September 12th, 2006

amd: green grass

cartoons

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?

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