I am a bear. Hibernating. That’s what my wife tells me. That’s interesting, I thought. What are the symptoms?
Well, growing my hair for one thing. Not shaving. But, more importantly, drawing all my energy inwards. Not leaving the house unless I absolutely have to and, when I do, being a little grumpy about it until I get back to my cave.
I mean, house.
Hibernating. Well, it’s just that time of year, isn’t it? I’ve always liked the idea of hibernation, particularly as Irish Winters are just grey and a bit miserable. I’m not the only one who likes the comfort of home during the Winter, right? You can relate, I’m sure.
According to my wife, this isn’t really ab
out the Winter. This is about creativity. And she’s probably right. You see, I have been creating and writing a whole new project over the last couple of months. In the last few weeks, I have been buried in stories and they are totally taking over. I’m thinking about them constantly, getting ideas during the night when I’m supposed to be sleeping and generally working through characters, plots, jokes and songs.
Apparently I do this every time I get stuck into a new project.
I love it.
And I don’t find it difficult when it’s the right project. But, even though I don’t find it difficult… it is difficult. It’s more that sometimes I don’t notice how difficult it is. I’m writing fun stories and really enjoying it, not realising that most of my other functions are shutting down to redirect my energies to the creation of a new life. And if that life is born and the project goes into production, I will soon find myself a member of normal society again.
And I’ll get a haircut.
I never noticed that I did this. The hibernating thing. And yet it’s really important to recognise it, I think. Because it’s a testament to just how difficult the creative process is. When it feels difficult, when it’s struggle (and it often is), it’s important to know that it’s okay – it feels difficult because it is. And when it feels easy, it’s also important to realise that those energies still have to come from somewhere. And it’s okay to retreat to your cave for a while.
So, for right now, I’m just hibernatin’. And that’s okay.
On my eldest daughter’s fourth birthday, I find myself thinking about my role as a father. And, as I write furiously on a new project, I find I’m applying so much that I have learned simply from watching Daisy watch television.
But, as surprising as it may sound, I am not the only parent in children’s television. Honestly. Nor is being a parent a prerequisite of the job. Some of the best people making children’s shows aren’t parents.
So you might be wondering if it makes any real difference. Why do I put up that cheesy ‘Creator/Writer/Father’ bit up there on the header image? Thinking, okay so you’ve procreated. What do you expect? A brass band parade with a giant papier mache recreation of you and your children? Does being a parent matter?
It matters to me.
When I first created Fluffy Gardens, I had no children. I did it wanting only the best for children and was very aware of what I was like as a very young child (sensitive). But I had none of my own. Daisy was born towards the end of the first series.
As Daisy grew, I could see first-hand what effect television has.
Would Fluffy Gardens be a different show had I had children before I created it? Yes, maybe a little. But not much. I made it with positivity (98% natural positivity in every episode, now with added goodwill!). Messages I felt were good for children and I still think they’re good for children. I did learn a few things from my children on how better to get those messages across and how better to entertain (no doubt I’ll get around to discussing some of those on this site) but I’m happy with the messages and they didn’t require any actual children whatsoever.
In fact, they’re mostly things I’d love to say to adults too.
But what having a child did was make me instantly aware that my shows don’t exist in a vacuum. Suddenly, my mission to create a great show wasn’t enough. My children weren’t just going to be affected by what I make ‘ they were going to be exposed to the entire industry. The great, the good, the bad, the really bad, the really, really bad, the… you get the idea. The responsibility of my job, something I’ve always taken very seriously, became even greater. But, more than that, my place in the whole chain shifted.
I was no longer just part of the supply. I was also the demand.
That’s like going from being some guy in a factory making tubes for missiles to being dumped in a war zone during a bombardment. Okay, that’s a little dramatic but it’s the right idea. When those missiles are being directed at you (or your children) it makes you think hard about not just what you do, but what everyone else is doing. And why.
So, yes, it matters.
Happy birthday to my lovely little girl, Daisy! Daddy loves you very much!
My daughter Daisy learned the letter ‘D’ from classic Sesame Street DVDs. Okay, so she now knows all her letters but learning ‘D’ was a big deal back in the day.
Couldn’t I have taught her ‘D’ myself?
It took Grover for her to retain it. Grover is apparently a better educator to my daughter than I am. Regular Grover, that is ‘ that’s what he’s called in our house to distinguish him from Super Grover. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I do just about everything that lovable blue guy tells me to. But it’s a real indicator of the power of television. A power not always used for good but, in this case, was very positive.
As a fan, it seems odd to me that Sesame Workshop are sitting on years and years of fantastic educational television, thousands of episodes, and are only releasing the odd special or classic set here and there with very few episodes. Or unconnected clips on their website.
I know whole seasons are too much to hope for given the volume but how about a full 26-episode set, Sesame Workshop? Featuring every letter of the alphabet? Or 31 even, giving the vowels twice the importance, as you did on the show?
If anyone knows anyone at Sesame Workshop, please tell them to sort it out and get back to me when the set is coming out. Thanks!
When I was growing up, we just had a few channels. Shows like Playschool, Roobarb, the Flumps and other classics were broadcast only at very specific times. Television was more of a family thing. We’d all gather round to watch Scooby-Doo (the fact that every episode was pretty much the same driving my mother absolutely insane).
Things are very different now. It’s not about family viewing. There are dedicated children’s channels for very narrow demographics, some broadcasting 24 hours a day. DVDs at the ready at all times. Sky+. Instant children’s television.
Instant gratification. End of family viewing. Never a moment without the possibility of television.
Is this a bad thing?
Well, I don’t know. I was reading a statistic a while back from an old study that said that many children were engaging in ‘passive’ viewing of adult television for around 80 minutes a day. As in, they were around for the news, movies, dramas and so on. No matter how nice and fun those children’s classics were, their air time was very limited. If the television was on outside of those times, it was television inappropriate for young children.
As far back as 1941, it was seen that 76% of children habitually exposed to movies and radio dramas (it was the early days of television) suffered from increased nervousness. Sleep disturbances were found in 85% (Preston, 1941). Stats that have been backed up in research since.
And yet even now, adult soaps like Eastenders, which (let’s be honest) is pretty dark and very miserable, rate highly among young audiences.
These days, we have that always-on children’s television available. While we were always in control of television in a binary ‘off and on’ sort of way, as parents we now have much more control over the content. When and where something will be watched. We can choose our own TV time.
As a result, my girls (4 and 2, roughly) have not yet seen any television that hasn’t been appropriate for their age group.
I am very thankful for that.
So I find it hard to see the readily available age-appropriate television as a bad thing. I’m thankful for my shelf of Peppa DVDs, for my Nick Jr, Playhouse Disneys and others. Thankful to the broadcasters, producers and creators getting shows out there that are age-appropriate for my girls. I am thankful for the choice and what that offers my girls.
I played a lot of Fallout 3 in 2010. Anyone played it? It’s a very immersive game set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It is full of grey-brown landscapes of destruction. Crumbling buildings, remnants of what was once society, skeletons and bodies everywhere and raiders looking to kill you for what few supplies you have.
It’s a great game.
But, man, it’s depressing.
People have always wondered why someone doesn’t make a newspaper with good news and the answer is always the same ‘ it wouldn’t sell. No, instead we are drawn in by the misery, fear and the worst aspects of humanity. Even crafting stories for our own entertainment, all screenwriting books will tell you that story is drama and drama is conflict. Yeah, some movies have happy endings but it’s usually hell getting there. I found myself wondering the other day just how many people we see die on screen each week.
And it’s not just movies or books.
Weigh up the number of miserable or angry tunes compared with happy music. Happy, uplifting music is actually pretty hard to find. Dance music can be unashamedly happy but that’s about it. Mostly, we have a Coldplay ripple-effect trying to depress us (The Smiths have a lot to answer for). And we have gangsta rap and metal and the like.
Black metal, death metal but I haven’t found anyone doing happy flower metal.
You know one thing I find from parents who spend time watching children’s television? People enjoy the happiness. People enjoy the fun. The silliness. Okay, so Barney had people wanting to tear their own eyes out but who doesn’t love Pingu? Who doesn’t laugh through Peppa Pig? Who doesn’t love watching Humf? And I know parents are absolutely loving Yo Gabba Gabba.
People enjoy the happiness.
They really do!
People love happiness. And 2010 was a rough year for some people. 2011 could be just as tough, if not tougher. We’re going to have plenty of real-world stuff we need tackle. We don’t need our ‘entertainment’ using up all that mental energy, dragging us down. Do we?
So, in 2011, I’m going to try to create more happiness, or simply spread the happiness that already exists. My big hope is that the happiness spreads, and not just in a blinkered ‘I have convinced myself to be happy’ positive-thinking sort of way. Real happiness because people around us are doing well and things are actually good. And to the makers of Fallout 3 (and everyone else making miserable games, movies or music), my challenge for 2011, should you choose to accept it, is that just once in a while you would take your amazing skills and talents and use them to create something about people being nice to each other. Maybe handing out flowers. Or picking out pretty dresses. Flying on rainbows. Exploring everything that’s magical about the world right now. The beautiful world we all live in.
With blue skies, bright suns and plenty of smiles. We could do with more happiness in our entertainment.
I hope 2011 brings you all more happiness. In your entertainment and your life. HAPPY 2011!