You will warp your children. It’s an inevitable byproduct of the parenting process, just like how you can’t make a hot dog without two or three rat turds finding their way into the mix.
Some warping is a good thing, in the long run. A completely unwarped, innocent child would grow up to be one of those scary, infantile grown ups who’s way too into Harry Potter. If you’re lucky, you warp your child so that they have a healthy skepticism about The Ways of the World. If you’re unlucky, they grow up to collect other people’s skin. But in all likelihood, you won’t know how you’ve warped your child for good.
I can trace my own warping–positive and negative–to a lot of things. But I know that parental TV viewing played a major part. Particularly, my dad’s fondness for Monty Python. He never forced me to watch it, but it was on in the house often, back in the days when Python was a PBS staple.
I remember liking it a lot when I was way too young to know what I was watching. I had to ask my dad to translate certain Britishisms like pram and lorry and explain allusions to historic events I hadn’t learned about yet. But I liked the really weird cartoons, and the fact that in any given episode you’d probably see some boobs (PBS was the best friend to a kid without cable in the 80s).
Was I destined to be a nerd anyway, and annoy the shit out of my friends by repeating sketches they’d never see? Yeah, probably. But the fact that I could recite “The Lumberjack Song” at age 7 definitely sped up the process. Was it my father’s intention to bruise my fragile psyche with anagrams and cross dressing? I doubt it. Still, it happened.
I mention this because I regularly watch a couple of shows that I’m sure are warping my infant daughter on a daily basis. And no, they’re not Mets games, though those often cause me to spout language unfit for children’s ears.
The shows are Ninja Warrior and Unbeatable Banzuke, two similar programs from Japan. In case you’ve never seen them, they both consist of a series of obstacle courses of increasingly ludicrous difficulty, with a liberal helping of that uniquely Japanese flavor of Crazy.
Ninja Warrior is the more accessible of the two. It’s almost like watching the Winter Olympics, and seeing guys do the luge or the bobsled. You think to yourself “I could totally do that!”, even though you know you’d crack your head open if you tried.
Ninja Warrior‘s first stage inevitably features people who have no business partaking in any kind of physical activity, let alone a hardcore test of endurance. If this show is any indication, Japanese audiences love watching comedians and 19 year old girls face-planting on gym mats and falling into filthy water. There are also many insane street performers and LARPers in full costume, because in Japan these things are considered actual professions rather than desperate cries for help.
But the show also attracts people who literally train for months to compete. Grown men have quit their jobs and built mock courses in their backyards so they can practice full time. And 999 times out of a thousand, these men will fall short of completing the course in the most agonizing way possible. Like getting past the finish line but failing to touch the buzzer that “officially” ends the course. Or landing on the last platform, only to fall off the side and be disqualified.
Unbeatable Banzuke does not look like anyone could do it. It’s so mind-meltingly impossible that I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do it. Every episode features at least two different obstacle courses that must be mastered while performing some esoteric skill–riding a unicycle, walking on stilts, walking on your hands, etc. Each obstacle is more ridiculous than the last, and the set-ups so torturous that it looks less like a game show and more like an S&M ritual.
The craziest thing about these shows, at least from an American standpoint: there is not a single mention of any kind of jackpot. If you win Ninja Warrior, you’re a Ninja Warrior. If you complete a course on Unbeatable Banzuke, you are placed on the Wall of Champions (which is apparently CGI). That’s it.
Oh, and there usually is no winner at all. I have never seen anyone complete Ninja Warrior, and you could watch 20 episodes of Unbeatable Banzuke before you see anyone make it to the end of an obstacle course.
Compare that to the US, where every game/reality show ends with somebody winning some huge cash prize just for being on the show, even if they deserve nothing. Because we have this kindergarten mentality in this country that Everybody Should Win and Nobody Should Feel Bad! Hooray! Gimme my gold star ’cause it’s Tuesday!
I like these shows, but my baby daughter loves them. She doesn’t just watch them, she is entranced by them. You can’t tear her from the screen. She claps when the audience claps. When the audience gasps at someone’s failure, she yells “oh no!” And she delights at the announcers for both shows, who are incapable of speaking at anything lower than jet engine decibels.
I don’t know what this means, exactly. But I feel like one day, when my daughter is trying to explain her own warped view of the universe, she’s gonna start with her insane father making her watch Japanese people punish themselves while a crazed announcer screamed at the top of his lungs.