Thursday, February 28, 2013

Star Wars and Trying to Reclaim a Parenting Vision

A few months ago, I was tempted to write a post about how Kiddo is reveling in All Things Star Wars.  Last November, during a trip to Florida to see his Grandparents, he got to go to Legoland. I saw the pictures and it IS an exciting place. 

One of the pictures is a full-sized Darth Vader made out of Legos. I'm blaming all of this on him, okay? And George. George Lucas, that is.  Blaming A LOT on him.

My vision for Kiddo's childhood was that we would keep the branding and hyper-merchandised media at bay. And now, a few months into this Star Wars thing, I'm trying hard to think about the slippery slope we are going down, where weapons are bought at the store instead of being made, where his play good guy/bad guy scenes are now General Grievous vs Obi-Wan Kenobi instead of "the bad alien" vs the human boy. 

In short, where the heck are we going with this? Last December, somehow a switch got flipped and Joe jumped on the Star Wars bandwagon too. We'd had clear rules about not subsidizing weapon toys (if he wanted them, he had to save up all the money for them); suddenly I found myself standing at the store, a beaming Kiddo looking at me with a lightsaber in his hand. "Daddy said that I could use my five dollars for this and that he'd pay the other five dollars." Ummmm..... really? I'm fine with us paying 50/50 on something useful, like saving up for some constructivist toys or art supplies, but this was out of the realm of either category. Yet, instead of making a stink at the store and throwing Daddy under the bus, I conceded. 

And then, when he asked Santa Claus for a Stormtrooper mask, that didn't seem like such a huge deal either. $10 can make Santa Claus 'real' for another year, just put a Captain Rex mask near that stocking. Happy kid.

We'd always agreed that we wouldn't subsidize weapons, but then last weekend Joe picked up a 'space gun' keychain toy for Kiddo.  He said it was to buy him some time to do some work on the bathroom, which is being revamped and did indeed need work. I was out to lunch with a friend and so he felt justified in buying the little shooter.

But this party train has gotta stop. I am feeling a need to derail the whole Star Wars train, and I think I have some good reasons.

First, Kiddo's imagination is still lively and strong, but frankly, I don't want to play lightsaber battles. Truly. Not interested. It's just boring for me--I'd rather take a fencing class with Kiddo if we wanted to go that route. Joe almost bit it the other night, slipped on the hardwood floor and just caught himself. 

My bigger concern is the messages that the Star Wars stories put forth. They are really, really hard for kids to grasp.  Darth Vader is 'mostly robot' and therefore, considered very cool. Look at all the tee shirts, lunch boxes, there are even a couple of Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker sabers available.  Darth is by far the  most popular of the characters.  My problem with this?

Darth Vader is a murderous, child-killing asshole. In the original Star Wars, you see Darth destroy Princess Leia's home planet Alderaan in order to get information from her. She is tortured. As Anakin Skywalker, turning bad means destroying all the Jedi Youth, young children were killed by him.  He marries a woman and makes her keep their relationship a secret and behaves in such a way that his own children are separated and hidden from him, lest he destroy them too.

This is not the guy I want Kiddo to think is cool. He's beyond appalling, an intergalactic terrorist with zero conscience. Anakin, you were a horrible person. The fact that you saved Luke at the very end was the ONE nice thing, and the message that a life full of horrific acts is negated by one good thing and you get to go to Jedi Heaven (okay, become a Force Ghost, or what-ever --said with an eye roll--) makes me want to g-a-g gag. To be honest, if it had just been limited to the first original three movies, maybe I could muster up a little happy moment that someone bad had finally become good. But oh, no-- George Lucas had to take it up a gajillion notches by not only inferring that Vader was bad, but making us watch the atrocities he commits as he becomes a puppet of the Dark Side. 

These are not children's movies, folks.  This, in and of itself, is the big problem right there. They aren't movies for young children, yet they are relentlessly  marketed to youngsters. I've even seen baby tees with Darth Vader's likeness on them. 

Recently on Here and Now, Robin Young interviewed one of my heroes in the child development world, Nancy Carllson-Paige. (this link directs you to the short article and podcast. Worth your time.)  I'm hungry to read her new book Taking Back Childhood, because she is a savvy mom who knows about what's going on in the world of children. How they play, how they think. In her discussion with Robin Young, she mentions one of the huge differences between the US and other countries, which is regulation of the toys, media and video games which can be advertised to children, regardless of age-appropriateness. This is one reason I dig my heels in firmly; the FTC's regulations regarding what could be advertised to which target audience was gutted years ago and so as a parent, I am called to fight the good fight in keeping my son from being exposed to anything and everything.

One of those 'anything and everything's I am trying to protect him from is the Star Wars "Clone Wars" spin-off. It is insidious to my son's life-- hell, it's in his school library. I thought that by trying to understand the stories, instead of banning them outright, might be a way to go, so I let him check out one of the books. In it, there is a lot of violence, including kidnapping one character. The Jedi make a daring recovery of kidnapped character, however, the bad guy gets away and rides off, quite triumphantly, into the sunset. My son thinks that this bad guy, General Grievous,  is cool; this character uses a collection of lightsabers, war trophies of the Jedi he has killed. This creature is a grotesque robot (which houses an organic heart and brain...why heart, I can't even know why they bothered). We've told Kiddo that for now, no more Clone Wars, and I've shown him how to find non-CW Star Wars books at the library.

George Lucas has no problem marketing this stuff to little kids. I have no problem with saying "no" to George. You don't get to grow my little  guy up too much, too soon, so you get to make a few extra bucks. 

Or now, Disney will profit, as they are purchasing the franchise, so get ready for a whole new moneymaking extravaganza, folks! 

Seriously, with Disney in the driver's seat with Episode Seven, you can bet that there will be once again the cultural saturation of the newest Star Wars movie we experienced with the prequel movies. Frankly, I think the prequel movies sucked, so I'll say this: Disney, if you want to do it right, go for the tone of the original movies, which were less dark and more positive. The prequel movies were downright boring in many parts, dragging during the long conversations with the governmental storylines. Do it right. Keep to the action, the banter (the Leia and Han back and forths were great), the little revelations which kept us interested and engaged. Make the good guys obviously good. No brooding allowed. Hayden Christiansen brooded enough for a whole dozen star wars movies easily. When Luke looked sad, it wasn't so dark and gothy, okay? We need an upbeat wholesome young hero who isn't freaking plagued all the time with demons gripping him at every turn. We need a heroine who wouldn't be content to marry in secret, who wouldn't want to be with a duplicitous jerk. We want a happy animal character who doesn't insult our intelligence, not doofy-galloofy, so no Jar Jar shenanigans. The prequel movies served the same purpose some of the darker comic series do-- to show the underside of human nature. I get it. I also don't need a reminder of it while I'm being entertained. I don't think my kid needs to know that people can do such horrible things to each other, either. I think he can fit in-- and this is why I allowed Star Wars to begin with, so he had something cultural in common with other kids--without knowing all the darkness and lust and greed that the Clone Wars hold. 

In short, keep it fun, keep it exciting, keep it simple. Make the conflict between good and evil very obvious, not riddled with torment. If you are going to market it to kids, make a movie kids can understand.

As for us, Joe and I are going to start bringing back some of the fun things Kiddo put aside in favor of his Star Wars obsession. Fun stuff: building with blocks, playing games, making art, reading high-quality books... we have to model this for him to bring him back to the old normal, but I want us to be in control of the situation, not a toy company or a multi-billion dollar media conglomerate. We go forward in life together as a family, in hopefully  more healthy ways, and Yoda, Luke and the Rebel Alliance are welcome to come along for the ride, so long as they can sit quietly in the backseat. 

1 comment:

Hakea said...

Hi Hazel

I have never understood the Star Wars phenomena.

My kids were hooked at one time, mainly because their Dad loves it.

But, I had to be the meanie and put a stop to it. I don't know what it is about Star Wars but it flips a switch in my kid's brains and they get all crazy - fighting, overactive, hyperstimulated. Clone Wars was worse!!!!

I banned the movies, the computer game, and sometimes I have to take the Star Wars lego out too. It's insane.

Nothing else triggers my kids like Star Wars does. My kids are exposed to a fair amount of modern cultural stuff like Assassin's Creed and Skyrim, and they are not a problem. Although, I have had to ban Harry Potter on occasions because the spellcasting on each other has got to chronic levels.

I have had the pressure for the light saber too. It's not happening!

I suspect it's the sound effects that trigger something in my kids. Without the sound effects, it would all be rather boring.

Keep up the good fight Hazel of the Skyteahouse!