Z’s paradox

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.

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4 thoughts on “Z’s paradox

  1. There’s another paradox here. I’d started thinking that I was going to say that there’s something here about a ever-exaggeratedly Romantic notion of childhood, as though we’re increasingly invested in the childishness of children. But there’s the paradox: we’re actually at a moment when children’s books and (especially) TV shows are becoming increasingly childish — or at least condescending, since actual children are much more interesting and smart than the pop culture seems to want them to be — and yet we’re also at a moment when it’s getting increasingly difficult to buy clothes and toys for kids that don’t sexualize them, put them into adult gender roles, and the like. So it’s both.

    On another note, have you guys tried The Electric Company? It’s trippy and smart, in ways you’d expect from the 70s, and I don’t think that my pleasure in it is simply nostalgia …

  2. So we’re caught between the Berenstain Bears and the Britney Bellybutton. Bizarre.

    Z says: children are born smart and everywhere we make them stupid. It takes a lot of work to make them stupid, but luckily it’s not an individual endeavour; the way is paved by the wider culture. To fight it, that’s a lonely road. Makes me sympathetic with the home schoolers.

    I’m checking out EC for sure!

  3. Animaniacs and Pinky & the Brain are still out there in re-runs — check ’em out. Also, Reboot. And even Bugs Bunny makes kids reach for the jokes (“Barber of Seville” playing while Bugs cuts Elmer’s hair, etc.).

  4. We’re committed fans of P & B and Animaniacs, and I’ll check out Reboot-thanks! But Bugs got topped when Beany and Cecil had Tchaikovsky and (was it?) Home on the Range playing at the same time, counterpoint.

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