Monday, March 14, 2011

Beyond Sesame Street: The Loss of (TV-Viewing) Innocence

E is for Elmo - and End of an Era. It's true and it's sad, Sesame Street no longer reigns supreme in our house. After a long time consuming a strict Sesame Street-only TV diet, we have recently branched out to some other screen-time options -- namely, the "Toy Story" trilogy Toy Story Trilogy (10-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)and "Max and Ruby," with an occasional "Annie" viewing for a snack. I find myself having very mixed feelings about this. While part of me enjoys the variety (I especially find "Toy Story" to clever and fun for myself as well), I'm realizing that even these fairly benign options are opening up some previously unheard-of (and unpleasant) concepts in our house.

Meanness. No one on Sesame Street is mean. Ever. Yeah, Oscar's a Grouch but he just wants to be left alone to his messy self. He never plots to torture the other Sesame Street characters, he's just a bit grumpy when they infringe on his space. I find "Toy Story" and "Finding Nemo" to be some of the most innocuous of kid movies but even there unkindness exists. In the world of "Toy Story 3", there's the bear, Lotso, who's described as being a "monster" and not the cuddly Elmo variety. He leads a Taliban-style rule over Sunnyside Daycare, riding around in a pickup truck with his henchmen, terrorizing the local toy populace. Annie, of course, has the mean (and drunk) Miss Hannigan and her brother, Rooster, who actually tries to kill Annie.

We haven't branched into the world of Disney yet, which is chock-a-block full of mean, conniving characters - murderous uncles in Lion King, vain witches in Snow White, and those awful step-relatives in Cinderella.

Dishonesty. In watching a recent episode of "Max and Ruby" I watched with dismay as Max found ways to trick Ruby into believing he'd eaten the prerequisite healthy snack he'd been instructed to consume before he got the candy he so desired. The worst part was that he got away with it! As a mom who struggles to get her kids to eat anything other than Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, it was disheartening to see his bad eating habits rewarded. I mean, any monster on Sesame Street would have been delighted to eat that apple and proclaimed it delicious!

Bad Words. No, not the four-letter kind. But words like "Stupid" and "Idiot" do get thrown around, which aren't words I want bandied about in our house.

Other Unpleasant Topics. The more varied one's TV diet becomes, the more varied the topics addressed become. Annie, of course, is an orphan. That's a tricky and unpleasant topic to try and explain (especially for a mom who hasn't made out a will yet...). Theft. In Toy Story 2, a toy collector steals Woody - talk about another tricky one...

While I know that at three, it's probably about time to start exposing Bonnie to some of these concepts, it still makes me very sad that her safe, protected little world is coming to an end - even if only through the world of Pixar and Nick Jr.

She'll be starting preschool in a few months, so maybe it's for the best that she has some idea that meanness exists in the world as I'm sure it's about to meet her head-on once she enters the land of Mean Girls toddlers. (My heart already breaks just at the thought of some girl refusing to let her into her clique.)

All of this also leads me to wonder just how overly-protective I'm being with their little feelings. For generations, the Disney movies have been geared towards young children. I don't think parents used to stress about how scary the various witches might have been or whether the unkindnesses animated characters inflicted upon one another would scar a toddler's psyche. I can't decide if I'm over-thinking the whole thing and should just be grateful to get a nice shower in while they happily watch TV or if it's normal to mourn the end of the first bit of innocence.

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