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Monday, June 15, 2009

Ruminations of an Old Goat

As I write this, I can hear the drone of the TV set a couple of rooms away. One of the boys is watching something. I don't know what he's watching, but if the show is a sitcom or cartoon I can make the following prediction without any fear of being wrong; the father on the show is a bumbling idiot who is always being shown up by his smart aleck children and is always being corrected by his wonderful and wise wife.

I noticed the trend toward this back in the '80s. I didn't watch that much TV then and still don't watch all that much now, which likely means the trend is far more pervasive than even I realize. Bad as it is on network sitcoms, though, the situation gets far worse once you look at programming aimed at children.

Once you get past all of the shows aimed at very young children and hit cartoons, you would be hard pressed to find any cartoon with a responsible father. The first cartoon my son really got into was Rugrats on Nickelodeon. The show featured four fathers; the toy inventor who regularly left infants to fend for themselves for hours on end, the subservient father who was dominated by his super successful wife and his bossy daughter, the milquetoast widower who was afraid of everything and the dad who was so bland I nearly forgot about him. Without their wives and the babies to watch after them, this bunch of idiots would probably have drowned in the shallow end of the gene pool.

While I won't bore you all by listing every cartoon my kids have watched, I cannot think of a single one which portrays fathers as anything other than fools with much to learn from the brilliant children and spouse.

Apparently it wasn't enough for fathers to be morons. These days, most of the boys are idiots, too. I am hard pressed to name a single cartoon that doesn't have at least one boy who complete and utter moron. Conversely, I can't name a single cartoon which has even one girl who isn't clever and forever having to pull the moron boy's fat out of the fire.

I have to wonder exactly what all of these "males are stupid, females are brilliant" messages are doing to our boys. I know there are some who will say, "You're making a big deal over a bunch of silly cartoons and sitcoms!" Those same people will then protest that video games are turning our children into killers or that exposure to NRA gun safety training will get kids interested in guns and shooting. (Interestingly, these same people will tell you that detailed sex education will not get kids more interested in having sex.)

Boys already receive enough exposure to the idea that being smart isn't cool from their peers without having television drive home that same idea. Despite all of this, I rarely hear anyone in the media bring up this subject. There are a few who discuss the "war on boys" (including a book by the same title), but they are generally dismissed as right wing cranks who want women kept barefoot and pregnant.

On the other hand, lots of people in the media discuss the idea that video games are doing harm to boys by encouraging violent tendencies. But you know what, I've played a lot of video games and watched my boys play a lot more. Men and boys in video games aren't stupid. Many of them -- those in role playing games and the much maligned first person shooting games, in particular -- act heroically. (Yes, there are the odious Grand Theft Auto games which glorify criminal violence, but I don't let my boys play any games like those.) But this isn't a rant about video games, it's a rant about television.

It's way too late for me to get rid of the television. The boys have seen so many of these shows that they'll never forget them. Also, there are good television shows out there (really!), so I prefer not to toss out the baby with the bath water. Instead, I do what I can to offset the message drilled into them by the television. I praise them for good grades, for clever insights, for anything that shows they are using their brains intelligently. When they discuss their interests or plans for the future, I find ways to work in how valuable a good education will be (even if the plan is to become a professional skateboarder). And I never, ever, use "stupid" in reference to them, their friends or the things they're interested in.

Never, except for those television shows I'm ranting about. With those, I call 'em like I see 'em.
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