The picture is a pile of paper wads from a single day. Paper wads. The custodian forgot to finish sweeping the floor and left this in the middle of the room. (Sweeping floors is difficult for a one armed man I guess. He’s not an amputee or anything. I have just never seen him working without a cell phone plastered to his ear.) I have actually watched a student who regularly comes to class with no paper get up, walk across the room and borrow a piece of paper just to wad it up to throw it at someone. Mind you…This particular student won’t use paper to turn in an assignment or anything like that. He just likes to throw paper at other boys.
It made me start to wonder something. Is throwing paper wads a childish activity? Does it rate up there with pulling pigtails and spitballs? Or do grown-ups throw paper wads as well? I know that, as an adult, I have never thrown a paper wad at a colleague. Well, maybe once in a newsroom back when we still used typewriters. And I was either frustrated or flirting. Or both. Probably both. So maybe it is not the paper wads themselves I am worried about. It might be the importance of the paper wads. They just aren’t that important to me but to my 15-18 year old students, paper wads rank up there with cell phones, iPods and girls. And way above education.
So I soul search a little. Was throwing paper at another boy or in the vicinity of a trashcan as important to me when I was in high school? I think I have to say, “No. It wasn’t” I think I was way too busy doing other stupid things but I really can’t remember what those things might have been. Girls were definitely on the list. So were cars and making money. Music? Perhaps but it was all on LP and AM radio. I worked a lot in the summer and after school too. Maybe I didn’t have enough time for paper wads. So I am going to go out on a limb and say that it is a pretty silly thing to do at school when learning is supposed to be taking place.
SpongeBob Is The Antichrist
A sixteen year-old boy or girl should not care about cartoons. Cartoons should not play a significant role in any teenager’s life. But is this as true as it once was? A decade or so ago, some broadcasting genius realized that there was a vast and relatively untapped market out there to exploit. A veritable Bakken Formation of potential ad sales. That market was, of course, tweens. Entire networks soon opened up and were marketing directly to the 8 – 12 year-old demographic. The market expanded as program directors ordered shows that appealed to a wider age group. Parents could chuckle at the Fairly Odd-Parents and the little side jokes their kids would never get. They were too busy laughing at fart jokes and animated spit takes. And then there was SpongeBob. I think that SpongeBob just might be the Antichrist. Or is he?
I read this quote in the Atlantic. The article was SpongeBob’s Golden Dream by James Parker.
“SpongeBob is one of the greatest believers in the American dream in all of children’s entertainment,” says Greg Rowland, whose consultancy, Greg Rowland Semiotics, has performed brand analyses for Unilever, KFC, and Coca-Cola. “He’s courageous, he’s optimistic, he’s representing everything that Mickey Mouse should have represented but never did. There’s even something Jesus-like about him—a 9-year-old Jesus after 15 packets of Junior Mints.”
SpongeBob. Not only has he surpassed Mickey Mouse in terms of potential, he is like young Jesus on a sugar rush. Of course this might just be the definition of Antichrist…That and a broad appeal. Certain cartoon characters work because they reach across age demographics. Instead of being for 8 – 12 year-old viewers or 13 – 16. Now we can market to 8 – 25 or 35 or 55 year-old audiences. And that way, we never have to grow up. And that is a problem.
I don’t remember my father watching cartoons with me. He may have watched Bugs Bunny with me but I am sure that if he had, I would remember. Dad was a very busy guy and he worked very hard. Please recall that years ago, if a kid wanted to watch a cartoon, he or she had to wait until Saturday morning where the big three networks aired them for three or four hours. That was it. And my dad used his Saturdays to sleep in. He deserved it. And he knew that Mom would be up and that the cartoons we were watching were harmless. So we sat and watched cheaply animated cartoons like Space Ghost, the Herculoids and Jonny Quest. Some weirder shows like H. R. Pufnstuf and the Banana Splits. And the Monkees. I have to admit, I still love the Monkees. And Lancelot Link.
So anyway…these broad appeal cartoons that started popping up in the 1990s have helped stunt the emotional and intellectual growth of our teenagers. I can mention groundbreaking TV shows in my classroom like Seinfeld or 24 and it results in blank stares. If I mention SpongeBob, even in passing, I can lose control of the room. Everything from a rousing chorus of, “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?” to “SpongeBob? That’s my show, Boyeee!” Nobody gets that excited over Masterpiece Theater. But if we live in a perpetually stunted state of intellectual development, when will we willingly grow up? I once heard someone say that the definition of being an adult is developing the ability to listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of the Lone Ranger. I guess that doesn’t really apply anymore…