05 March 2007

The Secret Word Was "Confusion"

The wife and I recently introduced our daughter to Pee-Wee's Playhouse, which is available on DVD in two boxed sets (see here and here). She's enjoyed the episodes she's seen thus far and it's always a treat for a parent to see something they remembered from childhood (or, in this case, my years of early adult immaturity) afresh through a child's eyes.

In many ways, Pee-Wee's Playhouse was ahead of its time. When it came out, it was one-of-a-kind; now, you can see its influence on numerous cartoon and live action programs on various children's networks. As such, there was a degree of familiarity for her in the craziness in the Playhouse. She readily accepted cowboys and sea captains showing up to play with a grown-up kid in a suit and bowtie. She had no issues with a talking chair or a genie in a jeweled box. The picture phone conversations Pee-Wee had with his friends? Just like video instant messaging on the computer. Nothing there she couldn't grasp or accept.

When the King of Cartoons arrives midway through each episode, however, she'd get a look on her face like the dog does when I meow at him during moments of boredom. The King comes to the Playhouse to show old cartoons; it's not what he's showing that perplexes my daughter, but how.

He announces, "Let the cartoon begin!" and starts a film projector. She doesn't get that. What's film? Where's his DVD player or, if he's really a king, his digital cable with "On Demand" cartoons? If these cartoons are so old, why aren't they on VHS tapes like the most antique movies we have in our house? She has trouble believing that film projectors once existed in our lives. The fact that Mommy and Daddy remember them from classroom days past means that we must be as ancient as Pee-Wee's friend Pterry the Pterodactyl or the family of miniature dinosaurs who live in the Playhouse wall.


Mobile Phones said...


It isn’t that technology changes. Technology has always changed over time. We aren’t the first generation of adults to marvel that our children don’t know what we’re talking about. What boggles the mind is the speed with which it seems to be changing these days. Within the space of 30 years, we’ve moved from the dominance of the LP, through 8-track, cassettes, CDs and MP3s. That’s a lot of new formats for just one kind of content. Kudos to you for showing one of your own favorites shows. Despite all these changes, kids often seem willing to embrace good stories, interesting characters, and fun sets. I recently introduced my daughter to a little-known British sci-fi series from my own childhood called The Tomorrow People (just released on DVD). I was addicted to it as a child. To my surprise, so is she thirty years later.

Mobile Phones said...


Did you happen to catch the recent airings of Pee-Wee on Cartoon Network? They ran the entire series over the space of two or three months during their late night “Adult Swim” period. I was amazed at the quality of the show after all this time, and also at the number of stars who got their start there. I think my favorite by far was S. Epatha most lately from Law and Order. I did think it was very apropos that it appeared on cartoon network as I think that even when cartoons weren’t actually going on, there was a real cartoon feel to everything happening. And certainly it seemed to fit right in with the rest of the odd shows who appear there. There was something very nice about the way Pee-Wee segued into Aqua Teen.