I grew up watching A LOT of television and going to A LOT of movies. I was an only child so I had time to fill and no siblings to help fill it. Some of my most vivid childhood memories revolve around media and popular culture.
For a week in first grade, I had to stand in the corner for 30 minutes every day because I stole the gold stars for my behavior chart from the teacher's desk. (I had trouble staying quiet in class… shocking I know.) I remember thinking if I could just memorize The Cosby Show I could play it back in my mind to fill the time.
I remember wanting to bring Patrick Swayze to show and tell so we could dance together for my classmates. I remember being pulled away from a particularly enthralling episode of Mama’s Family to go to dance class and telling my mother I wanted to quit the next day. I remember sneaking around the corner to watch late night episodes of Designing Women and Murphy Brown.
My parents and I would go to double – sometimes even triple – features at the local movie theater and my mother and I would rent six VHS tapes from our local Phar-Mor for all weekend movie marathons.
It’s a passion that continued into adulthood. Most of you have probably been cornered by me at a party or in a Facebook thread as I argue that you really HAVE to watch Mad Men or The Wire or GIRLS or Friday Night Lights or whatever other movie or television show with which I’m currently obsessed.
Considering my long love affair with pop culture ,it might come as a bit of a surprise that Griffin has only been to the movies a handful of times and Amos has never been at all. They watch television but only children’s programming.
If I have the slightest concern that programming is too mature for them, the answer is no.
It’s not because I’m trying to protect them from mature subjects. As I hope I’ve made clear by now, I don’t believe it is my job as a parent to protect my children from everything bad in life, including tough subject matters.
However, I heard something once that changed how I felt about age-appropriate media.
It was an interview with Stefan Shephard of Zooglobble, a blog dedicated to kids music. He was on NPR talking about why he doesn’t just let his kids listen to pop music.
He went on to say that age-appropriate material builds real appreciation. It made so much sense to me. You build an appreciation for music or movies or television because it speaks to a world – in a language – that YOU understand.
After years of sticking to my pop culture guns with Griffin, I’ve realized the benefit to restricting mature programming might go beyond merely building appreciation for the art form.
After all, I consumed pop culture FAR outside the realm of age-appropriateness. I’ve had two different conversations in two days with women my age about the day we realized that Dirty Dancing’s ENTIRE plot revolves around a botched abortion. Or what about Pretty Woman? My mom got a lot of things right when it came to sex education, but I’m not sure letting me watch prostitution meet cute (even if she covered my eyes during the sex scenes) was one of them.
Looking back on my own experiences with pop culture and watching the way Griffin and Amos interact media, I’ve realized that age-appropriate media does more than build appreciation, it allows creative access.
Griffin is obsessed with the world of Harry Potter in a very different way then I was obsessed with Dirty Dancing or Gone with the Wind. Because he can comprehend the subject matter and many of the character’s central conflicts, he is driven to create his own versions of these worlds in a way I never was.
I knew I wanted to be like Baby and dance with Johnny Castle, but I didn’t really know WHY. I knew I wanted to be the subject of Rhett Butler’s desire and dress like Scarlett O’Hara, but I didn’t really comprehend what that meant.
I knew Penny was in trouble, but I didn’t realize it was because of an unwanted pregnancy.
So, I couldn’t really place myself in that world in the way Griffin fully inhabits Hogwarts. The conflicts contained within J.K. Rowling's universe are real and the emotion intense but the world of school and friends and teachers and parents is something a child can understand. So, Griffin writes new endings to the story and makes movies where he lives at Hogwarts and fights dark wizards. If you ask him, he promises there will be an 8th Harry Potter book because he’s already started writing it.
Maybe he will and maybe he won’t.
What I hope is - by guarding the gates to these little minds - I don't just raise consumers, but I raise creators.