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I'm taking a lot of heat in various quarters because of my (non-)answer to today's AVQ&A. Basically, the question is "What children's pop culture do you find to be just as enjoyable, ambitious, or compelling as entertainment for adults?", and basically, my answer is "none".

This isn't to say that I didn't like kid's entertainment when I was a kid; of course I did. Nor is it to say that there aren't occasionally thing I find to enjoy in kid's entertainment now, but they tend to either be things that are obviously aimed at adults, like the writers slipping in jokes that are clearly intended for the grown-ups watching, or that are independent of their existence in a children's-entertainment context, like the beauty of the art in a Miyazaki movie or the technical audacity of a Pixar project. But as a rule, children's entertainment just doesn't do much for me, because, well, I am not a child.

And in saying that, I don't mean that children's entertainment is inferior; to the contrary, I've always been disappointed that I lack the ability to create kid art. It's a very valuable and rare skill. All I mean is, kid's entertainment is aimed at kids, and since I'm not a kid, it doesn't have the same appeal or impact on me that it would have when I was a kid. I don't know why this is such a controversial statement; people's tastes, values and aesthetics change all the time. I would think it would be goddamn shameful if everybody liked the same stuff as a 35-year-old as they did as an 8-year-old. And again, this isn't to say that I don't see stuff made for 8-year-olds and appreciate its craft; it's just, well, it's not made for me, and I don't look on it as some sort of moral, artistic, or critical failing that I don't really have much interest in it beyond that.

But the mere fact of admitting that, as an adult, I prefer cultural products aimed at adults, seems to send people into spasms of anger. I get accused of being a snob; I get called a joyless old crank; I get accused of hating kids; it is inferred that I have no imagination, no sense of fun, and no appreciation for silliness and play. That none of this is even remotely true would seem to go without saying, but I find myself having to say it anyway, over and over again. Ordinary, intelligent, sensible people -- people who under most circumstances understand that tastes evolve and change, and that there are fields of entertainment that are directed at demographic groups to which they do not belong -- still get riled beyond belief when I say that, as a rule, I don't like kid's shows or kid's literature. People who wouldn't dream of getting offended when I say I'm not interested in, say, Christian-themed movies and books get really bent out of shape when I say I'm not interested in pre-adolescent-themed television. I frankly don't get it. As I've said before, calling an adult joyless and unimaginative because he doesn't like children's entertainment is like calling a child stupid and unsophisticated because he doesn't like adult entertainment.

Now, of course, folks is folks, and while I can't imagine an lone adult, without a child, sitting down and actually, genuinely enjoying Arthur or Backyardigans or Wonderpets, I'm not trying to judge anyone. I like all kinds of stuff a lot of people consider crap. But I think that plays up part of what's happening here: the mere fact that grown-ups feel a little weird about liking kid's shows makes them defensive, so when someone says "I don't really like kid's shows because I am not a kid", they think it's a referendum on them and get hostile about it.* I also think there's probably an element of misperception at work: with a lot of these shows, what people are really admiring are the adult elements. Case in point: with Animaniacs, everyone I know who likes it got into it either as an adult, or as an adolescent -- in other words, as someone outside of the show's defined user range. What they're recognizing isn't the excellence of a kid's show; they're recognizing their own development and ability to pick up (adult) references and (adult) humor that the (adult) writers stuck into the show. Other times, it's just a misunderstanding of the material itself: lots of people cite Batman: The Animated Series and the other Diniverse cartoons as excellent children's programs, but those shows were never aimed at children. They're aimed at the very least at adolescents and high school kids, but more realistically, at late teenager and people in their early 20s, just like most superhero comics have been since the 1990s.

I'm not going to make any grand pronouncements about how this ties into our collective refusal as a culture to develop beyond adolescence, not only because I don't particularly believe it, but because I'm just as vulnerable for liking comic books and role-playing games. And I don't have any real stake in the whole unreflexive nostalgia trip other than that it doesn't appeal to me. I'm just going to repeat: this isn't for me, and that's fine, because it isn't supposed to be for me. Why anyone would be offended by my not liking something that was in no way designed for me to like is completely baffling. Do these people get mad because their dogs don't like macaroni & cheese?

*: One thing I find particularly hilarious is when people discuss what has come to be termed "young adult" literature -- what largely used to be called children's literature until a bunch of grown-ass folks started reading it -- and they very frequently will start the conversation by saying "Well, it's not very well-written, but...". For me, that's where the conversation STOPS. There's nothing to say after that. Because, I mean, it's a book. If it's not very well-written, what the fuck do I want to read it for? Because the page numbers are all in order? Because it's on really white, shiny paper?

Comments

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doraphilia
Sep. 17th, 2010 06:12 pm (UTC)
well it's silly for anyone to get mad at you for not enjoying well done children's art.

However, I disagree with your point that it's 100% not aimed at you. I think that the best children's literature/movies/whatever can be read on multiple levels, and has symbolism that a child won't necessarily understand when they are young but brings to their adult life. When I read children's books that accomplish this I totally feel as though it was written for me and am excited to have found something so simple yet complex at the same time.
ludickid
Sep. 17th, 2010 06:28 pm (UTC)
I see what you're saying, but the more there is in a children's book that cannot be, or is not designed to be, understood by a reader until he/she is older, the less comfortable I am calling it a children's book. I certainly agree that all kinds of art can be read on multiple levels, but at a certain point, the definition gets pretty abstract.
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dvandom
Sep. 17th, 2010 06:16 pm (UTC)
There's three main reasons for an adult to like entertainment aimed at kids.

1. Nostalgia. It's entertainment that was aimed at THEM when they were kids, and even if it doesn't age well in a more objective sense, it's tied up in happy memories.

2. Dual-audience. Yeah, the main audience is kids, but the writers know that parents might be stuck watching it again and again and again, so they put in plenty of stuff that'll sail right over the heads of the main audience and get caught by mom and dad. Thus, even if you don't have a kid, you might enjoy it.

3. Repurposing. Sure, to an adult viewer/reader it's not very good, but it's bad in ways that can be entertaining. Okay, maybe you have to be stoned or drunk to enjoy it, but it's still good fun when you're in the right state of mind, chemically attained or otherwise.

Of course, as you point out with Batman, there's also:

4. Mislabeled Works. They get lumped in with kidvid because they're animated, with kidlit because the protagonists are young, whatever. They were never really written for little kids, but people who dismiss anything "kiddie" out of hand will tend to lump in a lot of stuff that's not really for kids.
ludickid
Sep. 17th, 2010 06:29 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I think you're right about all of those things, especially the last one. Several people in that post mentioned "The Tick", which, come on. The Tick is in no way intended for kids. It's just an adult comedy that's animated. I don't know how you could possibly categorize that as a kid's show.
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Thet "young adult" label - feisty_robot - Sep. 18th, 2010 04:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
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rollick
Sep. 17th, 2010 08:58 pm (UTC)
Sadly, they have a use. The same use that's caused so many other websites to adopt them. They get the same people coming back over and over and over to have conversations, and looking at the same page 25 times a day instead of just the one time it takes to read it. Which inflates page views, which means we can charge advertisers more, which means we can stay in business.

Seriously, if you hate the comments, don't read them. I tell people this often. Someday I might even learn to follow that advice myself.
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editrix26
Sep. 17th, 2010 08:08 pm (UTC)
wee correction
YA literature is written for those ages 12-18. Children's literature is for those birth to age 12. Correcting this conception is part of what I do for a living. They were grouped together for many years, but they started being considered separately in the mid-'70s to early '80s when the body of literature aimed directly at teens started growing ("Forever," "Annie on My Mind," and so on).

There is certainly some gray area in the middle-grade literature (the stuff aimed at those ages 10-12) and certainly with some series, like Harry Potter, where the early books are obvs. for 12-year-olds and the final books are a little more sophisticated.

I personally hate when people say "it's not very well written" because I agree, that's when the conversation stops. Being a YA or children's book doesn't excuse that.
ludickid
Sep. 17th, 2010 08:16 pm (UTC)
Re: wee correction
Interesting. I went to high school in the mid-'80s, and my understanding was that by that point -- 15-18 -- you were more or less supposed to be reading 'adult' literature. It took me a while to even figure out what "YA" was supposed to mean. (I am old, is what I am saying.)

Thanks for this information! It is useful to me!
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roseyv
Sep. 17th, 2010 08:58 pm (UTC)
I agree (and identify) with everything you just said, except for the footnote. Which, while it makes perfect sense and I can’t reasonably argue with, I still can’t completely get behind because I do think it’s possible for a book to be less than really well-written and still be just a really ripping good story. Same with movies – I will (voluntarily) watch the goddamn Hitcher any time I stumble across it on SciFi channel. It’s still a sucktastic movie.
culturalvacuum
Sep. 17th, 2010 11:24 pm (UTC)
All you have to say is that you do not like such entertainment products. Saying that you do not like these things because you are not a child sounds very much like you are saying that every adult who does like such products is a child.

Are you really surprised that people act with defensiveness and even hostility when you've basically dropped a strongly implied insult into your own statement of opinion?

Some thought experiments:

-- "I don't like American Idol, but that's just because I have good taste in music."

-- "I'm opposing the Park51 project, because I'm not a traitorous sell-out."

No one really cares if you like entertainment for children or not. It's the "because" that creates problems.

And some of the best, most lyrically written and deeply insightful books that I've read in the last five years have been so-called "Young Adult" novels. If a book is written badly, it's because the author is a bad writer, not because of the age group of the audience it's pitched at.
ludickid
Sep. 18th, 2010 01:34 am (UTC)
Whoa! Hold on there, buckaroo. Your thought experiments are gonna yield unusable results, I'm afraid, because you're substituting a descriptive element with a value judgment.

When I say "I do not like children's books because I am not a child", "child" isn't meant as an insult. It's meant as a description. Children and adults, obviously, have different levels of understanding and different reading levels, and what I am saying is, the necessary formal elements of a children's book that makes it comprehensible to its target audience also render it less appealing to me. When I say "Children's books are aimed at children", I'm making a pretty straightforward statement of fact, not a value judgment. You, on the other hand, seem to think that when I say "Children's books are aimed at children", I'm really saying "Children's books are aimed at dull-witted morons".

Your equivalencies are not equivalent at all, because they contain value judgments. Your equating of "child" to "traitorous sell-out" or 'person with bad taste in music' is nothing even close to what I intended; your first example, to be in line with that I was trying to say, would need to read "I don't like American Idol, but that's just because I don't like popular music." You've inserted a layer of judgmental criticism where none exists.

Now, as for how some of the "best, most lyrically written and deeply insightful books" you've read have been YA books, well, good for you, sweetheart. I can't say the same, partly because I haven't read a lot of YA books, and partly because different things speak to different people. But it seems like you're doing exactly what I said above people do: you're getting defensive over what you perceive is a referendum on your taste, which it is not.
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stavner
Sep. 18th, 2010 12:17 am (UTC)
I've noticed that a lot of animation fans, like Michael Barrier, Thad Komorowski, John Kricfalusi, and the guys at Cartoon Brew won't accept _anything_ that was made since Termite Terrace closed. They refuse to accept that Pixar films, or any other CGI films, are any good, for example.
thaitea
Sep. 18th, 2010 04:21 am (UTC)
Dear Leonard:

What's your beef with kids? You were a kid once; don't pretend you weren't!

Maybe you were one of those totally boring bespectacled three-piece wool suit-wearing nerdy kids who read actuarial tables for fun while the rest of us were having a good time peeing in the pool.

Lay off the kids! What are you, some kind of kid-hater? If there's one person I can't stand it's a kid-hater. STOP HATING!
ludickid
Sep. 18th, 2010 04:25 am (UTC)
I try but the kids just suck so bad! OH I HATE THEM
fengi
Sep. 18th, 2010 08:17 am (UTC)
As someone who grew up reading School Library Journal the term "young adult" literature existed long before "grown ass" folks started reading it. It was professional jargon, established by a few decades. The framing of this does seem to hint at some value judgment, which is true of any discussion of differences in taste, especially blanket statements about an entire category of art vis-a-vis the intended audience.

"But the mere fact of admitting that, as an adult, I prefer cultural products aimed at adults, seems to send people into spasms of anger." As others point out "I can't imagine an lone adult, without a child, sitting down and actually, genuinely enjoying" does seem to imply something, perhaps for how it echos other statements about other groups. It may be a misreading because kid-exclusive work has been a pretext for mass produced crap excused as child oriented simplicity, be it Hannah Barbara or Barney, the kid audience is used to pass off something shoddy and banal. Plus kid friendly has become child safe, the latter often meaning adult hostile.

I would argue anything made by adults has adult elements. Rare is material aimed at kids which doesn't contain an adult reference, even if it's only recognition of the adult skill needed to work within age defined boundaries.

While kids material has always been around there was/is age neutral culture designed to be enjoyed by different ages in different ways - something less accommodated by modern target marketing.

Beyond quality, notions of age appropriateness are weighted with political and consumerist agendas, which rely on anxiety. There's unease over maturity as reflected by one's chosen consumer goods; emphasizing how one isn't interested in something because one isn't a child can seem more about establishing adult identity than the product. People may be responding to this even if that subtext is not in any way intended.

The mention of Batman: The Animated Series is interesting, as it was a Fox Kids tv show which aired at 4:30 and was clearly designed to be viewed by 11 year olds from the level of plot complexity to the vocabulary level. When Fox aired repeats in prime time, it flopped. It is a kids show, even if it transcended that category - but that transcendence calls the premise into question.

Edited at 2010-09-18 08:38 am (UTC)
fengi
Sep. 18th, 2010 01:08 pm (UTC)
Apology
I tried to revise this into something coherent and less unjustifiably scolding, but it still reflects my first impaired reading. My apologies.
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Leonard Pierce is a freelance writer wandering around Texas with no sleep or sense of direction. If you give him money he will write something for you. If you are nice to him he may come to your house and get drunk.

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