Saturday, July 25, 2009

SquareDad LoserPants

One day (earlier this summer) my children & I were "playing tennis." (By "playing tennis," I mean only that were using a tennis court, balls and racquets, and we were attempting to hit the balls ... WITH the racquets. Any other similarity to the sport called "tennis" was purely coincidental.) I made a bad shot and my 5 year-old daughter said to me, "Lo-ser", in the sing-songy taunting way that I'm sure the teens think is so '02 (if they remember that far back). This verbal act was the first violation of our rule "It's OK to watch SpongeBob as long you don't ACT like SpongeBob." What I really mean by that, is that it's not ok to act like Squidward, or Patrick or King Julien (yeah I know, different show) ... etc, but the former formulation is catchier ....

Yes, we let the kids watch "SpongeBob SquarePants." We continue to do so only because the humorous anecdote just related is an anomaly. How did it all start? Well, I've been familiar with the images for most of the ten years it's been on television. (When I taught 4th grade I had a student who, in his "spare" time, would adorn his margins with perfect SpongeBob character likenesses making witty comments, often of his own invention.) But until less than a year ago, I knew nothing of the content of the show. From promotional footage, I had the impression it was a lot of belch- and butt-oriented humor. As our son approached 7, it wasn't that there was anything very offensive about the samples I saw. Heck, by that time he had already been through several bodily function obsessions with absolutely no help from network TV producers whatsoever. It seemed, however, watching such shows would be a big step away from innocence. Then I started catching an episode of "SpongeBob ..." here and there, while doing dishes, scanning the channels, yatta yatta yatta, there was nothing else on. (Yeah, I know, I'm 40 ... ish ... going on 10. Who doesn't know this already?) So now: this show is funny. It's not just poop humor (except "People order our patties" but that's another story). It's so much more. It has characters that are clever caricatures, witty irony, and some good old physical comedy and drooling to boot. But still, irony ... yeah, sarcasm, too, plus all sorts of subjects—crime, greed, "sailor talk", fist fights, etc.—that are just not present in the likes of "Diego ...", "SuperWhy," etc. My children watching this? That would be a more profound stride away from innocence than I'd initially thought.

Nevertheless, we allowed Nickelodeon in the kids' faces, and after their 'softcore' Nick Jr. "playdates" with Dora, etc., the "SpongeBob..." promo's beckoned. One day "SpongeBob..." came on and Mrs. OccupationDad didn't turn it off. I think I objected once and was gently told it's probably OK for them to watch. I'm pretty sure I didn't object again for about 20 minutes, because I hadn't seen those episodes yet myself.

We debated about it, but a new precedent had been set, and my mild concern was little match for it. Once Mrs. OccDad realized how funny the show was, it was all over. The advantage is we all have a show we can laugh at together. No more occasional attempts to sneak in a tamer episode of "Seinfeld" at dinner.

Of course, our son is seven now. He's fully authorized to watch ... because I have complete faith that the "TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board" and "individually-participating broadcast and cable networks" are lookin' out for our young'un's. You betcha'. (Yes, you detect sarcasm. Feel free to imagine that statement being uttered by Squidward at his sardonic best.) But what about Gong Zhu? She's but a tender 5 years old. Well, I figure, there are SpongeBob pajamas in her size, and if she gets much bigger she'll be in the "Hannah Montana" section, so it would appear we're right on target. In reality, it's about equity. No, she doesn't get to do everything her brother gets to do But this is a hard one to "developmentalize." Putting her in front of another TV with a "Blue's Clues" DVD seems even more of a descent into contemporary suburban stupor.

I suppose we could just altogether turn off what my dad often called the "idiot box" and get on with our lives. Ahhh but who are we kidding?

So it just is: We watch SpongeBob.

And yes, the "It's OK to watch SpongeBob, as long as ...." rule is real one we actually discussed with the kids.

The aforementioned "loser" quip notwithstanding, it's worked. Outside of literally quoting, or acting out scenes or dances from the show for fun, they almost never imitate TV in real life interactions.

The second little, teensy exception is our son's new affinity for the word, "WHAAATever." He has given this laconic response in real conversations, with more than a hint of Squidward's slack tone. So, yeah, we've had to review the rule there, too.

All this agonizing over 22 minutes (now and again), of a frolicking, hyperactive cartoon Sponge, a drooling Starfish and a squirrel in a diving helmet. I guess it's a bit much.

But admit it: for you it was worth it all just to picture that little Gong Zhu, who had choosen to be our lowly "ball girl," on the tennis court that day, haul off and call me a "looo-ser." You just love it, don'cha'?

Yeah . . . . WHAATever . . . .

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