Monday, January 19, 2015

Vacated Brains

Ah, vacation. That blessed time when everyone else goes away and leaves me the hell alone. I can sit and star at piles of essays and wonder "why haven't those graded themselves yet" then I can open the refrigerator and consider eating food, performing the calculus necessary to compute the self-loathing which will follow a binge. Then, back to the pile of papers and the shock when I discover that they are not yet graded.

I love vacation.

Also on vacation, I have the chance to catch up on all the shows my kids watch and which should be disgusting me more often. Sadly, I don't always have time to mock their taste in TV because of the pressures of the school year. But on vacation, I can hover over them and ask "whatcha watching?" over and over and then, no matter the response, spit back, "that's stupid." Because it is. To call shows today a "vast wasteland" is to insult the word "vast." And I don't confine my derision for TV/cable -- the ones produced for online venues or other streaming services are no better. I do watch TV but because I watch the shows I watch, they are therefore good. What the children watch is garbage. The only exceptions are if I happen to watch the same thing but that rarely happens (the exceptions exist on the Food Network).

Today's crap du jour was a show called something like "Child Genius." It was about children who are touted as geniuses. Hence the name. Their genius at age 10 is determined by their ability to memorize random bits of information and do math in their heads. Can they change a tire? Can they discuss a sonnet? No. But if you ever need someone to memorize a deck of cards, look one of them up. They're brilliant like that. As I was trying not to watch this show (it was on in the next room and I was working very hard at not grading a stack of 10th grade essays) I couldn't help but hear and get angry. This show was not so much about how "smart" these prodigies are. Granted, they have the odd brain cells to rub together in those years before they are beaten down by the harsh reality of a life which doesn't care that they took college classes before puberty. Surely these children are prepping their poses for the "Calendar of Mal-adjusted Kids who have No Friends" in order to pay their way through therapy. But the show was more about their parents -- those hyper-driven projecting narcissists who push their children on to a stage and who deprive their kids of love if the child, God forbid, forgets the "femoral artery."

Now, before I go any further, please, understand, I am not railing against this practice because I am incapable. I am pretty darned sharp and could hold my own against any random group of 10 year-olds, especially when the questions revolve around music from the 60's or how many shirts I own (hint, the answer is "a bunch"). I have known the thrill of the presentation. I was involved in a spelling bee in third grade. I won, and earned myself the book "101 Pickle Jokes." It was the sequel to "101 Hamburger Jokes" but lacked some of the punch of the original. I also am not angry because my own children have, in some way, disappointed me. My kids are plenty smart and they have a smarts that allows them to hold intelligent conversations, make sharp jokes, and wheedle another 20 bucks out of me. I just never saw the need to trot them out in front of strangers to brag about how unbelievable they are now and how desolate and depressed they will be in about 10 years. So, back to the show.

I wanted to believe that this show was a cut above the others. I wanted to think that because this show focused on the intellectual pursuits, it was redemptive, pulling the popular taste up the culture ladder. But it isn't about the brain. It is about the spectacle, and in that way, it is no better than the Dance Moms shows, the Toddlers in Tiaras shows and Real Housewives of Somewheresville. In a way, it is worse because it dresses itself up in the sheep's clothing of IQ points. But don't be fooled! The parents are serial abusers, the children are playthings and pawns and the voyeurs should be ashamed. This was the type of show that makes vacation a special bonding time when a father looks at his daughter and says those magic words, "I can't believe you are watching this junk." And she responds with "Based on this show, I guess you aren't the worst father in the world."

Bring back Tom and Jerry. At least that made sense.

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