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12 September 2006 @ 09:07 am
I helped babysit a two-year old last night and learned some valuable lessons. When he started missing his parents and chanting "Ma Ma! Ma Ma!" at the door, we tried a variety of techniques to calm him.

My buddy Michael talked to him calmly and reasonably, explaining the situation, and trying to get him interested in other things.

"Ma Ma! Ma Ma!"

My girlfriend showed up later, brimming with energy, and set about reading and playing games with him.

"Ma Ma! Ma Ma!"

Now earlier, Michael and I had noticed that we could briefly snap him out of the fit when we watched some anime. So perhap more cartoons was the ticket. But even that proved tricky. For instance, while the animated adventures of Calliou kept him transfixed, the puppet bits in between sent him right back into...

"Ma Ma! Ma Ma!"

And Thomas the Tank Engine briefly calmed him, but as soon as the story would start focusing on the people rather than the trains, it was...

"Ma Ma! Ma Ma!"

Leaving me, frankly, to scream, "Look you bastards! The show's called Thomas the Tank Engine, not freaking Rich Old Man and His Wife Planning a Goddamned Party! So show us the tank engine!!!"

"Ma Ma! Ma Ma!"

Finally, I just picked him up, sat him down in my lap, and made him watch "Blues Clues." That did the job. The soothing power of Steve and Blue works wonders. By the time his parents came home, he was completely tamed and docile.

All of which just makes me sorta fascinated with why cartoons work. Calliou proved that you don't need talking animals or unrealistic scenery or events. Frankly, except for the soothing voices all the characters use, it's basically just an animated sit-com.

Is it that the lack of visual detail allows their brains to focus more easilly on what's happening? Is it that cartoons just look so different from the real world that they can't help but stare?

I would accuse the animators of hiding subliminal messages in cartoons, but if that worked, I'm sure somebody would have just make a kids show that was nothing but those messages. Afterall, if it works, why hide it? Unless maybe it's images of lactating breasts or something else babies dig which might make some adults uncomfortable.

Ultimately, I think the soothing voice thing helps calm them, but it isn't the main attraction. I think it has to be the combination of otherworldliness and simplistic visual style. But if that's the case, do I like cartoons for the same reason that kids do?

Listening to: Pizzicato Five - "Stars"
Melissa, starry-eyed soy-lovin' Expatriated Zulu: Manga-style meoddharmonic on September 12th, 2006 02:37 pm (UTC)
Is it that cartoons just look so different from the real world that they can't help but stare?

That's my guess. Dora the Explorer was a lifesaver when I was alone with toddler Laurel for 12-16 hours a day.

Once she learned how to run a mouse, her brightly-lit soother became computer games, particularly Elmo's Preschool. (I was greatly relieved when she outgrew it and we moved on to kindergarten games, which are slightly less annoying sound-wise.)

I have a Nestle booklet in Danish on breastfeeding with lots of black-and-white photos and illustrations of breasts and nursing infants and they didn't entertain Laurel at all until she was 4 or 5 and started saying "boobies!" and giggling.
pluribuspluribus on September 12th, 2006 04:51 pm (UTC)
When my daughter was around two, it used to totally creep me out when she watched Barney.

Grownups can laugh and bitch about how stupid it is, but for toddlers, it's pure heroin. Glazed stare, slack jaw, and all.
doNUT!donutgirl on September 12th, 2006 10:22 pm (UTC)
Ooooh. Blues Clues is so awesome when you are having a stressful day. It's like having someone gently pat your head.
Diary of an Ass Monkey: amd:  kirsten ulve assmonkeydiary on September 13th, 2006 01:45 am (UTC)
Plus you can make that weird sound that Blue makes anytime you like for a little giggle.
Pallaspallasathene8 on September 13th, 2006 01:43 am (UTC)
Love the picture today.

When I was a teenager and babysat a little girl everyday one summer, I got horribly addicted to Blues Clues. I loved Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper. I was dissapointed when I no longer had an excuse to watch it. :P

Adam's brother Luke's girlfriend has some dish TV with a zillion channels, one of which is a baby channel. It playes kiddy music and flashes psychedellic patterns on the screen...and Luke is constantly watching it. Ostensibly to annoy us, but I began to think he actually liked it.
Diary of an Ass Monkey: amd:  purple paisleyassmonkeydiary on September 13th, 2006 01:59 am (UTC)
Yeah, Salt and Pepper are good, but something tells me Salt isn't really Paprika's daddy. Personally, I suspect Cumin. Or maybe Cinnamon.
everybody hates a tourist.: mama and the baby bugdynamine on September 13th, 2006 03:05 am (UTC)
cinnamon is their new baby. he's a boy...thus, all signs point to cumin.
Diary of an Ass Monkey: amd: taxiassmonkeydiary on September 13th, 2006 03:25 am (UTC)
Damn you, Cumin!!!
omnihilo on September 14th, 2006 12:23 pm (UTC)
Man, you got off lucky. Try the Boohbahs sometime, that shit is capital T Trippy. My son watched that for a few months around when he turned 2, and it freaked me out. It makes the Teletubbies look like sane programming. I'm convinced that it's a way for aliens to prepare our children for their imminent invasion. But he'd just stare at it, the sounds and colors and movements practically hypnotizing him.

From what I've noticed of cartoons, most of them have the same "jerky" motion that real-life shows have. The changing camera angle every few seconds that serves to keep our attention constantly focused, etc. There's not much consensus on the issue, but there isn't a lot of evidence to suggest that even children's cartoons are any better for a baby or toddler's developing brain than anything else..and there's some cause to worry that such repeated, rapid movements before the brain is developed enough to handle it can be a cause of ADHD.

Both of the guys on Blue's Clues give me the heebie-jeebies; whenever I see them I want to punch them in the face.