Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rant: Pay Attention to the Subtext

Teach Your Children Well

We are funny beings we humans. We want what is best for our kids, but we can be terribly myopic when it comes to getting it. For example, I am currently couch-surfing with a couple that have an amazing 9yr old daughter. They carefully control what she eats, wears and consumes in an effort to help her grow up healthy and happy. This is good, but where does the myopia come in?

It is in the subtext. What they don't seen to get (what many of us don't seem to get) is that the surface story is only part of the message. The subtext is critical, and studies have shown that subtext actually communicates more to our children than text. If it didn't we would never have invented the phrase 'Do as I say, not as I do!'

When it comes to choosing the TV, films and books your kid is allowed to consume, are you considering the subtext? The strammash last summer over the violence in YA was a case of an adult looking only at the text, and patently ignoring the true message delivered by the subtext. Yes, the Hunger Games is violent, but it is a paean to non-violence. Yes, Cut involves cutting, but the underlying message is self worth. Basic compare and contrast.

So, what got my panties in a bunch this morning? Disney! The haven of G rated shows, the channel you let you kid watch when you are afraid they will be titillated by teenage sex in Glee, or damaged by the violence in Rango, or warped by the language of Roller Skates. The Disney channel is safe, right? It won't warp kids inappropriately. Hah!

Let's examine the subtext in an episode of Disney's Clubhouse I watched this morning next to the aforementioned 9yr old:

This episode, ostensibly about Minnie opening a 'Bow-Tique' contained two stark instances of damaging subtext - there were probably more, but I couldn't decode them while my stomach was churning so violently.

1) Daisy Duck is a blank, a cypher, a foil. Her only purpose is to react to Donald. How that was proven: Daisy dons a 'Mood Bow' that will show her moods by changing color. On the shelf the bow is a transparent grey. On Daisy's head the bow is a transparent grey. In order to get a mood, Daisy must ask Donald to make her angry, sad, happy. As soon as Donald does, the bow changes color. As soon as he stops, the bow goes transparent. At no point in the episode does Daisy's bow change color again. Here is the lesson little girls: you are nothing without a man, and all your moods are subject to his actions. Appalling!

2) When you have a really big problem, use someone. How this was proven: There is this thing, I don't remember what they call it, that stores tools for the characters to use; three tools are revealed and one is a big mystery. The show builds to its contrived climax, and all tools have been used except the mystery tool. The bows are all stuck in a tree, we need a tool that will help us get them down. What is it children, can you guess? Is it a ladder? No! Is it a hook? No! It is a monkey! That's right, a living being, reduced to being a tool. Oh, and it is a monkey - hmmm... what was the derogatory image for a black man in the slave era - that's right a monkey. So get up in that tree little monkey boy and be the tool you are. Here is the lesson kids: Slaves are just tools and we should all use them.

THIS is the subtext that latches into a 9yr old's brain. My young friend's take-away - "I wish I had a monkey to do all my chores." Oh please GOD can we just have some cussing? Or sex talk? These things I can teach - we can talk about appropriateness, time and place, ethics and morals. But the subconscious desire for a slave? How do we as parents combat that?

PARENTS: Please, for the love of GOD, pay attention to the sub-text. Trust me, the work F#@K will not mess up your kids. THIS kind of crap will!

WRITERS: What is your subtext? Maybe the writers of this episode didn't draw the correlation I did with the monkey and past racism, but there is NO EXCUSE for the direct reference to a living being as a tool. Pay attention to what you are saying - that is equally as important as how you say it!