I am probably not alone in my parental aspiration to try and accept everything that Jack likes in life.
But I hate Caillou.
For the unitiated or childless: Caillou is a cartoon about a four-year old Canadian boy who is bald. His name is pronounced Kai-You. He has a sister named Rosie and a cat named Gilbert. The cartoon follows his adventures.
I use the word “adventures” loosely and very, very generously.
My hatred starts with the theme song. In theory, I think everyone should have a personal theme song. But these lyrics are the inane ramblings of a patient in a physchiatric ward. Even worse, the song is incredibly catchy, so I find myself humming it during meetings or my drive into work.
This is a sample lyric:
Growing up is not so tough/Except when I’ve had enough/But there’s lots of fun stuff/I’m Caillou
It’s that second line I don’t get. There is nothing about this kid’s life that will cause enough trauma to make him not want to grow up.
All of Caillou’s “stories” are told by his grandmother. It’s no worse a creative choice than any other they make on this show, except she narrates things that are happening right on screen. “Caillou was cold, so he put on his coat to go outside.” We KNOW, Grandma. We can see it right there. I think even Jack finds her input to be an insult to his intelligence.
Grandma’s voiceover is done with this sugary, shaky breathlessness that is meant to sound like an old person to a young child, but does not sound like any old person I have ever heard in real life.
After about two minutes, you want to take grandma by the elbow and lead her to a nice chair out on the porch where she can narrate to her heart’s content without you having to listen to her.
“There goes a bus down the street.”
“Here come the mailman, with a sack full of letters.”
“I just wet myself.”
Caillou giggles constantly. I don’t know if that is normal behavior for a four year-old.
He giggles when he puts on his snow pants. At his grandfather’s horrible jokes. At getting a spoon from a cabinet. Most his giggling is prompted by things are not inherently fun or laugh-inducing experiences. Either the show is trying to brainwash children into thinking that they need to always be happy or there is something seriously wrong with this kid.
My vote is for the latter. Because the only other person I know, real or fictional, who giggles inappropriately all the time is The Joker.
Despite his jovial nature, Caillou is a flavorless, vanilla child who lives in a flavorless, vanilla world. His biggest conflicts — Caillou is upset with a friend who fell on him while they were playing — have no teeth to them because Caillou never actually DOES anything. You just hear his senile old grandmother telling you that Caillou was upset with his friend while Caillou stands around with the same blank expression on his big, round face.
I want to see Caillou smack his friend in the mouth. That’s what kids really do. Then maybe kids who watch would learn a lesson worth learning instead of, “If you pout long enough, everything will work out fine.”
Of course, Jack is obsessed with the show. When an episode is over, he’ll turn to me and tap his fingers together and say, “More Caillou. More Caillou.”
So I will watch it with him, because I don’t ever want him to think that the only thing I will do with him are things that I like. Or that I’ll make fun of him for liking this. With the colors and the songs and the simple storylines, I can understand why he does.
I try to keep my commentary to myself when he’s watching, but it’s another story when the wife is involved.
Her: “Why do you think he’s bald?”
Me: “Maybe he has a disease. Leprosy or something.”
Her: “That would explain a lot.”
Parents have been bagging on kids’ entertainments for as long as there have been parents and kids. Parents didn’t like Sinatra or Elvis or The Beatles or 90210 or Barney. (Parents still hate Barney, as far as I can tell.)
A few weeks ago, due to my massive power and influence in the parental blogging community (insert eye roll here), I was invited to the opening of Little Beans Cafe in Chicago. It is an almost completely foreign concept, in that it is a public space made for both parents and small children. For the kids, a playroom with a train table and a number of play houses that the kids can run around in. For the parents, young chaperones who watch over the kids and a small, quiet cafe where they can have a cup of coffee and read a book. Hyacynth, one of the mothers I met — I was one of two dads there, which is a topic for an entirely different post — wrote a fine write – up of it here.
It’s a great place. But more important, it feels like an entirely new concept. A generation or two ago, if kids went out with their parents, they went to some place that appealed to the parents (e.g. bingo parlor, pool hall) or to the kids (e.g. playground, zoo). There were no middle grounds, no places of mutual appeal.
I think this is probably why Pixar movies, and a certain period of Disney movies before them, are so popular. They work on a couple of levels, for different age groups. (As proof of that, my wife, an avowed cartoon avoider, watches Finding Nemo every year on her birthday.)
There is a bridge forming between the Great Divide of kid culture and adult culture. But it’s taking a really long time to build.
Caillou probably wouldn’t annoy me so much if so much of really young kids’ culture wasn’t … how do I put this delicately … crap. Most kids’ books, and I mean the ones at the youngish end of the spectrum here, are terrible, little more than a bound set of descriptions.
Like Goodnight Moon. Have you ever read Goodnight Moon? Don’t. It’s awful. There’s no story.
Maybe I’m holding things for Jack to a standard they aren’t meant to fulfill. The cartoons I watched as a kid were beyond stupid and probably fueled by massive amounts of pot in the writers’ room — The Brady Kids and Scooby-Doo and H.R. Puffenstuff and my beloved SuperFriends, which does not hold up well at all — but at least the characters did something other than sitting and coloring or thinking about riding on a slide.
Maybe what bugs me is Caillou’s example of dazed petulance. Jack never sits still. I don’t want him turning this kid into his role model.
Whatever the reason, I’m hoping this grumpiness toward a four-year old animated boy isn’t a sign of things to come. Of me, shuffling out onto the porch in my slippers, shaking my fist at kids to get off my lawn. All parents want to think they’re still cool. Why else would the minivan be reinvented as The Swagger Wagon?
Jack, because you love him, you keep on with your boy, Caillou. I’m not faulting you for your tastes in entertainment. I guess I’m ticked that some group of people could produce such mushy pudding and put it on television.
But I can’t wait until you’re old enough to introduce you to Bugs Bunny.
Now there’s a cartoon.
(Full disclosure: I was not compensated for mentioning Little Beans Cafe, but Jack and I did receive free admission and lunch. In all honesty, I would pay three times the price of admission to watch him run around and play the way he did that day. It’s a great place that I hope opens locations across the country.)