Location: Cheshire, Connecticut, United States

devilishly handsome, screamingly funny, overly modest

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Disillusion- Harmful Flaws In My Childhood

Most people feel that the fostering of "harmless" myths in an American child's upbringing, such as the presentation of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny , and the Tooth Fairy as real entities, does little damage. This opinion prevails despite furious, and ultimately humiliating, defenses of these cherished icons in virtually every school playground by innocent, naive children against the forces of evil doubting cynics. The fact that the cynics will inevitably,over time, win this battle is devastating to a child's ego and erodes confidence in the parental guidance that misinformed him in the first place. It sets up a syndrome similar to the first Norse Edda, where the best that can be expected in life is that you die in battle to win the right to join the Aesir in an Armeggedon-like fight against the evil Titans, which you know you are destined to LOSE. It was cold in Norseland with no central heating, so a philosophy of doom and despair was inevitable. Not so here in the USA, so maybe we should give our kids a break with a little more early honesty.

In my own childhood I had a more personal experience with disillusionment. As a first and second grader I was a loyal fan of the "Howdy Doody Show". Howdy and his friends were mostly marionettes, with characters such as Mr. Bluster and Princess Summerfallwinterspring (with whom I was deeply infatuated, wooden though she might be). Other characters included real people like Buffalo Bob Smith and Clarabel the Clown. (By the way, Clarabel was played by Bob Keeshan, who later became the adored Captain Kangaroo. As Clarabel his function was to spray seltzer water on characters he didn't like throughout the show, which made the audience shriek with laughter).The small audience, all children from 3 to 8, sat in what was called the Peanut Gallery, which was panned frequently by the camera to give the kids a piece of their 15 minutes of fame.

My mother surprised me and my sister with tickets to the show (I was 8, my sister 3). I sat with the "big kids" in the upper rows of seats, my sister down below where the children could be supervised by parents just off-camera. The show started and Buffalo Bob came out and started talking. Then Howdy came out onto an adjoining stage and I received the first in a series of shocks. I had expected the to see people above him pulling his strings, but I was completely taken aback when his words were spoken by Buffalo Bob. Smith made no attempt to keep his lips from moving since the camera was not on him. He also had no ability to throw his voice, he only changed accent and inflection with each character. He was the voice of ALL the characters, EVEN THE PRINCESS. I was devastated. My true love was a man. That would have disturbed me at any time in my life, but as a 3rd grader I was a basket case.

On the way home, my mother and sister were chatting about the show. From a lower seat angle my sister couldn't see Bob Smith's lips, apparently, and excitedly was questioning my mother about how the marionettes could talk. As I listened to my mother lie about the"magic" wooden figures, I felt almost physically the dropping away of my confidence in her honesty (a character trait of which my mother professed a great deal of personal pride). Never underestimate the perspicacity of your children, especially in matters of alleged truthful guidance. I don't remember ever believing any unsupported remark my mother made from that day on.

The moral of this narrative is "watch what you say to your kids". The afore-mentioned Bunny and Xmas Elf are good examples. Watch what you say about a personal God also, Pascal's Gambit was all that kept me from atheism during my teen-age (lifelong?) rebellion. In our society, kids are force fed on disillusionment, doomed to disappointment in discovering the untruth of the myths their parents tell them.

By the way, if anybody has a personal disillusionment story, I'd be interested in listening.



Anonymous colleen said...

I used to think the newscasters on TV were talking right out at us and could see me. I hid behind the chair so as not to be seen.

I remember as a girl seeing dummies whose owners were obviouslytalking for them too and thinking it was stupid and so what's the point.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Jake Silver said...

We were just talking the other day about whether or not to do the whole Santa Claus / Easter Bunny thing at all with our son. Hmmm...

4:07 AM  
Blogger Papa Bill said...

You can't take away Santa and the Easter Bunny from your child, they've become social imperatives. But be careful that your son understands that this is make-believe, a fun game but not reality.

8:45 AM  
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