Why are “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and “Beany and Cecil” so many trillion times better than any kids’ shows on TV today? We borrowed DVDs of both from the library this week. They’re snappy, cultured, smart, and silly. A lot of the humour is in throw-away lines and muttered asides. It doesn’t make me laugh out loud, since only physical comedy does that. But it makes me happy and satisfied in the stomach.
Somewhere along the way we replaced this kind of thing with Berenstain Bears, Dragontales, and Arthur, shows that aren’t grown-up in any way, and exist only to teach kids the lesson they need to learn next: share your toys, live up to your responsibilities, be a good sport, don’t be a bully. I like some of these shows. I like Arthur, at any rate. But I can’t help thinking something’s gone wrong.
A lot of people complain that the culture of youth has become a culture of childishness. We don’t ask our children, like we used to, to participate in adult conversation and to shut up when they can’t. Instead we gear our lives around their talk; we sit in groups and watch their shows. Why?
Z answers with Zeno’s paradox. This logic game is fleshed out in several classic scenarios – Achilles can’t beat the tortoise, or Achilles can’t lift his foot from the floor – but the game hangs on the a priori that to travel a certain distance you first have to have travel half that distance, and to travel that distance you first have to travel half again, so that moving a foot becomes a process divided into infinitely small increments, none of which can be taken before another is taken. We’re sure that when our kids are getting a lesson this is something good, no matter how small–and the smaller the better. You have to have Dragontales before you can have Rocky and Bullwinkle.
Only the real world doesn’t work that way. Achilles can lift his foot. Children can skip up way ahead. And if Eila’s reaction to these shows is any indication, they’re dying to.