It’s time to get real, to roll up my sleeves and dive into a topic that really moves me. I’ll admit, the following might be controversial to some, but it’s a subject that needs to be breached—and I am of course talking about children’s television shows, specifically the kinds my boys like to watch.
Now, I’m no dummy, according to this internet test I took the other day that said on a scale from guppy to dolphin, I was as smart as the savviest of parrotfish. I recognize that many young boys like dinosaurs, trucks and super heroes, and I get that that warrants the production of TV shows about those kinds of things, but I’m getting a little tired of shows about robots that can turn from a truck into a kind of mechanical dinosaur and then go out into the city and fight crime spouting absurd catch phrases, like “Dinosaur-Truck-Bot Man wins AGAIN!”
Recently, I watched an episode of a kid’s show that took it one step further. Based in a world where the only living things were truck-dinosaurs—that is to say, dinosaurs with big wheels and other construction machine elements, as well as little “lizard” things that mostly resembled tools—the premise of this show was simply to build and break things.
But I can forgive all the truck-dinosaur-robot-superheroes. I really, really can. I can even forgive the senseless plot lines, hackneyed catch phrases and the make-me-want-to-drive-my-head-into-the-drywall kind of characters. What I can’t get over is the anime influence (or at least what I perceive as the anime influence). Thank you, Pokemon. Thank you, Dragon Ball Z. You have effectively soiled my understanding of child’s play.
When I was a boy (and it pains me to use that phrase), we used sticks as swords. That hasn’t changed. My sons are all well practiced at procuring the sharpest, thickest piece of fallen tree branch they can find with which to impale their enemies (aka, their brothers). I’ve often envisioned that—when I’m not looking—they pull out some of the finest analytic devices technology can provide to test the quality of wood, angle, shape and solidity of each branch before selecting what they conclude is the perfect weapon for “fighting bad guys.”
Young boys tend to like violence. Whether that’s learned or not is hard to say—and I’m OK with that. What I have a hard time with is what the anime influence has done to this ritual of play. One morning while sipping my morning tea…or mimosa, depending on the hour…I looked outside into the backyard where the sun had cast its splendor upon a grand display of nature’s beauty. Flowers opened their petals, reaching for the sun’s warmth, squirrels danced about the trees like the horny rats they are, and birds perched on our trellis for a better chance to doody on our picnic table.
It is amazing what one finds beautiful after his third mimosa on a Sunday morning.
Next my eyes panned over the grass where my two oldest sons were chasing each other with sticks powerful swords. I grinned and took another sip, wondering what fun world their imaginations must have taken them to—feeling a bit envious of them, truth be told.
Then the strangest thing—the three-year-old turned to face his older brother and made a kind of squat, turning both hands to fists and keeping them at his sides. His face twisted into some kind of expression of pain, but he didn’t seem to be hurt.
And then it hit me…like a bag of bricks across the face…
“HOLY HELL, HE’S POOPING HIS PANTS!”
Only I didn’t say pooping.
I nearly dropped the glass of mimosa (but I didn’t–relax. I’m a responsible parent, after all) on my way out the back door, sprinting to where my boys were playing with their sticks*.
“HOLD IT IN! HOLD IT IN,” I barked.
My boys looked at me like I’d sniffed one too many of the baby’s fresh diapers.
“Don’t poop your pants!” I said.
They glanced at each other, and my five-year-old gave an expression I will never forget, one that seemed to say, I’ll take this one, bro.
“Dad, he’s not pooping his pants. He’s shooting his power at me. We’re fighting.”
My son might as well have told me he had weaponized his own boogers with a sneeze ray. I had no idea what he was talking about—until I thought back on some of the more recent kid shows I’ve seen with my sons.
The anime influence. And out came a heavy sigh.
When the heroes of these shows fight a villain, half the time he (or she) does not use physical combat. Instead, the hero makes a face, grits his/her teeth and moans like one of the Williams sisters in a tennis match. This causes a kind of otherworldly reaction that brings about a nimbus of color all around him, which prompts another grunt and suddenly the translucent color launches in the direction of the hero’s intended target.
It sounds all fine and good…heck, it looks great on the shows. However, when my boys attempt this–void of magical prowess, themselves–what it looks like is much different. What it looks like is two young kids simultaneously defecating in my backyard.
And this is why neither is allowed to play in the front yard anymore, where neighbors can see. If ever you Google Earth my house and see my boys wincing and squatting, just know they’re probably sword fighting.
*…which would take on a WHOLE other context if I was telling a different story, but we’ll save that one for another time.