Instant gratification occurs sometimes out of love and sometimes as a quick way out of a difficult situation, be it meltdown time at the grocery store or Christmas time when we’re lost on what to buy our children.
We live in an age of instant gratification. For the purposes of this post, instant gratification is defined as the moment when a child expresses a desire for something and gets it immediately or when a child has their frequent requests for the same thing reinforced. My proposal is that children are being gratuitously gratified in the arts and entertainment.
There is great artistic potential in cinema and television. They also contain great lucrative potential for their makers. Where the movie meets the screen you have a dynamic meeting of artists (those who draw, write, imagine, create), producers (the ones investing and looking for a return on investment), marketers (those responsible for making this thing catch), parents who choose what is good for their children to watch, and the children eager to consume the media.
In my experience, children are fascinated with the movement on the screen. My eldest child is in preschool. Her entrance to preschool coincided with the onslaught of the Disney machine’s exploitation of Frozen. Everywhere we go we see Frozen paraphernalia. The endless exposure makes Frozen the first thing on a child’s mind, or second perhaps, to Santa. So when asked what they want, or when they point out the things they see in a store, it’s Frozen. Perhaps the parent buys it or plays it because they see it makes the child happy. What if the child would be happy with many other options, but lists Frozen items because they are always in the forefront.
I don’t have many problems with the movie Frozen. I personally dislike it because I think her abandonment of the throne, the difficulties of a town suddenly frozen would have been more interesting to examine rather than her joy at escaping repression. I don’t begrudge those who do like it. I find the famous song out-of-sync with the wider context. It celebratory style misses the fact that she is a newly crowned queen abandoning her kingdom. It is said that part of the attraction is you cannot quite determine if it’s a villain’s song or princess’s song. I dislike the movement of misunderstood villain’s. It doesn’t make for good story-telling. It makes for weak, confused story-telling that often whitewashes the impact of the misunderstood villain’s actions on others.
Back to topic: perhaps it would help our children’s imaginations to limit their intake of favorite media as you would with favorite food. It seems harmless but children easily become closed in on certain things. “Do it again”…you know the mantra. Eventually the parent needs to say no and take a break from paddy-cake. This is good for children.
I believe it is important for children to be surrounded by beautiful things: paintings, music, and literature. Variety is important too, balanced with the familiar. How often do we think of the quality of the media they consume? Do we continue with trite tunes and cartoons because they’re “educational” and children like them? Studies have found that those who read more classic fiction showed greater empathy than those who read less classic fiction. Education can also take place through conversation when encountering art, whatever form it may be. I do not know at what age the child starts talking back when the characters on children’s shows ask a question, but mine have yet to do it.
We are called to elevate our senses above the brute beast. Art has a transcendent quality we desperately need in this busy, anxiety-laden culture. Art points us to God. It shows us something an animal could never organize or create. If you want to give your children, Frozen, do it, but also consider sitting them down to Ernest and Celestine, a French film whose animation is like a moving water-color painting. If you love Idina Menzel, Broadway singing, or R&B singing, fine. But also consider giving them “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” without words (called Variations on “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman”). Have children’s songs but consider orchestral arrangements. If children’s music makes you crazy, as it does for lots of parents, consider oldies. “We all live in a Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles or “The Watermelon Song” by Tennessee Ford are great for children’s appetites but adult friendly. When children ask for endless repetition, just say no and offer them something new. See what happens.
Why lower our offerings for children? Let’s elevate it and in their growing ask them to grow in appreciation of the things we chose to expose them to. Hard to think of what to use? That is the Disney machine’s marketing arm’s goal. If you don’t know they can tell you, then buy their product.
Don’t let your culture be determined by advertising and what the store’s say it’s time for. We can do more! And I believe it will help our children just that much more to thrive, imagine and create.