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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