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SpongeBob and the Existential Crisis

March 14, 2008 - Wes Burns
So I know this kid. And by kid I mean a three year old daughter of a couple of friends of mine. She's a lot of fun. Now this is something that I don't really have that much experience with. I don't really like kids. I know that most people will tell you that's a terrible thing to say but those people are too busy thinking about their own kids, not kids in general.

Think about it. You tell a person you don't really like kids and what's their first reaction? They tell you about how kids are fantastic and innocent and then they start telling you stories about their kids. Well of course they think their kids are great. The only parents I see that spent their children's formative years explaining their disappointment are explaining the issue to 60 Minutes.

Anyway these people aren't thinking about the situation objectively. If they did they would realize that kids are loud, obnoxious and usually kind of messy. You know its true; these are the kids on the airplanes, the kids in them movie theater, the kids at the video rental store at 11:30pm on a school day because the concept of bedtime has gone the way of the dodo.

Back to my original point. With all my preexisting animosity towards kids as a whole it makes me liking my friends daughter all the more unique. She really is a phenomenal kid; a sweet girl whose a lot funnier then most people eight times her age. So from time to time when I'm watching her I get to see what passes for children's entertainment these days. I'll admit that I've enjoyed more than one episode of Sponge Bob and once you understand the genius that is Sesame Street you carry that with you late into life. But these are the exceptions. Most children's television suffers from one fundamental drawback and it is not the inane plots or the one dimensional characters. Rather this drawback is the insipid, whitewashed plot lines.

Whole episodes of these shows are dedicated to finding a dog in the woods or realizing that drinking rain water is a bad idea. What? How is that interesting? I know the target audience is young but they can handle something with a little more depth.

Am I the only one that remembers the Wayside School books? Sideways Stories of Wayside School? For the poor souls who have not had the pleasure I will surmise: Wayside School is a one room-thirty story school house that is home to a strange collection of teachers and students. Myron, a student that served as class president for one day before fleeing to the basement to live his life in happy obscurity; John who could only read upside down and ate his hated substitute teacher; and Virginia, a thirty two year old woman trapped on the existential nineteenth floor still attending grade school.

These sort of themes don't exist in children's literature anymore. Diego is not going to have an existential crisis of identity, there are no cannibalism issues for Barbie. I remember reading the Wayside books as a young child and loving every strange and fantastic story. These sort of stories are good for kids, they let them know that the world is a strange place and the being a strange person is absolutely normal.

Of course I could be wrong; I don't really like kids.


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