Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Elmo's Not Dead!

I made so many vows upon entering into impending motherhood. I had a vision of how life for my child should look, and it was suspiciously like the inside of a Pottery Barn Kids catalog. Nevermind that it might look a bit conspicuous, not having a Pottery Barn house and all, but it was my dream. I remember shopping in Target one day during my pregnancy, walking past the toy section and telling Steve, in my best matter-of-fact voice (read: I’m the pregnant one, you’d better just nod and smile) that our child would play only with hand-painted, natural-looking wooden toys. He just laughed, and we proceeded to enter into the wonderful world of plastic.

About 15 years ago, I learned that my beloved fuzzy, rainbow-hued, big-nosed Muppet friends from Sesame Street had been forever altered by new characters, such as Elmo, Prairie Dog, Zoe, Telly, and others. I learned this from my manager at one of my old jobs, who had two young children that happened to be obsessed with Elmo. I decided then and there that Elmo was dead to me. Bring back Kermit the Frog, and we’d talk. I’m pretty sure that my opinion regarding Elmo at that time was based pretty strongly on my intense dislike of that particular lazy, untrustworthy manager who had it out for me (and who was ultimately fired and escorted out through the back door), but I still felt that something very important had changed, and I wasn’t happy about it. No child of mine would like that obnoxious, loud, red dust bunny, Elmo, oh no.

Character licensing had always been a sore spot with me. As a teenager and young adult, I had always pushed against those portions of pop culture that would appeal to the masses. I wasn’t trendy, I was alternative. In my quest to be so different as to not be definable, I inadvertently defined myself. *big sigh* I remained determined in my adulthood to consider mass-production character licensing as a marketing ploy to get your money and to suck your children into a brain-numbing vortex of crap with a tenuous grasp on reality. So you could take your Pokemon, your Mickey Mouse, your Dora and your Disney Princesses and shove them…

Dora and Disney Princesses…uh oh, too late… Did I say that out loud? They’re unavoidable. And they’re not the harbingers of evil and doom that I thought they would be. When I started watching Dora with Samantha, I realized that it was actually teaching her something! Dora, while still a bit annoying, was a decent teacher, and my daughter was learning bits and pieces of the Spanish language along with word recognition, memorization and logic. We now welcome Dora and all of her lovely slippers, bath toys and books into our home.

I knew we were in trouble a few months ago when, on a visit to the doctor’s office, Samantha was offered the choice of two stickers at the nurse’s station. The first was Hello Kitty, and the second was Disney Princesses. I held them out to her and said, “Which sticker would you like?”, fully expecting her to take the Hello Kitty sticker. Instead, she pointed to the other one, and said, “Princess.” We have yet to watch anything that involves the fantastically and unrealistically beautiful Disney Princesses, but a pair of slippers, some dress up clothes and the ill-fated sticker later, we’re not turning them away.

Kids will be kids, and kids will be mass-marketed to. I now recognize that. And I now recognize that there is a reason for children’s obsessions with these trends that goes well beyond the simple placement of products in the store. I have to think of my daughter’s happiness and well-being, and if plastic toys and cartoon characters are how she’s learning and what she enjoys, then who am I to judge? I will still draw the line at some point, when the learning opportunities begin to fade and real mindless, brain-numbing programming begins to creep in.


Monica Crumley said...

I love this post. Especially the part where you were trying not to be defined, only to define yourself. So true. Also the Pottery Barn part I can so relate to. We did splurge on some matching quilts for the girls about 4 years ago and while my 10 year old is pushing for something new, I refuse to budge. THey cost way too much to casually toss them aside. I, too, held back on letting my kids watch anything other than PBS, b/c I reasoned that it was teaching them and Dora was annoying to me. Then we got cable a couple years ago and John Michael knows Dora, Boots, etc and Greta knows a handful of Spanish words. It might annoy me, hearing "I'm the map" one too many times, but apparently they are learning, too. And, yes, Elmo is not dead. JM loves that furry, red, monster who seems to care about all children, regardless of their diagnosis... so he's cool w/ us.

RobMonroe said...

I had the same rules about Elmo and Princesses, but don't we all call our daughter "princess" at some point? I think that's where it starts. I blame me. (and sorry, my bad.)

We drew the line very firmly in the sand at Barbie, with image issues sure to abound later on anyway. Turns out they have them at daycare. Ugh. I'm still not letting them in my house.

Carol N. said...

Long live the red furry guy. Long live Elmo!