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When my daughter gets a little older, I'll be able to put stereotypes in context of the time when they came out, but until then, If I Ran the Zoo stays at the library. I hate to be censorious, but there's plenty of other good books out there. You can make a case for the values in the original tale of Little Black Sambo, but how can you convey the harm in the name? Parenting has plenty of mine fields already without charging into new ones unnecessarily.
I accidentally on purpose made my daughter a Star Wars fan. I had no intention of showing her the movie anytime soon, but she has a Darth Vader action figure among her dolls, and "The Imperial March" from The Empire Strikes Back is one of our household's favorite songs during shoulder rides and the like.
Then my parents bought a copy of Star Wars on DVD and played it when my daughter and her two cousins spent the night. She loved it, so watching it has become a "grandparents' house" thing to do. Later I was recounting the Star Wars story in a strategically expurgated way, and she asked about the scene in which Luke returns to his home on Tatooine and finds the smoldering bodies of his aunt and uncle. Specifically, she asked, "What happened to their skin?"
The debate over violence and children's entertainment is endless, and enters a whole new thicket of complexity with weaponized console games that are over my daughter's head. I'm sensitive to all the arguments against violent action, but also heed Gerard Jones' Killing Monsters: Why Children NEED Fantasy, Super Heroes and Make-Believe Violence case that certain material can give kids life lessons and coping skills. Even imaginary violence is like playing with fire.
Partly I don't want to give my daughter ideas that violence is OK. All that "hitting" makes superhero fare problematic. Once, her dolls were fighting "bad guys" and killing them, so I told her that, no, heroes always take the bad guys to jail.
The other risk is that we might terrorize her with material before she's ready. Context can make a huge difference: Movies in theaters can be far more intense and upsetting than shows on television. My daughter asked to be taken out of both Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Ice Age: The Meltdown because of some scary scenes, even though she liked the franchises' previous installments on video.
I currently take an incremental approach to material that might be violent or scary. For instance, Georgia Shakespeare is staging a Family Classic Series version of Robin Hood in July. I may test my daughter out with the Errol Flynn, Daffy Duck and Walt Disney versions of the Robin Hood story, and then take her to the live version of the show if she takes to it.
Shows with the likes of Godzilla or Darth Vader can't come soon enough, as far as my daughter's concerned, but we're very conservative about what we introduce to her. As far as I'm concerned, a childhood without Robin Hood, Luke Skywalker or Spider-Man seems like hardly a childhood at all.
Contemporary kid fare has, most of the time, grown beyond crude stereotypes and mindless mayhem. There's a trade-off, however: The bar for vulgarity and bodily-function humor has dropped well below the waist, egging on our juveniles to engage in juvenile jokes.
I blame The Lion King, which became one of the most popular Disney films of all time upon its 1994 release. The beloved kid anthem "Hakuna Matata," however, devotes a full verse to the gaseous emissions of Pumbaa the Wart Hog. Now flatulence is virtually inescapable in kids' entertainment -- Shrek sets the standard, and you can only hope that a show with barnyard gags draws the line merely at belching. I still balk at showing my daughter last year's otherwise pleasant, innocuous Charlotte's Web because of the gag with an animal farting and blasting Templeton the rat onto the barn floor.
And Charlotte's Web was rated G!
It's not just movies. The fifth book in the Walter the Farting Dog series comes out in July. The level of gross-out humor on kid-oriented networks such as Nickelodeon or the Cartoon Network is completely unpredictable from show to show.
Unquestionably, potty humor gets laughs across generations. Like indigestion after a rich meal, coarse jokes represent the side effect of something positive: With whole families sharing the same pop artifacts, creators want to keep everyone entertained, and some resort to the earthiest kind of equalizer for "hand-hold movies" that parents see with their kids.
The problem is the idea that bodily-function gags are suitable anytime, anywhere, 24/7, in front of any audience. I'm all too aware that part of becoming a parent means bemoaning a lack of manners and propriety in the world. But just because I'm fuddy-duddy doesn't mean I'm not in the right. The only recourse is to crack a window and hope that this trend, too, shall pass.