My son is 11 years old, just a couple of months shy of 12 as I write this. In those 11-plus years, I have of course loved him with all my heart, as well as done my parental due diligence: fed him, clothed him, hugged and kissed him, dried his tears, caught his barf, wiped his butt. Took him to preschool where parent volunteering was required, and thus spent an inordinate amount of time wiping complete strangers’ kids’ butts. (If that isn’t dedication, I don’t know what is.) Read to him, then helped him learn to read. Took him to see Santa and the Easter Bunny. Assisted a couple of days a week in his elementary classes. Schlepped him to innumerable birthday parties and even hosted one, his seventh, at our house. (Once was quite enough, thank you. After that, Chuck E. Cheese was my homie.)
Of course, now that my son is closing in on the teen years, my job has changed somewhat. Once the driving force behind the Cub Scouts pack, moms like me are not quite as welcome in the Boy Scout troop. I now merely wave goodbye and remind him to take his phone as he leaves the house instead of driving him to his friends’ houses. I’m supposed to honor his request that I don’t embarrass him in front of other kids. (Yeah, like that’s going to happen while I have breath in my body.)
But there is one element of his preteen life that I must direct in order for my child to develop into any sort of well-rounded adult—Okay, wait. Let’s bring this in; we don’t want it getting out to just anybody. This is top-level, double-secret-probation type parenting here. Not the kind of thing you read about in parenting books. You ready?
My job lately has been to…guide my child’s cultural education. Yeah, art, music, literature, blah blah blah. More important than all that…I’m talking television, people! Good old-fashioned TV shows. You can’t be too careful these days, or our impressionable youth will grow up on a junk-food diet of The Voice and three thousand flavors of CSI.
As a pop culture maven myself, I cannot—will not—stand for that.
My son prefers to binge-watch entire shows via Netflix or DVD set, and actually asks for good TV shows to watch, which makes my job easier. Since he’s asked for recommendations I’ve loaded him up with plenty. Some were fails. Most, however, went over well.
• King of the Hill – Long-lasting, goofy, sometimes obnoxious, always moral. Big hit, ended up being a rewatch.
• The Simpsons – Please. Instant addiction that has carried him into live viewings. It will never die.
• Futurama – I consider Futurama, The Simpsons, and King of the Hill the trifecta of late twentieth/early twenty-first century animation. My son concurs. Even if the racy stuff goes right over his head at his age. (I’m okay with that. Someday all too soon he’s going to look back and go “Hey…”)
• The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Yes, the BBC TV show, not the feature film. Not as good as the books (which he read first), of course, yet the super-low-budget special effects actually make it endearing.
• Fawlty Towers – A twelve-episode master class in biting British comedy. When my son declared it genius, I wept proud mama tears.
• Monty Python’s Flying Circus – Surprisingly, a little too uneven for his taste. And a reminder that it’s not as easy to binge on the surreal variety show as it is other shows that have storylines. He dips in now and again, though, which is fine. As long as he’s seen the “Dead Parrot” sketch, I’m good.
• WKRP in Cincinnati – More proud mama tears as my son embraced the radio station–set sitcom’s insanity despite its early ’80s look and feel and live audience guffawing, which he was not used to. Now we can simply say “phone police” or “Hallo, we’re the Scum of the Earth” for an instant family laugh.
• Enlisted – One all-too-short season of a brilliant comedy about three brothers in the army. Hilarious and touching, with tons of heart. If you haven’t seen it, seek it out. You won’t be sorry.
• Doctor in the House – A rare fail. I thought if he liked Monty Python, he’d enjoy this medical school comedy written by some of the same comedians. Not sure why he drifted from this. I hope he’ll go back to it.
• Dilbert – Back to animation. Not as stunning as the famous trifecta, but solid office-based humor that veered into the surreal.
• Taxi – Couldn’t lose, not with Latka and Reverend Jim Ignatowski in the mix. Sure enough, two thumbs up from my spawn. I kinda figured he’d fall for it—he’s got a thing for goofballs and burnouts.
• Community – Only a handful of episodes in and he’s already hooked, even though it’s still behaving like a conventional sitcom. I keep saying, “Just wait till it goes off the rails.” He’s going to adore it.
And somewhere in between we have to squeeze in This Is Spinal Tap. Because pop culture is so important, a parent just can’t leave it to chance.
Have you guided your children’s pop culture education? What have you nudged under their noses in the hopes that they’ll take to it? Which TV shows? Movies? Music? Share in the comments!
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