I’m tempted to ban cartoons and kids’ shows from our television at home.
Maybe it’s something I should have done long ago. After all, TV will rot your brain, parents have been telling their kids for two or three generations now.
There’s plenty to object to content-wise on TV.
There’s violence, even in kids’ cartoons. Sure, it’s usually directed toward evil supervillains or alien hordes, but it’s violence nonetheless, and doesn’t match with the values we try to model in our home.
There’s also the gross-out humor kids of a certain age seem to find so appealing, but which I find juvenile and disgusting. I’ve decided this is a losing battle, though; flatulence will never not be funny to a 10-year-old.
Even the live-action shows offered by such kids’ entertainment kingpins as Disney and Nickelodeon suffer from moralistic flaws and basic stupidity. There’s gross materialism, reinforcement of hurtful stereotypes and the increasing sexualization of young girls in terms of their fashion and character (do middle school girls routinely wear 3-inch high heels? Should their relationships with boys be the most defining thing about them?).
But the last straw for me could be the continued portrayal of dads on TV as incompetent doofuses.
It’s a trend my husband and I noticed years ago, when cartoons “Jimmy Neutron” and “Fairly OddParents” were popular. In both shows, the parents of the protagonists were clueless foils for the antics of the main characters, but the fathers in particular were utter morons. One seemed obsessed with pie and ducks, and was literally too stupid to feed himself or parent his son. The other was defined only by his ongoing vendetta against his neighbor and a vapid ignorance of his son’s activities.
TV has not improved since then. It’s filled with dads who are lazy, dumb, uncaring and seemingly uninterested in being parents. While Homer Simpson’s brand of imbecility is a sharp satire worthy of a thinking audience, I am not sure you can say the same thing of dads such as the hapless Bob Duncan from Disney Channel’s “Good Luck Charlie,” who loves his kids, sure, but also can’t make toast, once got his house eaten by termites and is generally portrayed as a big dumb oaf.
Or, for the preschool set, there’s the father on the show “Peppa Pig,” which airs on Nick Jr. Daddy Pig, as he’s called, can’t seem to do anything right, and his laziness and incompetence are the butt of many jokes on this show.
This assumes, of course, that you can even find a dad on kids’ TV. In a continuation of a trend popularized in classic Disney movies, there’s a disturbing lack of parents in general on kids’ shows. Children are often raised by siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc., or by a single parent. There is value in portraying all kinds of different families, and nothing is wrong with any of those configurations.
But when dads ARE present on TV, is it too much to ask that occasionally they are smart, caring and invested in relationships with their children — you know, like all of the real-life fathers I know are? And can we please see ONE television commercial that shows a dad being smart and capable, rather than moronically incapable of diapering a baby or shopping in a grocery store?
Kids’ television goes out of its way to show more realistic portrayals of mothers — moms who work outside the home, moms who are smart and funny, moms who are real people, not just caricatures. But dads continue to be drawn as clueless rubes without real parenting challenges or skills, and without any hint of the complex and nuanced relationships real dads have with their children. Dads invest a lot of passion, wit and energy in their families. It would be nice if kids’ TV reflected that.