Saturday, March 04, 2006

Monkey Business
proactive parenting in a mediated world 

Monkey see, monkey wonder.

Note: yes, it's a long one today. As incentive, readers who make it to the end will find links to three Jack Johnson mp3s from the Curious George movie.

Yet another first for the elderkid today: her first cinematic experience, popcorn and all. Like her recent foray into the world of solo peestops in public bathrooms, I think we're calling this one a success.

We'd certainly prepared her well enough. Teaching and studying media literacy for so long gets under your skin; though there are times when I wish we could use the TV as a brainsitter, it's not in me to be the kind of parent who just flips the switch and leaves the room.

Though concerns about ads and, more generally, incompatibilities between our values and the subversive subtext of mass media have led to a total absence of television reception in our home, we watch videos with her, sit with her while she plays her fave computer games over at PBS Kids. And, in all cases, she feels ownership, can already locate, play, question and put away.

Our deliberate campaign of cautious media filtering and smallscreen co-parenting has already made of three-year-old Willow an increasingly deliberate, discriminating, and active participant in everything from online games to videos from the local libraries and our vast collection of old Muppet Shows. She understands that narrative tension is inevitably resolved.

So it was no surprise to find her arms around my neck at the first hint of cinematic anxiety today. It'll be okay soon, Daddy, she whispered. And she was right. It was wonderful, like a date with my daughter, and her hand felt cool and sweet on my neck.

But there wasn't much anxiety. The change in scale from small screen to large was hardly as significant or overwhelming as I had feared. The perspective, the expectations, and the literacies already burgeoning inside my headstrong eldest seem to work; she seems sure of self in the screenworld as elsewhere, ready to wander like her family before her.

But I can't take all the credit. Much of today's success came from the choice of movie.

Curious George hasn't gotten the best ratings from adults, but as a parent, I found it ideal for a first-time cinematic outing. The plot is tight, albeit sketched in sparsely, just enough to cover all the bases and -- more wonderfully -- address with a minimum of fuss all possible ethical questionables which haunt so much of mass market kid programming. George makes a perfect viewer-projected little kid (better than Elmo, anyway) without losing his simian charm.

The focus is on the developing relationships among the characters as George's presence brings confidence and social connection to the world of the Man of the Yellow Hat. And the characters are almost wholly real, thanks to the tonality and voice of the likes of Wil Ferrell, Eugene Levy, Dick van Dyke, and harmless protoloser David Cross (as the misunderstood pseudo-nemesis).

Jack Johnson's soundtrack was wonderful, the perfect compliment and tonesetting guide to the antics of the ever-expressive George and his shy, earnest yellow-hatted companion. His laid-back rhythmic style set a tone for George which kept the audience relaxed and cheery -- no mean feat, with so many of our fellow moviegoers similarly wee and new to the movieplex.

On the way out Willow and I took a chance to get right up against the projected surface, touch and throw our shadows on the screen itself, break the magic just enough to plant that seed of self-keeping, building the layers of mindfulness necessary for healthy mediaplay, so her future moviewatching can remain both magical and evercritical.

Three other father/daughter pairs followed suit. For just a moment it was intimate up there by the bright yellow screen , just three daddys smiling awkwardly at each other over their daughters' heads as the credits rolled over us all like vertical waves. Nice to share daddyhood, there in the dark; it's so seldom done.

The moment we picked up mama and the baby up near the mall entrance Willow ran away, dodging our outstretched hands; we ended up in a game of catch-and-release, red-faced and spectacular, while Willow screamed No! No! I'm having a really good time! I'm having a really good time!" Eventually we calmed her down, lured her in the car with the promise of chinese food and another movie in the near future, and headed off towards home.

Listened to movie titlesong Upside Down all the way home, and now you can, too. Buy Sing-A-Longs and Lullabyes for the film Curious George from Amazon, or click here for this and two other soundtrack tracks, courtesy of Jefito.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:48 PM |

When we moved from a tiny town with no real movie theater to a small city, I was excited to finally take my kids to their first movie. The Wizard of Oz was experiencing a revival. My kids were 4 and 2. Scared the be-jeepers out of them.

I hadn't remembered how scary it can be. :/
I am interested in media literacy in relation to young children. WGBH is a great resource about how to watch TV with kids. (and they also have info about how much is too much TV) There feeling about their and other PBS kids shows is "See, read, do" that a child will see something on a show and want to learn more by reading about it then doing an activity based on their findings. They have many great guides online that link episodes to books and activities to help a parent to foster this in their child. Also on a related note WGBH is making a Curious George TV show. I have seen a coupe of clips from it and it looks very good. The part I saw was about the number zero George was curious about 0 and adds a zero to the end of a doughnut order. Turning 1 into 10. It was funny and cute.
Thanks for the links, Zach -- we use 'em and know 'em now, and I used to dwell heavily in the spaces you link to back when I was a teacher of media literacy myself. Taught a whole course in kidmedia, in fact.

That said, a note of caution. WGBH is NOT the end-all, be-all of media literacy, and they make a sometimes dubious resource. One example I used to use in teaching: Teletubbies is a significantly flawed show, which reinforces some seriously flawed ideas (for example: technology and nature are both "environmental".), and though I do agree with some of what their parent guides tout as educational benefits of the show, there are some glaring absences -- and oddities -- in their list.

We use SOME of the pbskids resources here -- both for our kids and for us. Because we find them both good and consistet with our values. We do NOT use others, because they are not.

As in all kid resources then, so it is in public TV. Each resource needs to be evaluated on its own merits before use. Some work only as filtered by a companion adult during use; some are too value-laden to use at all safely for our kids; some are ideal as playspaces for a kid UNfiltered. Same with the adult resources.

To be expected, I guess. WGBH is not me -- it would be very, very odd if their values were identical to mine.

And it's not surprising to find some glaring inconsistencies. We must remember: even WGBH has a product, and as such must select value-sets which reinforce that worldview which will keep PBS -- and thus television itself -- in a certain place in a kidlife.

In short, then: PBS has some good resources, but because it is media, its ability to teach media literacy and support the vaues of those who would be truly literate in their use of media is inherently COMPROMISED.

Those who trust the media to teach about media literacy inevitably find that they can and should not. Would you let the wolf teach sheep safety?
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