Calvin College Chimes

Opinion: Kids deserve better from film and TV

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Quality for children’s TV and film seems to have fallen to low standards over the past decade or so. There’s an unfortunate idea that seems to have permeated the entertainment industry: that the quality of kids’ films and TV doesn’t really matter. Dozens of children’s films and TV shows are pumped out every year with little to no effort put into the quality and values conveyed, and the general public seems to just accept it.

People seem to think that what we show our children doesn’t matter as long as they’re occupied for a couple hours. This unhealthy belief seems to have gone unchallenged for far too long, and the recent release of the awful, insultingly dumb Peter Rabbit movie is my personal last straw. Kids’ films require just as much effort, if not more, as entertainment for adults.

Every piece of adult media has some sort of message that it’s trying to convince you is true. Maybe it’s to call attention to social injustice (“District 9”) or deconstruct a tired genre trope (“Chinatown”) or provide social commentary through satire (“Battle Royale”). Most of the time the meaning is intentional, sometimes the message is entirely accidental. This same rule applies to children’s films, whether or not we see it.

Kids’ films teach our children something — either through the intentional themes of the story or through the actions of the characters. It’s important to pay attention to what we show the younger generations; the foundations of their moral compass are formed in the first decade or so of their lives.

How many of us were formed by “Veggie Tales” at some point in our childhood? How many of us were first introduced to certain moral ideas through cartoons? I know I was; I was introduced to ideas about honor and sacrifice through a “Transformers” cartoon, theoretically the most mindless piece of entertainment you can imagine. The creators of the show probably didn’t intend for a character lineup of giant robots to become morality gurus to an entire generation of 10-year-olds, but they sort of did anyway. Now imagine something smarter like Samurai Jack or the extensive catalog of Disney cartoons. If you took a second to look back on the cartoons you watched that you now consider just entertainment, you might find that you were being slowly molded by what you saw, whether you were aware of it or not.

You probably already had the notion that it’s important to show our kids something with good morals, but have you ever considered that we should be showing them films of good quality as well? I personally believe that the sooner we start showing our kids well-made entertainment, the sooner they will learn to appreciate and expect quality in aspects of life people consider non-essential. For example, you are given the choice of showing your kid one of two shows. He won’t know the difference in quality between the two any more than he would know the difference between a good or bad book. Would you show them a show like “Avatar: The Last

Airbender,” a well-crafted, fully realized masterpiece of action storytelling, or “Johnny Test,” an annoying, pointlessly kinetic time-waster with horrible jokes? I think almost everybody would say “Avatar: The Last Airbender” for the same reason they themselves would choose to read “The Lord of the Rings” over a random “World of Warcraft” novelization.

The final factor to consider is this: what is your child’s entertainment teaching them about reality? What do the characters teach them about the world outside the playroom? Films can either equip or leave children completely unprepared for the outside world and the moments of life that are black and gray.

For example, films like “The Lion King” and “The Land Before Time” deal with the concept of losing a parent. Now, this, of course, is not something that every child goes through, but for those that do this could be a valuable instructional tool or just an empathetic comfort in their time of emotional turmoil. There are also films that deal with more universal feelings that children experience as they learn more about the world. “Alice in Wonderland” and “Spirited Away” explore the feeling of being in a confusing world that doesn’t make sense. It’s okay to tell our children that not everything is okay, not everything has answers and not everything in life is as simple as they think. The sooner we let them know about the gray realities of life — and that there are ways to cope with them — the better prepared they’ll be to handle it.

Children are shaped by what they see and hear, by what they watch and listen to. They can be made smarter or dumber, mature or immature. They are canvases waiting to be painted and the films and shows we show them are the brushes. Don’t do your children a disservice. Show them films that won’t just entertain; show them something that will enrich their lives with good values and life lessons, expand their minds, and make them think.

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