Monday, February 8, 2010

Media and Monsters

Many of you know that I am the proud father of a bright three and a half year old son (but I'm biased, I know). It is as much for his sake as anyone else's that I do what I do. The influence of media on people's minds starts at around 18 months. My wife and I have tried, to the best of our human abilities, to take the hard road in raising him.

Many people fall into the trap of letting their children watch too much television, because it's easier than perpetual playtime. I'm not condemning, I know how tempting it is to let them sit there quietly.

I've settled on a compromise. Children's movies, if not always perfect (and no subtitute for imaginative play), are often repeated again and again. This gives willing parents the chance to discuss themes with their children and weave lessons into daily life. It is important for this reason that children's programming be suitable for adults as well, and not limited to shapes and colors.

My favorite is "Monsters, Inc." In my opinion this is Pixar's best film to date (though I've yet to see the critically acclaimed "Toy Story"). It is solidly entertaining and well developed at every point, and holds my attention and his attention alike. It has been a spark for imaginative play (with my help) and a reference for concerns.

The basic plot of the movie revolves around a company (Monsters, Inc.), which harvests children's screams as a source of energy (i.e.: instead of coal). "Scarers" travel through portals from the factory floor through the closet doors of human chidren to scare a scream out of them and collect the power.

Ultimately, a child gets loose in the monster world, and it turns out that monsters are more afraid of us than we are of them. Despite their jobs, the main characters are portrayed as good-natured and heroic, in contrast to the antagonists who have compromised their morals to get ahead during the "scream shortage."

In the end, the hero discovers an alternative energy which is ten times more powerful and does not require scaring children. So innovation triumphs over tradition and bureaucracy. And this is a kids' movie!

The reason I thought to do this article was that just tonight, Monsters, Inc. allowed me to talk to my son about monsters in his closet. I was able to comfort him with the thought that most monsters are nice and reasonable. I even "worked out a deal" so they wouldn't come through his closet.

Sure this kind of parental guidance requires imagination on my behalf. Sure it's not always easy, but it will be worth it when he grows up to face his fears with a clear head rather than paranoia.

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