He’s a demon and he’s gonna be chasing after someone.


Speed Racer
update: Sam (7) and Kit (5) made a beeline for their Speed Racer toys this morning and argued over who would get to play with the “big” Mach 5 (we own two), so I know this movie is no flash-in-the-pan. (I doubt they could even identify their Spiderwick Chronicles toys at this point).

In my never-ending quest to provide Hollywood with reliable, first-hand, home-grown responses from real moviegoers, I quizzed both Sam and Kit on their response to the movie.

DAD: So you liked Speed Racer?
SAM (zooming a Hot Wheels-sized Mach 5 along the top of a coffee table): I loved it. It was great.
DAD: What was your favorite part?
SAM: The racing. And the fight in the ice mountains. (Sam then goes on to recount a significant portion of said fight.) And a lot of it was funny, but no one in the theater was laughing.
DAD: Well, there weren’t very many people in the theater.
SAM: Yeah, but it was funny and I felt weird laughing when nobody else was.
DAD: Like what was funny?
SAM: (goes on to recount, in detail, some choice bits of anime-inspired physical comedy.)
DAD: What did you like about the races?
SAM: They were really fast, and all kinds of cool stuff happens in them. You know what it reminded me of? The pod race. (I swear I did not coach him in this discussion.) And the fight over Coruscant [in Episode III], with all the stuff happening all over the place.
DAD: Wow, it sounds like you really liked this movie. Would you want to go see it again?
SAM: Well, I loved it, but I wouldn’t want to have to sit and go through the whole movie again, just to see the parts I liked.


DAD: Kit, did you like that movie yesterday?
KIT: (suspiciously) Uh huh —
DAD: What was your favorite part?
KIT: (without hesitation) The racing.
DAD: Who was your favorite character?
KIT: (with a tinge of swoon) Speed.
DAD: You liked Speed?
KIT: Yeah.
DAD: Oh.
KIT: What?
DAD: I thought you liked Racer X.
KIT: Why did you think that?
DAD: I thought Racer X was cool, I thought you thought so too.
KIT: And I liked the — what was his name?
DAD: Spritle?
KIT: (laughing at the memory of Spritle’s antics) Yeah! And Chim-chim. They’re funny. (She goes on to recount a humorous exchange between Speed and Spritle.)
DAD: What did you think of Trixie?
KIT: Who was Trixie?
DAD: She was the girl, who flew in the helicopter, had the short black hair —
KIT: Yeah, I liked her. Oh, and Speed’s sister.
DAD: Speed’s — sister?
KIT: Yeah.
DAD: Speed — doesn’t — have — a sister.
KIT: No, the one with the short black hair. Who wore the pink.
DAD: That’s Trixie. That’s not Speed’s sister, that’s his girlfriend.
KIT: His what?
DAD: That’s his girlfriend.
KIT: (as though teaching a very small child) She’s over at his house
DAD: Well, yeah, she’s his girlfriend, she comes over to his house, she can do that. She has to come over to help build the Mach 5. (Dad’s head is swimming with all the love scenes and quasi-love-scenes between Speed and Trixie, and wondering what Kit thought was going on in them.) I like Trixie because she’s a gearhead.
KIT: What’s a gearhead?
DAD: A gearhead is someone who likes to take things apart and put them back together and build things like cars and helicopters and stuff. (Strange that this summer has, so far, offered us two gearhead movies, Iron Man and Speed Racer, within three weeks.)

It makes total sense to me that both children liked the racing, and who knows, perhaps the races even made narrative sense to them and carried their dramatic weight. Kit, predictably, responded to the characters and the humor, Sam, just as predictably, responded to the fights and the slapstick. Neither professed any interest in the racing marginalia or the corporate intrigue.

(On the way to the movie, we passed by a billboard for Prince Caspian. “You guys want to see Prince Caspian?” I asked. “Yes!” chirped Kit, but Sam exclaimed “No!” as though I had asked him if he wanted snakes in his bed.)

The Wonder Unicorn

Faced with headlines like this, the world is ready, I believe, for a story about a unicorn, and a little girl, and a hat, and a circus.

Dad is not the only storyteller in the Alcott family. This is by Kit (5). As difficult as it is for me to wrap my mind around the idea that my daughter, when, given the chance, thinks up stories about unicorns, little girls, and hats, and circuses, I cannot argue with the sweep and punch of the results.

Hollywood studio executives will no doubt note Kit’s grasp of the surprise twist ending. Not content with one, she here supplies us with two.  Or three.  Take that, M. Night Shyamalan!

UPDATE: Fox has just called regarding the rights to The Wonder Unicorn.  They’re thinking of Queen Latifah as a streetwise, sassy unicorn and Evan Rachel Wood as the little girl.


some more thoughts on video games and their relation to other media

My son Sam (6) is a natural-born movie buff, and that is a good thing. His younger sister, Kit (5), not so much. Sam wants to know how movies are made, how effects (both narrative and special) are achieved, how “they get it to look that way.” Kit is attracted to characters.

I’ve tried to carefully manage my kids’ exposure to movies, not so much to keep them ignorant of subversive material but to present a canon: Star Wars movies are good, Barbie movies are not. Justice League is good, The Wiggles is not. Pixar is exceptionally good, other studios require a more project-by-project assessment. The purposed end result of this cultural editing is that, when they become old enough to choose their own entertainment, they will be able to recognize quality over crap. I also want them to have an understanding of movie history and be able to appreciate older movies (like, you know, Raiders of the Lost Ark).

(My wife, who is a children’s librarian, takes care of the books.)

(And while I’ve stopped, let me just add that, by and large, our kids have developed very good taste. Left to their own devices, they have chosen Wonder Pets, Spongebob Squarepants, Jimmy Neutron and Fairly Oddparents as their televisual entertainment, all of which are pretty good shows.)

Here’s the thing: as we move into the 21st century, an idea is, increasingly, no longer being conceived of as “a book” or “a movie” or even “a TV show.” Instead, an idea is a piece of “intellectual property” that can begin as almost anything and is not deemed worthy of widespread distribution by major media outlets unless it can be a movie, preferably a series of movies, a TV show, a video game, a website, a children’s book, a theme-park ride, a line of toys, a brand of furniture, a clothing label and a school of architecture.

This has been happening, of course, since the beginning of time. I’m sure that soon after a caveman drewa picture of a mammoth hunt on a cave wall, another caveman copied the images and printed them up on cheap t-shirts. The rule seems to be, it doesn’t matter what the origins of the idea are, if an idea is worthy it will eventually find its proper expression and that expression will dominate the public’s understanding of the idea.

An example: Gone With The Wind was a huge bestselling novel when David O. Selznick decided to turn it into the most popular movie of all time. But how many people who went to see the movie had also read the book? One in five? One in ten? And in the ensuing 70 years, of all the untold millions of people who have watched Gone With The Wind, how many have read the book? One in a hundred? One in a thousand? Say “Gone With The Wind” to people, and the image that comes to mind is not this but this. The same could be said for Jaws, The Godfather, the James Bond series, Mary Poppins and The Bourne Identity. They were popular books before they were movies, but the movies made were so definitive that it’s hard to imagine someone reading the books and not seeing the movie playing in their head while they read. The movie adaptations have supplanted the source material in the minds of the public.

Superheroes present another interesting aspect of the adaptation question. Superman, for instance, was a huge hit right out of the box on comic-book racks, but the radio show was also a huge hit, and many aspects of the character, including the “faster than a speeding bullet” line, were written for the radio show, not the comic book. The Max Fleischer cartoons lent more aspects to the character, then the George Reeves TV show, on and on, until one would be hard-pressed to find the “original” Superman — is Superman, in the minds of the public, a comic book, a daily strip, a radio show, a series of animated shorts, a live-action serial, a TV show or a movie series? When the average person thinks of “Superman,” do they see Joe Shuster’s squinty-eyed drawing, or George Reeves, or Chris Reeve, or Brandon Routh, or one of the other dozens of Supermen who been drawn by various DC artists down through the decades? A similar question arises with Batman. At the word “Batman,” do you see Bob Kane’s Batman, or Neil Adams’s, or maybe Jim Lee’s? Do you see Adam West, Michael Keaton, Christian Bale? (And how many people think of George Clooney? I mean as Batman?)

About a year ago, I showed Sam Star Wars and he became an instant fan. And almost immediately he was able to play the Lego Star Wars video game. And after a hundred or so hours of playing the Lego Star Wars video game, he would watch one of the Star Wars movies again and find himself in an occasional state of mild cognitive dissonance because, well, the movie diverged from what he knew from the video game. On some level he understands that Star Wars was a series of movies “first” and that the video game sprang from the movies, but at the same time he doesn’t necessarily accept the movies as the “official” version of the story.

And Kit? Forget it. She’s too young to grasp the video game and she’s gotten her Star Wars history piecemeal and out of order. She’s watched Sam play the video game quite a bit more than she’s watched any of the movies, and as far as I can tell, she sees no reason to differentiate between the two. They’re the same characters, presented differently, with different “looks” to them, but I honestly couldn’t tell you if, when I say “Darth Vader” Kit sees this or this.

I’m not really fearful that Star Wars will be supplanted in the public’s imagination by its video-game spinoffs (or James Bond, or The Godfather), but I dare say that, at some point in the future there will be some movie that works okay in its own right but works like a motherfucker as a video game. And the title will then be remembered that way. And I think that event will come to pass, honestly, before the opposite happens. That is, I think that the gaming business will develop a video game that presents a better expression of an idea than the original movie sooner than Hollywood will figure out how to make a half-way decent movie out of a video game.

Take Doom, for instance. Great game, and seemingly made for cinematic adaptation. A foolproof conceit — a man alone in a terrifying scenario, a kind of I Am Legend in space. When I first played Doom back in the late Cretaceous Period, I heard they were planning a movie starring Arnold Schwarzeneggar and my heart raced with the enormous possibilities of such a movie. But the eventual movie of Doom, starring the better-than-Schwarzeneggar-ever-was The Rock, was a dramatic non-starter — it utterly failed to establish its own identity as a property — that is, to take the idea of Doom and make it its own. It got across none of the game’s visceral terror and it added a bunch of crap on top of it that had nothing to do with anything. And I would say the same for Mortal Kombat, Tomb Raider, Street Fighter, Resident Evil and, yes, even Super Mario Bros. So while Half-Life is a great game, by any standard (I just played it again — ten years later it still kicks ass), the only thing Hollywood could hope to do with Half-Life is shorten it and give it slightly better production values.

In other words, weep not for the troubled Halo project — it’s just going to be a bad movie of a great game. But keep an eye on, say, Juno, the Video Game.


Disneyland report ’08

My apologies to my readers who wait with bated breath for my analysis of The Color Purple.  My son Sam (6) had a day off from school, and my daughter Kit (5) has a school that consists primarily of her being out of the house for four hours, so my wife and I decided to take them to Disneyland.

Sam actually didn’t know that he did not have school and Kit isn’t old enough to notice that big a difference between Sunday and Monday, so we decided to spring it on them as a surprise.  We went about the morning as though it was a normal school day, packed the two of them into the car and then didn’t take them to school.  It took Sam until we got to Interstate 10 to notice something strange was going on.  We tried to stall as long as possible, but it didn’t take him long to put together that we were going to Disneyland, at which point the metaphorical cat was out of its metaphorical bag.

We got to the gate at 10:00 on the dot, ie at the exact same time as everyone else.  It was surprisingly crowded, I thought, for a Monday morning in April.  I have memories of going on a Tuesday afternoon in February of 1996 and the place was almost deserted — there were no lines for anything and I was able to see absolutely everything I wanted to, including the robot Abraham Lincoln, by late afternoon.  At which point I shrugged and said “Well, I guess I’m kind of done with this place until I have a couple of kids.”  Hence yesterday.

Sam was keen on seeing only two things — the Indiana Jones Adventure ride and Star Tours, the Star Wars-themed simulator ride.  He was a little anxious about the rides themselves — he dislikes roller coasters — but he wanted very badly to visit the gift shops associated with the rides to gather props and costume pieces.  Kit, on the other hand, likes the Teacups, and generally would be happy to spend the whole day in the pink section of the map.

(Sam had just attended a Star Wars themed birthday party over the weekend where Obi-Wan, Anakin, Boba Fett, Darth Vader and Darth Sidious had all shown up and done bits with the kids.  Sam had worn his elaborate Darth Vader costume and is very much into dressing up, or “cosplay” as the older set refers to it.)

The Indiana Jones Adventure was the longest wait of the day — 50 minutes before we got on the ride — and Sam loved, loved, loved absolutely everything about it, right up until the point where he actually had to get into the oversize Jeep that takes you through the experience.  I see his point — the wait for the ride is, by a long measure, the most elaborate, detailed and atmospheric I’ve ever experienced, and in the middle of Disneyland that’s saying a lot.  There are caves, booby-traps, an ancient temple, a newsreel, period music and all sorts of mood-enhancing foofaraw to get visitors hyped on the experience.  The ride itself is rattlingly, shudderingly violent in the way it whips you around in your seat and parades you past a host of scares, thrills and spectacles — far too much to absorb in one go-around — and Sam spent the three-minute experience clutching my arm, with his face buried in my elbow.  He was very precise in his assessment of the experience; he didn’t mind the scares — he likes being scared — but he cannot abide the “jerking around.”  Indeed, I would agree with him.  The Indiana Jones Adventure is an incredible ride, but the violence inflicted on my physical body is considerable.

(I now wonder if Sam’s love of being scared and his disdain for being “jerked around” explains his love of Jurassic Park and his indifference toward E.T.)

While Sam was being terrified on the dark, violent, genuinely frightening Indiana Jones Adventure, Kit was being terrified on the sunny, cheesy, outdated Jungle Cruise, the benign, walk-through Tarzan Treehouse and the utterly laid-back Storybook Land Cruise.  Kit, it should be noted, does not like getting scared.

After Indiana Jones, Sam wanted to proceed directly to Star Tours, but my wife and I had made the decision to not split up the day in boy/boy-girl/girl adventures, and we met up on Tom Sawyer Island, or, as it’s now known, “Pirate’s Lair.”  The whole way, Sam was insistent almost to the point of complaining (Why can’t we do Star Tours and then meet Mom and Kit?  Why do we have to go to the island?  Why can’t Mom and Kit come to us? etc.), then, the second we got to the island, he saw there was a treehouse and a complex network of caves, bridges and shipwrecks and we didn’t see either kid for about two hours as they went exploring. 

I was a little dismayed at the half-hearted conversion of Tom Sawyer Island into Pirate’s Lair.  A lot of the structures are the same, with only tiny emendations to change the island from the Mississippi to the Caribbean.  The treetrunk of the treehouse still has “Tom + Becky” carved in it and the island is littered with an utterly anachronistic Indian Village, a river raft, a moose and a derailed coal train.  It’s almost as though the Disney folk were hedging their bets, worried that this whole “Pirate” fad will blow over at any time and they’ll have to change the island back to Twainland.

(On the way back from Pirate’s Lair we ran into Jack Sparrow, who, when addressed by that name by a park visitor, resentfully murmured “Captain Jack Sparrow,” in a completely convincing Depp-like drawl, his delivery pitched at a volume no one but me could actually hear.  This forced me to realize, yet again, that for all its faults, Disneyland is a demon for details.)

(Oddly, this visit was, for me, one of discovery — almost every attraction we hit was brand-new to me, even though it had been sitting there in plain sight for 54 years.)

Once off Pirate’s Lair (highlight for adults — real baby ducks) Sam and I split off again to see Star Tours while Kit and Mom headed for the Teacups and the Disney Princess Fantasy Faire.  The wait at Star Tours wasn’t very long, and as usual there’s plenty of atmosphere to soak up, but as the ride itself approached I began to get apprehensive on Sam’s behalf.  Sam understands what a simulator is, but the signs warned that Star Tours is a “turbulent” ride — meaning, you get jerked around a lot.  I tried to explain this to Sam, who was confident he’d be okay.  In the case of Star Tours, he was willing to get jerked around since there was no actual forward motion involved.  Somehow the combination of the two is the thing that sets him on edge.

In the end, Sam made it through a good portion of Star Tours with his eyes open, then enthusiastically made a beeline for the gift shop.  He had been given a special Disney Allowance of $20 and spent it on a special Star Tours blaster rifle.  When he found out there was a separate entrance to the shop, he said, rather in the manner of a man who has just realized he has been duped, “Wait a minute — you mean I could have made it to the gift shop without having to go on the ride?”

(A note on Star Tours: the signs out front mention that it’s a collaboration between Disney and Lucas, and the experience confirms that — and points out how uneasy a fit those two sensibilities are.  Cool Lucas-type design sits right next to cloying, Disney-type design, with big-eyed wisecracking droids and production values that only help remind the guest that Star Wars is a very cool movie indeed, while The Black Hole is deeply uncool.)

Hard upon Star Tours was the Jedi Training Academy, held at the Tomorrowland Terrace, an interactive stage show where kids can train with lightsabers — provided they are picked from the crowd by the Jedi teaching the class.  We got there early to get a good seat, and once the show started things got overwhelming very quickly.  The actor playing the Jedi Master was convincing, dynamic and in complete control of his difficult situation — organizing, inspiring and directing a group of small children in a rather complicated game, with a dramatic arc, that had to be wrapped up in 30 minutes. 

The process of selecting which children go up on stage was, we were told, up to the actor playing the Jedi Master, and Sam, for reasons still a little mysterious to me, didn’t want to press his case too emphatically.  As the Jedi Master selected kids from the crowd, everyone else jumped up and down and screamed while Sam subtly raised his hand.  I don’t know if it was his sense of manners, a fear of being chosen, or a belief in the justness of his cause that kept him from speaking up, but in the end he was chosen and took his place on stage.  Each youngling was given a training robe and a “training lightsaber” (ie, a plastic toy just like the ones they have at home) and the class was then led through a series of sword-fighting moves.  No sooner had they learned a simple five-step fight routine than Darth Vader showed up with Darth Maul to challenge the students to a fight.

The actors playing Vader and Maul were both very convincing, to the point where some of the kids started freaking out.  There was no attempt to softpedal the villains’ scariness, and the actor playing Maul was particularly aggressive in his attack.  When it came time to fight, some of the kids were overenthusiastic, others were terrified to the point of tears.  Sam tried to take the whole thing seriously but found that it all went too fast.  I also have the feeling that Sam’s emotions were clouded by the fact that he greatly prefers the dark side characters — if he could have, he would have joined Vader and taken over the galaxy.

In any case, Vader and Maul were defeated, the Stormtroopers were sent packing, and all the kids were pronounced Padawans, complete with diploma (but without the robes and lightsabers).  The diploma, interestingly, includes a political message, reminding the child that the Force must only be used in defense, never to attack.

Sam and I headed toward Fantasyland to hook up with Mom and Kit, who were investigating the Alice in Wonderland ride, King Arthur’s Carrousel and the Princess Faire show.  We stopped at Autopia, another ride I’d never been on, where Sam got to drive his own car.  He was a little too short to reach the pedal, but once he got the hang of it he delighted in swerving back and forth, trying to crash into stuff.  I said “So, wait — I thought you said you don’t like being jerked around,” to which Sam replied, giggling, “Yeah, but not when I’m the one doing the jerking.”  So the issue, finally, is not the jerking but the lack of control.

We found Mom and Kit at the Once Upon A Time shop in Fantasyland, where Kit was purchasing a Minnie Mouse As Princess doll.  I don’t know where Kit’s interest in Minnie Mouse comes from.  I don’t know where any child’s interest in Minnie Mouse comes from.  Or Mickey Mouse, for that matter.  They are barely represented in Disney fare except on the most superficial level, faces on corporate product.  As characters they barely register to me; they stand for nothing, personify no particular point of view.  Who looks at them and feels a deep sense of identification?

The kids were still going strong at this point, but Mom and Dad were about to drop, so we headed to the Rancho del Zocalo, the Mexican place in Frontierland.  The food was great, the line was short and there were plenty of places to sit, which is all one can ask of a Disney restaurant.  It was a big improvement over the last Disneyland dining experience my family had, where it was so crowded in New Orleans Square that we had to eat our clam chowder while perched on a wall on a major thoroughfare.

At one point, Kit was handed a sheet of temporary tattoos by a cast member who happened by, and at another point was handed a pair of Tinkerbell pins by another (“one to keep, and one to give”).  These encounters were random and unsolicited.  And again, one can find plenty of things to complain about in Disneyland, but the way they’ve got the guest’s experience figured out sets them far apart from any other theme park I’ve ever experienced.  I’ve been to great roller coaster parks like Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, a park with no particular point of view, where guests are forced to wait for hours in the hot sun with nothing to do but stare at the people ahead of them in line.  There’s always something to look at while in line at Disneyland and the longest lines are always engineered in interesting ways that help build anticipation for the experience instead of emphasizing the length of the wait.  The time generally flies at Disneyland, and while the prices are steep, I can’t remember a time when I left feeling cheated.  Add to that random encounters with movie characters who hand out free stuff to your kids and I’m sorry, for a parent it’s all pretty awesome.  Yes I know, it’s a gesture designed by a behemoth corporation, intended solely to extract more money from the child’s parents, but I feel like that’s the society we live in, and if a corporation takes your money while teaching your children generosity and non-aggression, well, at least it’s something.

After dinner we happened upon the nearly deserted Sailing Ship Columbia, which was about six times more interesting than I expected it to be.  It’s outfitted like a genuine eighteenth-century merchant vessel and it, improbably, actually succeeded in giving one a vague impression of what lifeat sea on a ship like this, for years at a time, might have been like.

Then we headed over to New Orleans Square, where there was no line for the Haunted Mansion.  Kit had never been to the Haunted Mansion, and Sam has only been to it while it was re-dressed in Nightmare Before Christmas holiday mode, so we decided to go in.  Sam was underwhelmed, I was delighted (it was better than I remember it and has been subtly improved over the years), Mom was slightly disappointed (she remembered it being not so dark).  Kit, sadly, went in frightened and was reduced to whimpering apoplexy by the end.

To help Kit over her trauma, I took her for three or four (I lost count) rides on the no-line Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride.  The Winnie-the-Pooh ride, like many of the younger-skewing experiences, is weirder, more disturbing and more psychedelic than one would imagine.  But it did the trick and got Kit ready for the final events of the day, the Dumbo ride in Fantasyland and the Astro Orbiters in Tommorowland.  The difference between the two rides, as far as I can tell, is that they revolve in opposite directions, and Dumbo is three minutes long, while the Astro Orbiters are only a minute and a half.  Neither had lines worth worrying about, typical for the younger rides after sundown.

All in all, I think I saw more of the park than I have in any other single-day visit and didn’t even lay eyes on huge swaths of it.

Kit was asleep before we left the parking structure, Sam examined his Star Wars toys for a few minutes but was out before we got to the highway.


Cute kids update — economics division

Sam (6) has discovered money, and the power of money, and the glory of money. Money, he has realized, can buy Star Wars toys, and a great deal of money can buy big Star Wars toys.

So Sam is willing to do just about anything at this point to get some money.

My wife, seizing upon this new capitalistic streak, has put him to work around the house, performing more-or-less useful tasks that pose no immediate threat to his health or to local property values.

Yesterday she puts him to work washing our patio doors (which, to be fair, need washing). For the performance of this task she offers him two dollars. The deal is accepted and he goes to work with a pail and sponge.

Enter Kit, kid sister (5). Kit sees Sam washing the windows and wonders how she ever felt fulfillment playing with Polly Pocket. She now wants to wash windows too — not for the money, but to be included, and for the sheer giddy joy of it.

In another time, in another story, Tom Sawyer once put the whole neighborhood to work whitewashing a fence because he was lazy and canny, and he knew it would make a good plot-point in a deathless novel. But in the year 2007, kids and household tasks have changed. Kit approached Sam and asked if she could help and Sam became hysterical. Cries of rage and dishonor echoed around the block. Sam was furious, not because Kit might be cutting in on his window-washing fun, but because he was worried that if Kit was willing to wash windows for nothing, the job could be done without Sam and Sam would be out his two dollars.

Just another example of skilled workers struggling to keep their jobs against a tide of newcomers willing to do the job for less — California economics in a nutshell. And the WGA strike too, I suppose.

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Cute kids update

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SAM (6): I was wearing my Fancy-Schmancy Ultra Limited Edition Secret Stash In-house Promo Venture Bros shirt today, which attracted Sam’s interest.

SAM: Who’s that?
DAD: This? This is — [dramatic voice] — The Monarch!

(no response)

DAD: He’s a bad guy.
SAM: I can see that!

Meanwhile, KIT (4), has taken it upon herself to put together a new lineup of The Beatles:

To those who believe that Ringo is irreplaceable, here is your answer: Ringo is replaceable, if he is replaced with BATMAN FROM THE FUTURE and A SHARK ON A POSTAL DELIVERY TRUCK.

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Kids these days

(The TV room, afternoon. Kit (4) is watching The Fairly Oddparents. A commercial is playing.)

KIT: Stupid remote! Stupid! Dad! Da–ad!

(Dad enters.)

DAD: What’s up?
KIT: I can’t get the remote to work!
DAD: Let me see it.

(He takes the remote. It works fine.)

DAD: It works fine.
KIT: I mean it won’t work on this TV show! I can’t get it to start over, or skip the commercials, or pause when I need the bathroom!
DAD: Oh, well that’s because this is live TV. Here, see, when you press the “pause” button, the little box comes on in the corner that says “LIVE TV?” That’s what that means, it means that this is being broadcast right now, it’s not a recording, you can’t pause it or make it go back.
KIT: Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! I HATE LIVE TV!

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Kit corner

DAD. Kit, I love your new drawing!
KIT (4). Thank you!
DAD.  What does the “TM” mean?
KIT.  That means nobody can steal it!
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Kids these days (a true story)

KIT (4): Waaaaaahh!  Mommy ruined my drawing!!  Waaaaaaahhhh!
SAM (5) (genuine concern): What happened, Kit?
KIT: Waaaaaaah!  I asked Mommy to draw a sweater on my girl and she drew long sleeves!  Waaaaaahhh!  She ruined my drawing!  She ruined my WHOLE DAY!  Waaaaahhhh!
SAM: It’s okay Kit, we can scan it and fix it in Photoshop!
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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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