Saturday, December 08, 2007

Me, the Curmudgeon

This is a post that starts with "When I was a child..." and proceeds to lay out how the world was so much better then. But I post it anyway, knowing how worthless such thoughts are, because I'm wondering now what changed and why it seems like I'm now the only one who thinks crazy thoughts, like that it's valuable to transmit culture through time or eat with your family at mealtimes.

One thing that has come to my attention this week is that cartoons these days aren't what they used to be. Cartoons for children used to be full of cultural references, at least as late as 1993 (Animaniacs). They had a classical music soundtrack, poked fun at institutions, and paid homage to images and tropes in history and culture, like knocking the arms off a statue to make it look like the Venus de Milo. Nowadays, children's cartoons (with some notable exceptions) are their own little insular universes, complete with merchandise. Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry brought current events into cartoon form in one way or another; but you never see Dora The Explorer exploring foreign lands, Bob The Builder commenting on architectural styles, or SpongeBob SquarePants borrowing plots from Homer or Shakespeare. Children's shows have become less of a vehicle for social commentary or transmission of cultural memes, and more of an escape from reality. I wonder what that says about our culture.

The other thing that has come to my attention is that mealtime attitudes seem drastically different than they used to be when I was growing up. Princess' friends came over today, and they were all consuming hot chocolate very close to dinnertime. Princess wanted to serve them a snack, but I said no because it was half an hour till dinnertime and "your moms wouldn't appreciate it if I ruined your appetites." The girls averred that their moms wouldn't care, that they were allowed to eat as little as they'd like, so long as they eat at least five bites. These are hardly the first children who've wandered into our home apparently accustomed to eating any quantity at any hour. I know some of my friends do the structured snack/lunch/snack/dinner schedule, so I know I'm not totally alone here. But it just seems like many parents don't bother, and their kids just graze all day long. Maybe that's just a function of the environment my parents created, though; maybe mealtime was always a grazing affair except at my house and among my parents' handpicked friends?

Please put your curmudgeonly thoughts or corrections in the comments.