Thursday, October 24, 2013

In Praise of "Kids' Stuff"

One of my petty pet peeves are people who will dismiss something, such as an animated movie, because they believe it to be “kids' stuff,” something unbefitting for an adult intellect. They therefore then ignore it and won't partake in it.

This is an unfortunate mistake, for I believe a lot of things deemed kids' stuff is done so for fallacious reasons, and to dismiss them not only deprives one of a potential value that could contribute to the enjoyment of life, but also talks down to the creators who put a lot of thought and work into their creations.

As an example, I submit my own case, where I dismissed Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse comics and later got refuted, much to my pleasure.

Given the sterile image of golly-gee Mickey Mouse, I immediately dismissed the idea of being able to enjoy Mickey Mouse comics, the three-word combination of which sounds silly on its own. His popular image is that of such a goody-two shoes that he seems fit for either greeting cards, toddlers' education programs, and a caricature  to be laughed at.

When I first heard they were taking the effort to reprint the comics created by some guy Floyd Gottfredson, I dismissed it for months. . . but then one day I ran into one of his comic sequences *Island in the Sky*, printed in another comics anthology, and was surprised to be impressed.

Impressed enough to actually move past my original dismissal and actually check out those volumes. Here my reasoning was refuted: Mickey Mouse was of a different personality in different situations, toting real guns and in real danger of getting killed by villains. The comics were so well-crafted and clever that I did authentically feel suspense and a sense of mystery as the author intended, and then fully understood why a group of scholars and fans would care so much about these comics as to reprint them in their original format and include high-quality essays alongside.

Thinking back, if I had stuck to my guns believing this to be kids' stuff, I would have enjoyed my life a little less. I've converted to Floyd Gottfredson fandom. I was also guilty of insulting Gottfredson's  hard work, for in examining it with an adult intellect, he has succeeded in high-quality drawings, intelligent storylines, riveting emotional effects, interesting character psychologies, and so forth.

If we all pay attention, we could find evidence everywhere of things that seem to be only for kids, but which could stimulate an adult mind and be very enjoyable. Just as I dismissed Mickey Mouse comics, I dismissed Donald Duck comics too, only to meet the same refutation and understand that Carl Barks is legendary for good reason. A few nights ago I watched Ratatouille with a bit of hesitation, only to find a gripping story, well-made jokes, and an amazing theme and philosophy.

I think the main reason why things such as animated movies, comics, and so forth tend to get labeled as kids' stuff is due to the fallacy of Guilt by Association: People notice younger audiences are especially drawn to these particular mediums, and consequently assume it must be a telltale of it's lower intellectual appeal, thus driving away adults.

It's not true that things like comics – given Floyd Gottfredson and Carl Barks out there – are necessarily lower in intellectual stimulation, but there is at least a potential logic as to why younger audiences are drawn to them. I think people like children are drawn to cartoons because it's so perceptually different that it's easier to engage their level of mind-formation, whereas a live-action show is more mentally demanding, and perhaps too taxing. In other words, at their level animation is eye-catching and eye-holding; it's obvious that it's “different.” A lot more attention is demanded for primarily conceptually engaging shows, so children may wonder the worth of watching “real-life on television” when it isn't perceptually different than what they observe in the real-world. Adults notice the mediums' special ability to grab and hold youthful attention like this, and perhaps perform Guilt by Association accordingly.

The key mistake of the fallacy is not the show's content, but of its mere appearance. Because the medium happens to be a comic or an animation, according to the fallacy, then it must therefore entail a lower intellectual quality.

To avoid making this mistake, we must be just by ignoring what medium the work happens to appear it, and consider whether its content has actual merit or not. Carl Barks Scrooge McDuck and Donald Duck stories, for instance, do have a simplistic and childish drawing style, but are remembered for their extremely well-crafted stories, involving dramatic setups, globe trotting, resilient villains, and so forth. One has to push aside the art style here and examine what the stories for what they're worth, and then one can comprehend why Carl Barks' version of Scrooge and Donald were so popular.

So popular, in fact, he had a tangible impact on various aspects of the culture: Donald invented a real-life way to raise sunken ships with ping-pong balls, a celestial body is named after Barks, Steven Spielberg literally and intentionally copied a scene from a Scrooge McDuck story for an Indiana Jones movie, and so on. Your neighbor may condescendingly dismiss the reading of Donald Duck comics, but here inventors, scientists, and a filmmaker have shown their appreciation.

But, of course, when we're talking about shows like *Blue's Clues*, then of course it's for kids; my reasoning holds still.

I'm writing this out because I think people have a lot to miss out on in life if they continue to dismiss things purely for reasons of how the works look or what mediums they appear in. By engaging in such blanket dismissals, who knows what things they're missing out on that they could have utterly cherished otherwise?

Live life a little more happily by enjoying “kids' stuff.”

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