There’s one thing I should establish early on, my wife, coming from a military family, was raised primarily in Scotland and other locations around Europe and the US. But mostly Scotland. Because of this she was raised without the benefit of American television. No Brady Bunch, no Love Boat, or going back even further, no Sesame Street, or Mr. Rogers. She had the Wombles. The Wombles of Wimbledon.
She is fiercely proud of this fact, however, as she should be. While I was lying on the floor of my bedroom reading X-Men or propped in a beanbag chair watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island she was reading Jane Eyre by candlelight in an ancient Dutch farmhouse. Jane Austen was her Aaron Spelling. But that’s not to say she has entirely captured the cultural high-ground (we’ll get to Georgette Heyer another time).
During our young lives together this state of affairs proved both amusing and instructive. Often in social situations someone might drop a, “Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!” She would nudge me and I would lean over to quietly whisper, “Brady Bunch. Middle child thing.” It was as if I was her tour guide through the shadowy mansions of American popular culture.
So perhaps it’s no surprise now that we have children I have taken on the mantle of media guru in our family. If my wife had her way it would be all books all the time. And I need an outlet for my interminable lectures.
“Dad, who are the Rolling Stones?”
“British Invasion blues rock band. But before I tell you more about them I should set some context and go back to the Blues, Robert Johnson, the state of the South after the Civil War, the Civil War, and slavery. Eventually we’ll get back to Mick and Keith. Oh, and even though Keith is somehow still alive, don’t do drugs.”
But I digress.
So how does a Dad figure out how to expose their kids to books, movies, music, and all the rest? The first step is getting in touch with your inner child. What did you watch, read, listen to when you were young? Start there.
It doesn’t matter that I was watching old Speed Racer, there’s a DVD box set. Ultraman, Transformers, name your poison, you can find it. And once you’ve found it you’ll want to check it out to make sure it was really as innocent (and cool) as you remember. Prepare yourself, because about two minutes in you’re going to wonder what the hell you were thinking. But remember, you were seven (or whatever) and you had no idea. Speed Racer is painful for me now but my kids love it. Someday they’ll be embarrased too.
I’ve found a good rule of thumb is to follow the path of American popular culture. Consider music. The innocent rock and roll of the 50’s and early 60’s is generally safe and the kids will likely not get the subtext. Just tell yourself that Elvis’ “Little Sister” has a good beat and you can dance to it. We’ll worry about the rest later.
Ultimately you’ll choose the things that match your values. But don’t neglect it. Your wife played that baby Mozart CD until it melted. As they continue to grow the media they’re consuming will be a significant influence on who they grow up to be. Not in the big obvious ways, that’s all you, but all the small details that give their personality color and texture – there’s a giant dose of popular culture in there. Choose wisely.