â€œNow I understand that humanity is flawed. Even you, its finest specimen, are riddled with flaws, a king of weaklings.â€ â€œOnce my work is complete, there will be no more pain, no more chaos, only a perfect order imposed by me.â€
My brain struggled to keep up with the philosophical implications of what I was watching. Suspended animation, immunity, digitization, chaos, inner demons, identity. These are not the subject of a psychological thriller, an independent film release, or even a misguided attempt at crafting a story by George Lucas. Theyâ€™re actual quotes from the final episode in season 2 of â€œThe Legion of Superheroes,â€ a cartoon for kids.
No, I wasnâ€™t watching it for research. Iâ€™m something of a closet sci-fi nerd. I donâ€™t watch everything sci-fi, go to conventions, or dabble my fingers in whatever goo you need to make Dungeons & Dragons spells work. Iâ€™ve just always had some special affinity for good, sometimes mediocre, and occasionally bad sci-fi shows. Enough about meâ€¦
The amount of complex social and political commentary expounded by todayâ€™s childrenâ€™s entertainment clashes with our view of childhood. Superman is way more intellectually intense than I remember. Children spend less and less time watching innocuous cartoons like Tom & Jerry or Bambi and more and more time consuming adult themed cartoons at younger and younger ages.
Iâ€™m not so concerned with the morality of this fact. It is what it is. But what does it mean for writers and publishers trying to capture the attention spans of this generation of â€œgrown-upâ€ munchkins? Is the solution simply to provide more adult themes and darker material, like the progression of the Harry Potter series? Is it possible anymore for childrenâ€™s entertainment to be innocent?
Recently I went to an art gallery opening crammed with portraits of people, many of them nude. Among the patrons that evening was a little boy named David, who was 4 1/2. His parents werenâ€™t married and didnâ€™t live together. In his chaotic pursuit of fun while wearing an adult-sized motorcycle helmet, he ran into my leg.
I roughhoused a bit with him, and he quickly grabbed my hand and said, â€œCâ€™mon, letâ€™s race!â€ We ran a lot. We also toured the gallery, which was a bit awkward, with all the nude paintings. â€œWhy isnâ€™t she wearing any clothes?â€
â€œBecause peopleâ€™s bodies are beautiful and artists like painting beautiful things,â€ I said, hoping this would satisfy his curiosity. â€œWell, sheâ€™s not wearing any clothes,â€ he replied.
He soon went back to running and running and running, much to my relief, until he wore himself out.
When children have the option between adult themes and innocence, they choose innocence, unless itâ€™s the attempt of a bad artist. Dr. Seuss communicated deep themes without ever artistically mangling his sense of childlike wonder. The Chronicles of Narnia continue to captivate people of various belief systems despite being overtly Christian in message.
Why do they endure? Why does Harry Potter captivate? Is it the message that connects? Is it the way the writer writes? Or is it the ability of children to see themselves in the heroes and stories they love?
Pretending that we have no flaws isnâ€™t innocence, but naivetÃ©. Itâ€™s not enough to have a Superman that saves the day without ever having to deal with his own pain and loss. But embracing pain and loss with no hope for something better than our current experience is death to dreams. Perhaps what the childrenâ€™s entertainment industry needs isnâ€™t innocence or complexity, but a writer who hasnâ€™t forgotten what itâ€™s like to be a child.
Peter Nevland received his Masters Degree in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Texas. In September, 2002, he left behind his engineering job at Motorola to follow his musical dreams. From the very moment he left Motorola, Peter became a singer and performer, a sort of world-class troubador. As frontman for the many incarnations of Spoken Groove, the performance art genre he pioneered, he has released 7 albums and one DVD in 5-1/2 years. He is now taking that creativity back to the business world as a strategist, copywriter, trainer, and speaker.
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