By Seth Daniel
I can picture it like it was yesterday.
Lying stomach down on a braided rug – my head cradled in my palms – beside my cousins, or my neighborhood buddies, in what was called the ‘front room.’
It was there that the television would beam out cartoons in the strange Technicolor that was the supreme technology of the day (though sometimes at some people’s houses we would watch on the old black and white model that was required to “warm up” before prime viewing could be achieved).
It was always Bugs Bunny fooling Elmer Fudd once again, the coyote plummeting off of a cliff for the one thousandth time as the Road Runner watched with a smirk, or Tom smashing his head into a wall as he fruitlessly chased Jerry into a mouse hole.
There wasn’t much to it, really. No great truths of the world were revealed, nor were there any great morality lessons taught. What we did get was a lot of laughs. And being boys, occasionally we would turn to one another, and for no reason, slug our neighbor in the arm.
Girls bond; boys slug.
Great fun it was watching funny cartoons on the tube.
Over the past school winter vacation, I watched the tube with my kids, and was taken by how mesmerized they were over a particular cartoon. I decided to watch with them.
The cartoon was neither silly nor slapstick nor funny. Basically, the main characters were in their house and they were cold. They checked the windows and went into the attic and found that their home was not energy efficient. The remainder of the episode showed them caulking the windows, and blowing cellulose insulation into the walls. There was even a segment where they discussed how to spell ‘cellulose’ and gave an aside as to what it is and how it’s made. The comic relief came when one character squirted way too much caulking on the windowpane.
They all laughed together.
The episode ended with a chiding of one character that left the door open during the winter, and another who didn’t want to take the time or money to make his home energy efficient.
The next program was a colorfully animated discussion of the mating habits of lobsters.
Both were riveting. Not really.
What stuck out to me is my kids never laughed once at these cartoons. It was more like they were stuck in a trance…learning…perpetually learning.
I began to think a little harder about this snippet of life afterward. I thought of the open spaces I had as a kid – something we called “greenies” in Boston. There was nothing in them but scrub grass, but we filled them with plenty of activities, games and the like. All the “greenies” now are filled with new housing, and the spaces that my kids have are programmed. The equipment has instructions and tells them how to play with it and what to do on it. The kids today don’t fill empty spaces; the empty spaces are already filled and the kids just occupy them.
I think there’s something to both of these little changes. They probably deserved to be analyzed by someone more qualified than myself. Maybe a great truth of the day could be learned and passed on to the gents that write the history books.
However, I can say with some certainty that in Boston we’ve made it for our young people to where everything has to mean something. Every activity is a chance to have a learning experience. Every hour of play is an opportunity to have organized exercise or programmatic games that not only fight off childhood obesity, but also reinforce algebraic equations, multiplication tables and the musical theory behind the compositions of Franz Liszt. It’s what is required to score the grant funding from the state or federal government or any number of private organizations.
Maybe it’s for the best, but too bad it can’t be as simple as lying around on a braided rug in the front room laughing at a mean cat that has once again been outwitted by a sly mouse.