Children’s Entertainment

During the Thanksgiving weekend I had the opportunity to spend some time around the 9 year old daughter of my Bay Area friend (girlfriend).

During this time the girl watched (or half-watched) several shows on TV and we also went out to a movie (Encanto). She also played a video game on her mom’s computer.

The entertainment choices available to internet-connected youth today are probably more than ten times more numerous than the TV-based programming that I grew up with.

Thus, one way I entertained myself was to draw pictures. Below is a picture I made for a 2nd grade class assignment for an illustrated story “What Is Important About Me.” I have manipulated this image to make it more interesting to look at.

In my opinion, though the variety of shows has exploded, the quality of this material has not. During my lifetime, society has been transforming into a “techno-space” society where obedience is so valued that those who run the show in the background wish to actively discourage childhood exposure that would encourage too much creative thinking or intellectual curiosity. On Earth, though, this material must be presented in the context of a freedom-loving and diverse population (not so true on many other planets) which requires a certain amount of artful deception (when well done) or when more poorly done (often the case) results in material that is simply maudlin, trite or confusing.

The techno-space context is full of magical technologies and overwhelmed people. This results in a bunch of superheroes who have a hard time of it, autism spectrum disorder, and similar conundrums. Without the spiritual component available to help us understand our situation, the overall reaction of most people is that we are in an impossible predicament where there is no hope that we could ever best the “super smart” technologists that control the tools that we use to produce, travel and communicate.

The Powers That Be don’t want us to learn about the spiritual component. They fear a loss of control in the face of beings who are spiritually free, A few of them, perhaps, can even remember encounters with such beings and what had be done to put them down. It wasn’t pretty.

So as the magical nature of life bubbles up through our “new” technologies, and beings begin to remember who they used to be before they were forced to come here, our rulers feel justified in putting in place a narrative that they hope will divert us, amuse us, and confuse us, or otherwise suppress our desire to regain our freedom and our actual abilities.

The first set of shows this little girl wanted to watch was Maya And The Three. Then we saw the fully animated Pixar (Disney) movie Encanto. Later she was watching the cartoon series Phineas and Ferb (also Disney), and then played a video game against the computer featuring “Gumball.

Maya and the Three

This is a brand new TV mini-series streaming on Netflix and produced in Mexico by Jorge R. Gutiérrez. They produced it with open-source animation software called Blender. The story is sloppily based on the culture of Mesoamerica, has a slew of magical elements and “peoples” similar to Lord of the Rings, and is comedic. The heroine of the story is 15 years old. The characters speak English. It is full of challenges and fighting (at least the episodes I saw). And what does it teach? That indigenous American culture is rich, colorful and … funny? The current trend is to simply put indigenous cultures into our entertainment to “celebrate” them. There is no attempt (at least not at this level) to dig in to what these people believed or how they lived. Any address to spiritual elements is extremely superficial. And the big problem of history, which is to say how their culture was overwhelmed by invaders and other forces (perhaps including climate changes) is not really addressed in materials like this. All we are doing is celebrating the spirit, sounds and colors of the culture, not its more troubling aspects.

Encanto

This deeply animated film features people involved in the culture of Spanish South America (Colombia to be exact). It features many strong female personalities who clash and attempt to resolve their conflicts which center around the “magic spell” that has protected their family for at least three generations. The characters are ethnically diverse, for the most part lighthearted, but burdened by the thought that their “magic” could come to an end at any time.

It is not clear to me that the little girl with us understood the concepts underlying this story, nor all the plot twists. She told me that she identified with the heroine, and we decided that the character that matched her mom the best was the one who had received the gift of extraordinary physical strength. The “gifts” received by most of the family members, and their reactions to the various abilities they gained, were in some way the centerpiece of the plot. Yet the source and full meaning of their gifts remained vague and unexplored. Though there were elements obviously pointing to Catholic tradition, there was also an indigenous factor. Perhaps in the interest of remaining strictly secular, the film addressed neither of these issues very deeply. It became, in the end, a sort of instructional fable dealing with the interpersonal dynamics of a family that considers itself “gifted.”

Phineas and Ferb

This is also a Disney-sponsored cartoon series. It ran from 2007 to 2015. I consider this series highly ridiculous to the point of near worthlessness. The young lady watching it, however, seemed quite happy with it. Each episode features a new “summer project” by the two boys, who are step-brothers and nerds. There are a lot of obtuse references in the script to science fiction and conspiracy theory subjects. The main subplot involves their sister Candace who is continuously appalled by how many rules the two boys are always breaking, and how they never seem to get caught by the many adults in the stories. Another subplot includes the boys’ “pet platypus” Perry who secretly works as a spy trying to keep a mad scientist from doing something really horrifying. Perry always succeeds somehow, and usually in a way that completely covers the mischief being caused by the boys. There is also a brownie (or bluebird?) girl scout troop involved, which always demonstrates impeccable organization and effectiveness. All the characters are so ridiculous that they barely seem human. The basic story line of every episode is totally predictable, and my main impression of the whole thing is that it is one entire goof-off session, and that the writers see real life that way, too. A valuable lesson for our youth!

Gumball video game

This is apparently a feature of Cartoon Network, which offers video games based on many of its series, in this case The Amazing World of Gumball. The main characters are animated animals that live somewhere in suburbia. The other characters that Gumball fights against are also in the cartoon series.

The game my young companion played (she claimed for the first time) follows a classic “fight” style where the (usually) two fighters take turns deciding how to respond to the previous attack. In this case, the program ran one of the fighters. As the two fight, they both “lose energy” until one goes to zero, or “dies.” In these children’s games, the fighting is quite stylized, though obviously involves weapons and violence which ends in the death of one of the fighters. The entire point of play seems to be to stay in the game by winning most of the fights. In the game I watched, the fight environment (background) was totally irrelevant, as were the exact personalities or identities of the various fighters. Strategy and skill were only minimally required. It was basically a do-nothing, bored way to do something more interesting than nothing at all.

What does it all mean?

I made no attempt here to treat this subject thoroughly. This all is based on sharing just one weekend with a little girl and her mom. I did not sample a full range of programming so my response is not based on very complete information.

But I do sense a certain “glee of insanity” among entertainment writers and performers. In other words, they act funny or happy, but the humor and content is often dark if not actually deviant, like the news (also a form of entertainment). Magical and supernatural phenomena, though very real, are treated with awe and confusion. This is a product of ignorance in the face of an increasing amount of evidence that these things are real, coupled with the influence of criminals who fear these phenomena.

Adults decide what content to show their children, so this is more about them than it is about their kids. It could be said that all this is just a reflection of the times we live in, but it is more than that. I am living in those times, too, yet the content I write is very different that most of what I have seen so far. The difference, I suspect, is that I take ET and magic seriously, and give children credit for being more sophisticated than most adults seem to. I am no longer trapped in the 19th century concept of “evolution” but instead have embraced and extended my understanding of a different 19th century trend; spirituality. It is my belief that Evolution and all that came with it was popularized in an attempt to stamp out spirituality as a competing approach to life. Evolution, with its Materialism, temporarily won out, but Spirituality never died. And it lives on, though quite distorted, in modern entertainment, including what we give our children to watch. I hope those distortions will soon be resolved.

“All the world’s a stage” still holds true, and I personally have always had a preference for live entertainment. I studied Shakespearean theater for a junior high project once:

Tags: , , ,

3 Responses to “Children’s Entertainment”

  1. Concepcion Perez Says:

    And yet… You cried (more than I did) during the Encanto movie…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: