Mourning for the Saturday TV Matinee

My daughter doesn’t really like to watch live-action movies.

This is a problem, clearly. If she won’t watch live-action movies, how do I get her to sit down and watch Harry Potter, or The Adventures of Robin Hood, or the absolute necessity of Star Wars?

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve had some successes.  She loves The Wizard of Oz, Superman: The Movie, and the Night at the Museum movies. (Plus many many more!) But these days it’s a struggle to get her to accept even the possibility of watching a movie if it’s not animated.

I blame it on the death of television programming. Our house is firmly in the streaming-only camp and has been for years; long before we became parents, we cut the ties to cable TV. There are many benefits for us as parents in this arrangement: we don’t have to deal with counter-programming all the social messages inherent in commercials, we have greater control over what content she watches, and she has a much greater variety of programming available to her.

"The Modern Toddler iPad Experience" via Wayan Vota

“The Modern Toddler iPad Experience” via Wayan Vota

But we’ve lost some things as well. One obvious thing is patience:  she knows that her favorite show is available whenever she wants it, so she doesn’t want to sit through something else when she could be watching her favorite RIGHT NOW. And because we all have different devices and a multitude of screens available for use, she’s also had little practice in being accepting and polite about watching someone else’s show. But something I’ve just started to see the effects of is the lack of forced discovery.

I’m a child of the 1970’s. We had 4—maybe 5—channels. If you wanted to watch your favorite show, then you’d better pay attention and not miss it because it was only on at a specific time, and generally only once a week. And if you missed it, well then you had to wait for the summer and hope you got lucky enough to catch it in re-runs.

And the corollary of this era of television programming is that if you wanted to watch television, then you just accepted that you were going to be watching whatever was on. Because I was one of those poor children whose favorite babysitter was the television, I ended up seeing the Godzilla movies, the swashbuckling adventures of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and early science fiction classics like Them and The Blob. I didn’t set out to watch these movies—they were just what was on.

We watched what was on, when it was on. via Sharon Drummond

We watched what was on, when it was on. via Sharon Drummond

My media consumption became a lot more adventurous and full of variety simply by virtue of having little choice in the matter. We watched the adult evening television dramas because that’s what the adults were watching. We begged to watch The Dukes of Hazzard and ended up turning our grandma into a closet fan. Television watching was much more of a communal family affair, and it was also one that—ironically—ended up offering more variety than instant streaming has in practice.

The irony of the internet age is that, with a wealth of choices available to us, we all inevitably gravitate towards our favorites and rarely seek out things that will challenge us—things outside of our comfort zone or our immediate knowledge.

By the time I was my daughter’s age, I was conversant with the tropes of swashbuckling adventure thanks to Zorro and Robin Hood. I understood the humor when Luke grabbed that line and swung Leia across the chasm.  I want my kiddo to get these things too, but first we have to get her to stop watching her favorites long enough to try new things.

And now we have a deadline.

Our little girl has never seen the Star Wars films (Of course I mean the original trilogy.  I’ll have no truck with allowing the prequels into our house.)  I wanted to make sure her first viewing was one that she remembered.  I was seven years old when Star Wars was released, so we’ve been waiting until she was about that age.  But first, we have to make sure she’s ready.  I told my husband that when she watches and enjoys The Adventures of Robin Hood, then she’s ready.  (We’ve made a good start—she loves The Court Jester.)

Well, now we have a new Star Wars film coming out this year, when my daughter will have just turned seven.  It’s fate.  But it means we’ve got to get her ready in time.  Now if I can just get her to turn off Jake and the Neverland Pirates long enough . . .

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