Human technology

Pinch Me, I’m Streaming

TV land

Why do female cartoon characters always have long eyelashes? Is that really my gender’s defining characteristic? Where do those cute bunnies, shaggy puppets and cartoon dogs get the mascara? I haven’t worn it since middle school.

Dinosaur Train, for God’s sake. Pteranodons! Even the smart shows do this. Which brings me to my point: I just realized there is smart TV for kids. I don’t think screen time will increase my kid’s IQ, but if I select it more wisely, it may not stunt his growth!

I’ve always considered TV a bad thing, like candy. So I haven’t given much thought to what Robin watched. My only impulse has been to limit it. But as there are carob-covered raisins and yogurt pretzels, so too is there better-for-you television.

Mighty Machines. All About. The Wild Kratts. (OK, Robin finds these guys lame.) Even Dinosaur Train, with its manic, fast-talking characters, has the redemption of smart, bland Dr. Scott the Paleontologist and his calm explanations. He’s informed Robin’s thinking on dinosaur extinction and has taught him that forest fires are good.

There is a danger in letting any characters in. Perhaps I’ve misspent energy gate keeping, steering us away from the current Pixar movie or shows with ubiquitous branding. Trying to stave off the inevitable.

Robin recognized Elmo a full 18 months before he ever watched Sesame Street, or any TV. The characters and branding are in the air we breathe (hyperbole) and on the cereal and toothpaste we buy (fact).

A chatty nurse once asked Robin about his stuffy: “Is that Kung Fu Panda?” Robin looked at him blankly. “No, it’s National Zoo Panda,” Randy replied.

(Take that, Dominant Culture!)

I know at least one local preschool that forbids kids to wear clothing with movie or TV characters’ images. I thought twice before I bought Robin his first character shirt: Curious George. He’s a literary figure, after all!

Cars jammies hitched a ride in with my mother, and the nighttime Pull-Ups advertise Monsters Inc., Toy Story, Cars, and some pirate guy that Robin knows from a friend’s lunch box. He recognizes Angry Birds, though I hope he makes it to puberty without playing a video game.

The predictable thing about innocence is its end. Enter the real world, with its ads and influence. Sponge Bob toothpaste, and worse yet, commercial TV when we travel: Nickelodeon and its parade of cool commercials cultivating want. Can I really shut it out?

We all know that person who grew up not watching TV–the smart one with hippie parents. As adults they may watch TV but are just as likely to tell you (a little too eagerly) “I don’t own a television.”

(Incidentally, this is the whitest thing you can say that doesn’t involve golf or mutual funds.)

These pale, intellectually superior children were, of course, robbed of their pop cultural heritage. They don’t get your Monkees jokes and Brady Bunch references. Do I want my kid to miss this? To be a cultural outsider?

Or worse yet, might he gorge on his first exposure? Skip college classes to watch a Bridezilla marathon?

I’ve relented. We have Sesame Street T-shirts. We collect Cars like Jay Leno. We have enough Thomas the Tank Engine paraphernalia to open a small museum.

I’ve found smarter shows on PBS and Netflix, dodging commercials and letting the animated guys do a little teaching while they babysit. (For 30 minutes a day, anyway.)

And just as this happens, the next wave starts: Robin asks to watch music videos for Happy and What Does the Fox Say? The only thing scarier than lush-lashed kittens is real women with mascara, in music videos.

After all, who wants to eat carob-covered raisins?