A while back I alluded to a paper I wrote in high school that I was particularly proud of. It was THE big high school assignment, an American studies paper counting for grades in both History and English. For me, it was a no-brainer – I wrote about comic books.
I’d always liked them as a kid and had rediscovered them 2 years earlier. Things had really changed. Serious stories and brilliant artwork meant that I blew a lot of cash on comic books every week. I’d always liked science-fiction (Journey to the Centre of the Earth has been a lifelong favorite) and the modern comic, with it’s realism and mature stories, was an absolute hit with me.
Fast -forward some 15 years and I don’t have the time or money for comic books. But I do need to unwind and acquired some cartoon series of Batman and the Justice League for my own downtime. Not surprisingly, the kids dig watching the shows, especially M who is amazingly engaged by the whole thing.
So I got to thinking more about it. Years back I had read Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment: the Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, which argued that they support and liberate children’s feelings. In a nutshell (or rather, what I can remember :-P), kids need to have their inner feelings validated. He explains how even very young children are capable of having angry, violent feelings, and that they need to be validated. When we only give them watered-down versions of fairy tales we do not speak to their needs Abridged, Disneyfied versions of Grimm’s tales don’t let this happen at all.
I also thought how until the modern age, mythology and tall tales were so popular. Paul Bunyan was the original Superman, a force who was truly larger than life. Mythology had stories of good and evil, with the foibles of mankind intertwined. What kid doesn’t like that stuff?
But like the comic books of the 80s, cartoons have changed too. I recently got ahold of the Aquaman cartoons from the 60s and they SUCK. Every story is the same – there’s trouble, the bad guy has a moustache, Aquaman asks his sea animal friends for help, good triumphs over evil. They were pathetic, but they held my attention as a kid.
Even the Super Friends and Spider-Man shows I loved as kid were very lame in comparison with the modern options. Unexpectedly, the modern Batman & Justice League have been fodder for a lot of discussion with M on a very wide range of topics:
- psychology & split-personality
- moons & why they orbit planets
- global warming & the why the icecaps are important
- the pathology & use of fear
- vigilantism & the law
- politics & dogma
- trials and legal procedures
- genetic engineering
- good & evil (no duh, right?)
- deception and fighting for survival
- finding common ground with different people
- how groups come together for a common purpose
- and on and on
It’s been very surprising. These shows are entertaining, but are not made for kids per se. There’s no Wonder Twins (the Cousin Oliver’s of the superhero world), no pure slapstick, no cookie cutter storylines.
Now I will say that they are more violent than I remember the old shows being. We talk about that too, and I’m trusting that our examples of how people should communicate in real-life will supercede seeing people being thrown through walls. But I’m not being overbearing and preachy about it because M knows. Sometimes it’s exciting and sometimes he says they should have talked about it. I’ll have to give him the benefit of the doubt as we’ve had a lot of fun watching the shows and talking about all the issues that get raised.
I guess the point is that the opportunities for learning are legion. It happens in unexpected places and sometimes, it’s just damn fun too.