The 9-year-old and I recently had a Saturday evening to ourselves, and when presented with such a rare opportunity for unperturbed bond-reinforcing time we did what any rational father-son combo would do: Watch something like two-plus hours of "Tom and Jerry" cartoons on DVD.
We did this for a many reasons: 1. I canceled cable a few weeks ago, so "MythBusters" and "Deadliest Catch" and "Duck Dynasty" were out. 2. The show "Duck Dynasty" is about a curious and bearded family of boss-level rednecks, which is the most disappointing possible outcome for a show with that title. 3. "Tom and Jerry" beat his usual preferred activity, which is telling me the numerous reasons I'm playing Lego Racetrack incorrectly. 4. What better way is there to share time together than watching 70-year-old cartoons predicated on incomprehensible violence?
Because I'm a grownup, I remembered that "Tom and Jerry" was constant with the hitting and punching and concussing and stabbing and gun-toting and anvil-dropping and whatever it's called when you shove a cat's tail into a food processor. But merciful heavens I guess I forgot that for a while there in the 40s it was OK to insinuate that one-half of your star duo just got decapitated via guillotine, and then to show the other half shrugging and bopping off into the sunset. Like, I get that it's a cartoon, and I think this was a parody of "The Three Musketeers," but I'm just saying that was a pretty realistic ka-thunk sound effect happening there.
There was also one where Jerry procures one of those powerless push-mowers, the kind that use no gas or electricity and make zero noise so naturally everybody hates them, and pushes it back and forth over Tom's back, back and forth, back and forth, with bits of Tom-fur spraying all over the place. And there's my son, and by "my son" I mean "me and my son," basically losing our minds laughing about it.
(And that's just the violence. The DVD reissues of "Tom and Jerry" come with these amazing disclaimers at the beginning, long legal notices that sit on the screen for like 30 seconds no matter how long you pound the MENU button. They're about the ahem, cultural differences inherent in the cartoons then vs. what is acceptable now. It's basically like a 150-word legal document that says "WE KNOW ABOUT THE BLACKFACE, IT WAS THE 40s, WHATAREYOUGONNADORIGHT?")
The Little Man absorbed all this as most Little Men will do, by throwing back his head, cackling at the top of his lungs and wondering what I could have been doing that was so important that I couldn't introduce him to "Tom and Jerry" at an earlier, more impressionable age. "Really?" I could almost hear him thinking, "You're all excited about that boring space movie with the droids and were holding out on me with the MOUSE WHO DROPS BOWLING BALLS DOWN A CAT'S THROAT?" (To be fair this is a kid who used to watch "The Lion King" and found the scene where the patriarchal king Mufasa is killed pretty much ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS, so I was a little hesitant to bring this up.)
Page 2 of 2 - But once I got over mulling the ethical ramifications of such thoughtless, hilarious violence, I suppose I was mostly jealous of the Little Man for not having to worry about any of that, not having to weigh the frontal-lobe consequences of watching a dumb cartoon where two non-communicative drawings beat the living hell out of each other for no discernible purpose. He gets to laugh when Uncle Pecos reaches through the screen to painfully pluck one of Tom's whiskers for the guitar string without remorse. I'm the one who has to sit there thinking "BUT WILL THIS TURN HIM INTO AN EMPATHY-FREE PSYCHOPATH WHEN HE'S 12?" Which is a little silly, because I watched "Tom and Jerry" all the time growing up, and I also played obsessively with G.I. Joe and "Star Wars" action figures and still turned into a soft sissybritches who canceled cable because he was worried that his kids would start reading the titles of those Lifetime movies. The answer, it seems, once again involves compromise: Find some sort of entertainment that lies in the considerable green area between Boring Space Robots and Cat Guillotine.
Though secretly I'm hoping it edges toward the latter.
Jeff Vrabel was pulling for "Duck Dynasty" to be so many other things. He can be reached at http://jeffvrabel.com or followed at http://twitter.com/jeffvrabel.