who later graduated to his own video on Baby Shakespeare. Sam was terrified of the dragon puppet. It stuck out its tongue and said “BLEAH!” We had to steer clear of that video for years because of that puppet.

      • urbaniak says:

        Well even I still remember it just from it being background when I was over at your apartment. It must’ve scared me too.

  8. During your hostage…

    (Make no mistake– the enemies of quality, wall-filling projection television will be brought to justice. Freedom demands no less.)

    I noticed you were able to the Venture Bros. S2 opener. Did you have a backup set ready, or did you just catch the thing on the interweb?

    • Todd says:

      Re: During your hostage…

      Well, I wanted to keep this a secret, but what happened was that my good friend Steven (Spielberg) read on my blog that my projector bulb was out, and he knew that I’m a big Venture fan, so he sent his helicopter over to fly him up to his place in Malibu, where he has a television set. He was off shooting something or other, but his staff was very nice.

  9. robolizard says:

    Oh man! I just noticed an intense clue! Doc Venture mentions that the boys died 14 times, possibly including the time they were shot by the henchmen. However, in the montage, there are only twelve times [unless we count the moment when Doc, with hairplugs, accidentally sets fire to the bed machine. But I think thats a completely diffirent clue all to itself considering they are cloned from that…]. Hmm… HMMMM… HMMMMM….

  10. toliverchap says:

    This explains it all?

    My parents used to let me watch The Lawrence Welk Show; they say it was the only peace they could have each week. I guess I liked the bubble machine. It’s still on my PBS station Sunday nights at 6, how about that.

    • Todd says:

      Re: This explains it all?

      And the Lennon sisters. Mmmmm, boy those Lennon sisters.

      I never watched the Welk show, but I always watched the end credits with the bubble machine, because it was on right before Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and we never missed Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

      Come to think of it, I watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom at such an early age that it was long after the show was cancelled that I found out that Mutual of Omaha was an insurance company and Omaha is a city in Nebraska. Now that’s good branding.

      I once heard of a woman whose baby could only be calmed by Win Ben Stein’s Money. Apparently, Ben’s cough-syrupy voice was like a a precious balm on the baby’s forehead.