While at the California Kindergarten Conference, I attended a workshop on Media Literacy. The presenter offered alarming research about the unhealthy effects of the media (TV, movies, video games, popular music, and yes, even the Internet) on young children.
I'll post later about tools to help parents to help keep their kids media safe.
But for now, I offer you this allegory.
Note: This is a work of fiction. The characters are not real people. Nat and Amanda represent corporations. Corporations are not real people either, but the law gives corporations many rights just as if they were people.
When I opened my front door, it took me a second to recognize my parents’ best friends, Nat B. Carter, and Amanda B. Carter.
I hadn’t seen them in years, not since 1969 when I’d left home for college. They still looked cheery and optimistic—but how could this be?—they looked younger than when I knew them 20 years before. Plastic surgery? Personal trainers? Make overs?
Maybe just the fact they were so incredibly wealthy and well-connected. Everyone knows them. They’re even friends of the President.
They expected to be the center of attention.
“Uncle Nat and Aunt Amanda! Wow, you guys look fantastic! The years have been good to you. Come on in,” I said, wondering why I was getting a such creepy feeling. Was their impossible youthfulness?
“Thanks, Dan! May we stay?” they asked, as they pushed their way past me into the living room.
“Make yourselves comfortable,” I said, trying to suppress my annoyance at their presumption in barging into my house. I had known Nat and Amanda throughout my childhood, but had lost track of them. They were, as I said, my parents’ best friends. In my youth, they came over to our house after supper several nights a week.
Nat and Amanda were by far the most entertaining people I’d ever known. They took a special interest in us kids, the five of us. They told stories, played fun games, and kept us up to date on everything we needed to know. They seemed incredibly well-informed about the world— objective too—but I was beginning to learn that they had actually shaded the truth far more than they wanted me to know.
And here they were 20 years later, Nat and Amanda, visiting me in my own home. They took their place in my living room as if they were on display and expected to be the center of attention. Well dressed. Slim. Great complexion. Perfect hair.
“So, Dan, your mom and dad tell us that your wife have kids, of your own now,” Amanda smiled. “We’d like to get to know your kids. We love kids. We can tell them some stories. Like we did for you.”
“They’ve gone to bed,” I told Amanda. "I don't want to wake them up." Their immediate interest in my children aroused my suspicion. When I was growing up Nat and Amanda had been more dignified and respectful. I noticed something else: The slim briefcases that used to carry pictures of their travels had been replaced by wheeled carry-ons. What was in them?
“Oh, come on, Dan. We can tell them a bedtime story. Can't we at least peek in their bedrooms?”
My mind flooded with disturbing memories. I remembered that they told scary stories that upset me when I was a in grade school.
I was now actively suspicious of them.
“Your bags are huge,” I said. “You used to carry a slim briefcase. Care to show me your stories?”
Nat’s discomfort got harder to hide.
“Oh, sure.” A flash of discomfort crossed Nat’s face, but he composed himself, pulled some file folders out of the front of his carry-on and said, “Here. Here’s a story about the penguins in Antarctica.” Before I could really I look it over he handed me three more. “Here’s one about conservation efforts in the rain forests. Here’s another. This one can teach your kids to read. Are your kids interested in sports? Here's one about the Super Bowl.”
“Wait,” I interrupted him. “Slow down. What’s that—in the back of your bag?”
“What, this? Nothing.” Nat’s discomfort got harder for him to hide.
“Show me what’s in the back of your bag, there, Uncle Nat.”
“I’d rather not show you that material,” Nat said.
“We’re talking about my kids,” I said, remembering the times Uncle Nat and Aunt Amanda scared me, hurt me, and enticed me to eat junk food, and told me more about the facts of life than I wanted to know.
“I’m afraid I’m not going to show you any of that material,” he said.
“This my house. Hand it over.” My uncle and aunt may be entertaining people, but the safety and happiness of my kids comes first.
“No,” he said.
I’d had it. I grabbed his carry-on bag and went through the whole thing. I pulled out one file after the other. And what did I see? Pictures of murder scenes. Scantily dressed women. Sexual situations. Blood. Violence. Crime. Drugs, both legal and not. And endless images of junk food being eaten by happy looking children. I knew if they actually ate the stuff they'd be fat and miserable.
“Get out of my house! And don’t ever come back!” I opened my front door and threw the both of them out of my house.
My amoral uncle, Nat B. Carter, and aunt, Amanda B Carter, (NBC and ABC for short) and all their other cousins, CBS, CNN, FOX, ESPN etc. have never been allowed in my house.
They are not my friends. They are unwelcome in my home.