The World's Youngest Goo Goo Dolls Fan
My son was born in May of 1997. For some time before that, and during his early infancy, I carefully observed, as an anthropologist might observe Yanomami tribesmen, the behavior of other human parents towards their progeny. And what I saw astounded and horrified me. I was so distraught, I nearly threw my VCR out the window.
The children of those I observed seemed to regard their televisions and VCRs as appendages. Turning one or the other off was greeted with the same sort of reaction as attempting to cut off one of their limbs. These children I saw were so attached to their videotapes that they needed to be pried bodily away from the screen even to eat snack food. Tottering piles of brightly-colored plastic boxes surrounded the televisions in their homes. Everywhere their poor afflicted parents went they had to bring audio tapes with the blighted songs from those travesties of entertainment known as Children's Video. Barney, the Teletubbies, Thomas the Tank Engine, Bananas in Pajamas -- these had so infected the lives of these people that to go a moment without them was like going a moment without air, without heartbeats. The parents, eager for a moment to clean the house or make dinner, plopped their kids down in front of the noisy cartoon box whereupon the tykes became instantly mesmerized. If they were not plopped, however, they became screaming dervishes who could be placated no more than the sandstorm, than the volcano, than Mr. Rogers.
I declared that I would not do this to my son. "Oh, you'll see," the parents told me, speaking loudly to be heard above the Raffi on the stereo. "You'll have a heap of tapes in no time. You have no choice. You'll have a collection of Disney movies and Elmo music videos this high and there's nothing you can do about it." I looked deep into their haunted bloodshot eyes and I saw that they were sincere. They truly thought they had had no choice.
I have a choice, I cried. I will not do this. I will toss my VCR out of my third-story window before I will succumb to this menace. I prefer to watch movies on laserdisc anyway.
I should note that I don't have anything against TV or movies especially; I rather like both of them and consider both to be capable of producing art and inciting the imagination as much as a book or a painting. I had no plans on preventing my son from ever watching TV. I just considered the state of children's television to be, by and large, execrable. That television can be raised to level of art I believe; that much television does not attain that level I will not argue.
So it was that William did not watch much TV for his first two years. I was home taking care of him and I left the TV off most of the time, except that every so often I'd put on VH1 and we'd watch the Top Ten Video Countdown. This, I thought, was safe. Adult Contemporary videos are hard for a kid to get into, I figured, while being perfectly safe for consumption. Videos no longer contain sex; now they contain things like a guy leading a camel through a bowling alley, or the lead singer being stalked by a hairy spider across a patchwork hillside. You couldn't get any safer than this. Ask Salvador Dali.
On the whole I preferred to read books to him. Lots of books. And, just luckily, it so happened that a couple of years before he was born, in preparation for one day having children, my wife and I subscribed to the Grolier Beginning Reader program which sent us a new book every so often. We therefore had a lot of Dr. Seuss books. So many, in fact, that Grolier had run out of Dr. Seuss books to send us and instead began to send us Disney books. Now, I like Disney movies. But their books -- not good. Doubleplus ungood. Still, we got a bunch of Disney movie books too before we finally cancelled our membership.
One of these books was an adaptation of the "Sorceror's Apprentice" sequence from "Fantasia". The book version, as you might expect, was terrible. But William liked it, along with Dumbo and Pinocchio. At his young age his tastes must be excused.
One day, having read the book version of The Sorceror's Apprentice to William for perhaps the sesquipedillionth time, I decided to put in the tape of "Fantasia" and let him see it. "The Sorceror's Apprentice" was, after all, designed to be an aural and visual experience. And, let's face it, this was "Fantasia", possibly the greatest work of animation of all time, not some half-assed sorry excuse for a soundtrack seller involving lions in jungles or American Indians in London or rats on boats or whatever. This was "Fantasia" for crying out loud!
So I put it on. At first, William was less than impressed. He watched some of it, but wandered away after a bit.
Some days later, though, he was rummaging through the videotape drawer and pulled out the box. "Tape," he said, and tried to stand up on tiptoe to reach the VCR. "Tape!" he said. A request! Shocked by how recently he had learned to express preferences, I put the tape in for him. And he recognized everyone! "Sorceror!" he said happily. "Mickey! Broom! Bucket! Water!" He pointed at the screen, thrilled. How could a father deny his son this much pleasure?
I should have been stronger. For many weeks, every night, almost as soon as he got home from day care, William would run to the videotape drawer, pull out all the tapes, grab one at random and wave it at the VCR demanding, "Mickey tape! Mickey! Tape! Mickey tape! Mickey! Tape!" until someone put it on for him. And then he would want it again. And again. I finally hid all the videotapes and used only the "Fantasia" laserdisc. If we were going to be watching anyway, we might as well watch quality.
And at least it's classical music, I told myself.
Meanwhile William's vocabulary continued to grow. One day it apparently reached critical mass and William was finally able to ask for something he had perhaps wanted all along. He went up to the TV, turned it on, and demanded, "Goo Goo Dolls!"
I am not blind or stupid, merely ignorant. I could see, as we watched the VH1 Top Ten Video Countdown, that he was enjoying the music. I could see that he liked to watch certain videos, usually the videos he had seen many times before. And, during William's most recent year or so of life, which videos were played the most? Why, "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls, and a couple of songs by Matchbox 20, and Smash Mouth, and by God, Sugar Ray. But what I had not realized was that he would want to see these videos again.
Perhaps it was stupid of me to record the VH1 Top Fifty Videos of 1998. "It seemed like a good idea at the time" is, by the way, almost certainly carved on the first paving stone on the path to Hell. Whatever the reason for my having the tape, when William demanded the Goo Goo Dolls, I was able to give him the Goo Goo Dolls.
Mickey Tape rapidly lost favor. Now it was Goo Goo Dolls. Every night, the Goo Goo Dolls played on our TV. And Matchbox 20, and Smash Mouth, and Eagle-Eye Cherry, and Natalie Imbruglia. And Sarah McLachlan, Paula Cole, Marcy Playground, Jewel, and Third Eye Blind. And by God, Sugar Ray.
It wasn't long before William learned the names of the rest of his favorite musicians. Smass Mouf. Nally Imbooya. Mashboss Twenny. Sugaray.
I keep telling myself it's better than the Teletubbies. A line must be drawn, I say, and the Teletubbies are so far over it they can't see the line from where they're standing. At least this VH1 stuff is music I can stand, even if only barely; and he's still only hooked on two tapes, VH1 and "Fantasia", which he does still sometimes ask for (although I have so far been unsuccessful in getting him to sit through Stravinsky). It could be much worse: we don't have a tape collection yet and we don't use the TV to babysit. Often.
But William's love of these videos and songs says something about children's television. These poor parents I observed, these poor harried souls, have bought into the idea that their children must watch banal, ugly, colorful, loud, irritating, and above all childish shows because -- and this is the bad part -- that's what children like. But in fact children simply like whatever they've been exposed to. If you play nothing but classical music, if you show nothing but Great Performances, if Pavarotti is all your children hear, then that is what they'll ask for. So if you find children's programming as painful as I do, there is a solution.
I remember this every time William comes up to me with his arms outstretched singing "IIIIII jus wanna fly!" I only wish someone had warned me of this before I started playing the Goo Goo Dolls videos. And by God, Sugar Ray.
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