Before I was a parent, I always wanted to call bullshit on those fretful moms and dads whose reactions to upsetting World News always boils down to “What will we tell the children?!” It seemed such a narcissistic and narrow view of the universe, that all human endeavors should be slotted into one of two categories: Good/Bad For The Stupid Fruit Of My Loins.
F’rinstance, during the Great Clinton Blowjob Scandal, supposedly the biggest problem our nation faced was how to explain the whole sordid episode to the kiddies. Of less importance, apparently, was the fact that the nation was thrown into a Constitutional crisis because our Commander-in-Chief wanted a hummer. Or that the same Guardians of Decency who wanted to punish him for said “offense” had no problem discussing the intimate details of The Presidential Schlong on TV.
But I also used to think that, as a non-parent, it wasn’t really my place to tell folks with children how to feel. Maybe I would become just as prudish as Helen Lovejoy once I reproduced.
Now, I have reproduced. And I return to call bullshit on those fretful moms and dads.
I realize the world is much more media-soaked than it once was, thanks to the Interwebs and the eBays and the YouTubes and the Blackberries and whatnot. But trust me, I watched enough TV as a kid that I’m considered legally retarded in 8 states. Not once did I ever purposefully watch The News. I hated The News, because when the well-coiffed mug of Chuck Scarborough or Jack Cafferty hit the screen, that meant cartoons were officially over for the day. From 6 to 8pm, there was zero hope of anything good on the screen, just The News followed by Stupid Game Shows. The only course of action was to go outside, do your homework, or eat dinner, and somehow while away the hours before The Cosby Show or Family Ties came on.
Yes, I used to watch The Cosby Show and Family Ties. Religiously. When I was circa 8 years old, my rule for watching TV was: Does everyone else watch it? Then yes, I will watch it. I wasn’t yet the effete snob typing for you today.
My point is, kids do not care about The World. They care about Having Fun, and The News has never been fun, nor will it ever be. It is the complete antithesis of everything a child wants to see on television. The News is not hosted by a crack commando group that shoots red lasers at the evil terrorist organization that shoots blue lasers. The News doesn’t employ wisecracking dogs as correspondents. And The News doesn’t follow the exploits of a group of kids and their army of mystical animals that fit in small globes.
Let’s say your kid hears about something slightly disturbing on The News and wants to know more about it. You know what you should do? Tell him/her. Because chances are, he/she watches some batshit insane Japanese cartoon so surreal that it makes The News that you think is so horrible seem like Mother Goose in comparison. Once a kid has warped his/her brain around the pointy contours of Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh, explaining the genocide in Sudan should be a piece of cake to understand.
Here’s what I remember of The News as a kid: It’s winter. For whatever reason, I have no recollection of being forced to watch The News during warm months. Maybe because it was too cold to go outside and avoid The News, which my father would insist on watching the exact second he got home from work and set foot in the living room. The man could absolutely not stand to witness one shred of Kid-Oriented Programming. One glimpse of Masters of the Universe and he lost it, barking “Turn off that drivel!” in the joyless growl of a Dickensian orphanage manager.
We lived within New York City’s sphere of influence, so despite living in a quiet suburban area, The News that filtered into our house was ungodly. This was the 1980s, height of the crack epidemic, when the city’s murder numbers pushed 2000 every year. Every local newscast–and my father seemed to favor NBC-4 for no good reason–would try to lighten up its coverage with some Feel-Good Holiday Story. Inevitably, however, they would have to cut to a shot of white sheet draped across a dead body laying in a Bronx gutter as flurrying snow flitted across the screen, or the blood-soaked walls of a rat-infested Brooklyn tenement. In retrospect, except for trips to relatives’ houses, my every glimpse of New York City as a kid looked like a panel from The Dark Knight Returns.
Every edition of the 6 o’clock news from my youth went something like this:
CHUCK SCARBOROUGH: The local Marine recruiting office is holding its annual coat drive. New Yorkers are encouraged to donate lightly used coats at stations throughout the city, including Penn Station, Lincoln Center, and the Empire State Building.
SUE SIMMONS: And you should donate right now, because a lot of families are out in the cold in Queens, where Pablo Guzman is standing by. Pablo?
PABLO GUZMAN: Thank you, Sue. A sad story out here in Jamaica, where 80 families find themselves homeless. Apparently, two derelicts broke into the boiler room of the Robert Moses Houses, trying to get out of the cold. After arguing over how to divide up a can of cat food between them, one of the hobos–we’re told he goes by the name of Scruffy–threw the second hobo into the building’s furnace. Officials are not exactly sure how this could have started such an enormous blaze, but in any case, the resulting fire destroyed nearly 100 apartments. Most of those units contained Christmas presents for adorable, impoverished, heartbroken children, which I will demonstrate by holding aloft the charred remains of a Cabbage Patch Doll.
SUE SIMMONS: Awful, just awful. Speaking of which, are we in for some awful weather this Christmas, Al?
AL ROKER: Looks like clear skies, Sue, as you can see the radar picture. Of course, that also means no white Christmas this year, but the temperatures should stay around a nice, Santa-friendly 35 degrees.
SUE SIMMONS: So I guess we better bundle up, huh Chuck?
CHUCK SCARBOROUGH: Sounds like it, Sue. And you’d be well advised to bundle up before we switch over to Tony Guida, as this next story will chill you to the bone. Tony?
TONY GUIDA: Chuck, tragedy here in Washington Heights, where a beloved grandmother has met a brutal end.
POLICE SPOKESMAN: It seems the alleged perpetrators, high on eightball and PCP, spotted the 83-year-old carrying home a large sack of presents for her grandchildren and mistook it for an enormous crack rock. After pistol whipping the elderly woman, the suspects violated her with various holiday ornaments. She apparently passed out from the shock as a psychological defense mechanism, but once she regained consciousness she was strapped to the hood of Buick Regal as the vehicle was sent careening into the Hudson River. All of this happened in broad daylight on the corner of 181st Street and Amsterdam Avenue. We received these details from several dozen eyewitnesses, including a Salvation Army Santa Claus, all of whom were too paralyzed by fear to call for help.
CHUCK SCARBOROUGH: Boy, that’s the kind of thing that just makes you wonder if there really is a God. And now here’s sports with Len Berman!
LEN BERMAN: The Knicks and Rangers are off tonight, Chuck. Meanwhile, some lucky youngsters in Massapequa got a visit from a few special Santas today. Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield of the New York Yankees dropped by PS 37 to spread some holiday cheer and tell the kids to stay in school.
SUE SIMMONS: Thanks, Len. When we return from this commercial break, a botched robbery that ends so horribly that the sordid details may drive you insane. Plus, a visit from the Rockettes!
If kids can handle watching this every night, I think they can handle anything short of the actual Biblical Apocalypse. And even that should be a breeze compared to the horrors of Power Rangers.