Friday, September 16, 2011

The Sea of Love

Quick PSA (tailored not to the "P" at large but the percentage of you who are W-H Alums circa 1980-1989, which makes you the "WHAP" I reckon): we are now less than one month away from the "All 80's Reunion" scheduled for the evening of Saturday October 15 shortly after the conclusion of Homecoming-related activities. If you are planning to attend but have not bought your ticket yet, then go to this place from this place (not now dammit!) and do so. If you remain undecided, noncommittal or any other polysyllabic word that translates roughly into, "Well, I don't know", then be advised that Emilie Marvosa is coming to your house and kicking you hard in the ass. She is little but Lee is tough as hell. Consider yourself warned.

We the people of the United States are a funny bunch. Too often we find the pursuit of new ideas exhausting. It is simply far to difficult a task to undertake. So, instead of pursuing new ones we find those that attained a modicum of success - however fleeting - and dust them off, polish them to a bright shine and then launch them anew (well, sort of) on an unsuspecting public. A generation ago, Evangelical loudmouth (a redundancy if ever one was written) Reverend Falwell mounted his soapbox to warn one and all that the TeleTubbies were going to be the undoing of Western civilization. Jowly Jerry was particularly concerned about one of them - Tinky Winky. It was his suspicion that the Tinkster might have been homosexual. Interestingly, the nickname of the athletic teams at Falwell U. (sorry - Liberty University) is the Flames. Nope. I am not making any of this up. Sometimes comedy just writes itself.

Just this past week, a beloved (in some circles anyway) star of children's television programming took a show across the bow. SpongeBob SquarePants has been identified as the root of ADD evil in small children. In the September 12, 2011 edition of Pediatrics there is an article entitled, "The Effect of Fast-Paced Cartoons" that examined - well - it examined the effect that viewing fast-paced cartoons had on a small sampling of young children. Apparently SpongeBob wreaked havoc on the test subjects. As reported by the New York Times:

The study, which appeared in the Sept. 12 issue of the journal Pediatrics, involved 60 children whose parents reported similar levels of television-watching and attention skills. The children were randomly assigned to one of three groups: one watched nine minutes of the cartoon, another viewed nine minutes of the educational program “Caillou,” and the remaining group spent the time with drawing paper, markers and crayons.

The tests were administered immediately after the children watched the program and were designed to assess what is known as children’s executive function, which underlies attention, working memory, problem-solving and the delay of gratification. The children were given tasks that involved following instructions, reversing the order of numbers and resisting treats.

“The children who watched the cartoon were operating at half the capacity compared to other children,” said Angeline S. Lillard, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and one of the paper’s authors.


"Delay of gratification" and a 4 year-old child's inability to master it laid at the feet of SpongeBob. Really? Maybe we should all hop into the WABAC Machine and visit a time when extended family car trips were not passed in silence while each passenger - adult and child - tuned in to watch his own personal DVD player but were actually spent in conversation. Or perhaps we can visit the time when children under the age of ten did not sit at a dining room table (be it in a restaurant or at home) playing Game Boy or some such device to alleviate the adults at the table of the responsibility of actually engaging the child in conversation. Ah the joy of the portable babysitter. Then again, that would presuppose would it not that any conversation was in fact taking place. And in a world of PDAs, iPhones and Blackberrys that might be as farcical as anything escaping Jowly Jerry's pie hole.

Once upon a time I was a little kid. Every summer we made the trek from the boondocks of New Jersey to Harvey's Lake, Pennsylvania, which trip took at least a couple of hours. I recall - fondly actually - trips that were spent in spirited conversation and even the occasional argument. But they were spent engaging with one another. Ditto for family dinners, whether in a restaurant or at home.

I am also the parent of two young adults who were not children so long ago that I have forgotten the experience of child-rearing. When Suz and Rob were small the four of us spent a lot of time in the car together and most of that time was spent in conversation or singing along to whatever we were listening to on the radio. Activities that encouraged and permitted us to engage with one another. It was not terribly hard to do.

Let us not extricate our own heads from our own arses; right? Instead let us lay the blame for difficulties potentially awaiting a generation of little ones as they begin the ascent through childhood and adolescence on an animated sponge. Patently ridiculous. And sadly our favorite kind of solution here in the 21st Century United States. One that places the responsibility for creating the problem on the shoulders of someone other than us, which allows us to ask the sales clerk for a pair of victim's shoes in our size. Sorry folks, you cannot pin this on good ol' SpongeBob....

....everybody knows it is that damn Patrick who is the corrupting influence. And rumor has it that he may even carry a purse. Or at the very least be the one responsible for teaching SpongeBob self-defense. Someone call Rev. Falwell quick. 'Neath the sea there is a starfish with some 'splaining to do.

-AK

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