Sunday, September 03, 2006

Giving in to the siren call of Disney

As I sit here typing, I am aware of the two Mater stickers that adorn me, one on my shirt and one on my forehead. That's Mater, as in Tow Mater, not some sophisticated, Latin "mother" thing. For those who may not be in the know, Mater is the lovable and goofy tow-truck sidekick to Lightning McQueen, the main character in Disney/Pixar's Cars, who just happens to be on my wife's forehead. I know this oh so well as I have seen the movie. Twice. And various bits of licensed paraphernalia are spread throughout our house.

There was a point, before my son was born, that I thought I would not expose my son to Disney. This was part of the whole desire to be a total earth mother and protect my son from the evils of such a commercial society. No licensed characters. I think there was something about no television. Definitely no Disney with its unrealistic fairy tales and stereotyped portrayals of gender.

And then he was born. I was so tired and desperate for a little companionship, even if it was just the sound of the TV. I quickly made the concession of putting it on Noggin, and so I introduced my son to Sesame Street. He loved Ernie and Elmo and all of their friends, so when family and friends sent gifts and books with Sesame Street characters, I couldn't bring myself to complain. I mean, this was Sesame Street, the symbol of all that was good and pure from my childhood. Of course from there it spread to other children's programming. But again I couldn't complain about Blue's Clues and even things like Oobi and Franklin began to grow on me.

Just as quickly, we gave up on staying away from toys based on TV and movie characters. He has a "Hokey-Pokey" Elmo from his grandparents, although it scared him for a while. His first pairs of underwear featured Bob the Builder, Spongebob Squarepants, and Blue. His train set is 100% Thomas the Tank Engine; for his 3rd birthday, we went halfway across town to get Thomas plates, cups, tablecloth, etc. (which I forgot to use with his grandparents, so we still have some left over). He has books that feature these characters and more.

At some point, we moved into our collection of Disney VHS tapes. The very fact that my wife and I have a fairly extensive collection of Disney movies, most from the days of VHS, several doubles of movies both of us brought into the relationship, should have been a clue that this was inevitable. I believe we started with Winnie the Pooh and moved on to Jungle Book. He has also come to love Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. On DVD, he chooses from Toy Story, Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., and the extra Winnie-the-Poohs (the lesser Heffalump Movie and Pooh's Grand Adventure, though he doesn't seem to notice that they just don't match up to the original).

Cars was the first movie he saw in the theater. My wife and I decided he was probably old enough and that it might hold his attention. The first time we went, he sat on my lap the entire time, barely moving. He couldn't be bothered to take any of the M&Ms my wife offered. As the credits rolled, he said, "Wanna watch cars again." He would have stayed in the theater all day if we'd let him. He and I went with his grandmother for a second viewing on a day when we needed to kill some time with him. He was not quite as still, shouting out words of encouragement or warning, but he repeated his request to watch it again.

Now, despite my earlier vow to the contrary, I'm actually happy when I find new Cars items. Many of these have been serving as potty training bribes--underpants with his favorite characters, sheets of stickers (and hence my current, decorated state), coloring books, sets of plastic cars doled out one at a time. I know that the movie will be released on DVD on November 7th. And yes, we will be getting it then and not waiting for the December holidays.

This doesn't mean that I've turned a blind eye to the problems I see in the stories. There will be discussions. However I grew up on Disney, I love fairy tales, BUT I can still recognize the sexist and stereotypical elements and understand that they do not fit in reality. So rather than keep my son from it altogether, I'll just make sure to provide some context.

In the meantime, Mater and I will just hang out over here.

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