Friday, January 3, 2014

All kinds of dissonance

Sure enough, my wife and I did watch a little bit more Game of Thrones over Christmas vacation. Specifically, we fired up one episode on an evening in between when this post was written and when it was actually scheduled to go up on the blog. Technically the post was still accurate in the broad strokes, because our trek through Season 2 is still incomplete as of today, although we now have only one episode left instead of two.

If you are a GoT superfan you might recall that the episode my wife and I watched most recently was “Blackwater”. The penultimate S2 episode was all about the siege of the Red Keep by Stannis’s fleet, and it deviated from the usual GoT formula by sticking with that storyline in King’s Landing for the entire running time (focusing mainly on Tyrion and Bronn, and Cersei and Sansa) instead of checking in periodically with Jon Snow or Robb Stark or Daenerys Targaryen or whathaveyou. It was also pretty spectacular, in both the visual and the storytelling sense of the word. Not a bad episode at all to let the show get its hooks back into us and urge us to power through the season finale sooner rather than later.

Spoilers, I guess?

What’s funny, though, is that we watched it in such close proximity to our little guy developing an intense attachment to several of his Christmas presents which are now his new favorite playthings: a handful of Imaginext knights and their castle playset and the matching red dragon. The little guy loves playing knights and dragon so much that it is literally the first thing he does every day now: he gets up out of bed and puts on his glasses (usually) and comes downstairs and heads straight for the castle on the living room floor. Eventually, he remembers to eat breakfast. (It’s going to be tough getting him back into the habit of getting ready for/actually going to school this coming Monday, but that’s not what I’m dwelling on at the moment.)

So, essentially, the little guy’s new favorite game is Siege, which of course evokes comparisons in my mind to “Blackwater”. Or contrasts, really, because although kindergarten and the attendant socializing with other little kids who may not be as inherently sensitive or parentally sheltered has meant that the little guy has picked up on pretend violence of the “GRRAAHH, I killed you, you’re dead!” variety and taken to it (as dudes do), still it’s pretty bloodless stuff. Cute little toys suitable for ages 3 and up don’t really lend themselves to out-and-out gore. As opposed to Game of Thrones, where for fifty-some minutes we were treated to much screaming and dying and blood-splattering, as men were burned and maimed and trampled and at least one person was cleaved in twain while another had his head exploded by the impact of a rock thrown from the parapets above.

But it’s the same story either way! Castle attacked, castle defended, and there’s ways to construct and experience that story where it’s brutal and stomach-turning and there’s ways to do it where it’s plasticized and bowdlerized. I got a lot of both last week.

My wife and I have also been talking a lot about Hobbit 2 since we went and saw it right before Christmas, and yet again there’s an example of a kind of disconnect between instances of the same idea. The little guy is so into knights and dragons that it seemed natural to explain to him, when he asked us, that in fact we were talking about a dragon who was in a movie that mommy and daddy went to see recently. We quickly followed that up with a couple of addenda: the reason we didn’t take the little guy with us is because we’re pretty sure that the dragon in the movie would be too scary for him right now, BUT we’re also fairly sure that in a few years he’s going to love the movie. (At the very least, my wife will have primed that well by reading The Hobbit novel to the little guy over the course of a slew of bedtimes, once he’s old enough.)

The little guy took all of this in pretty well. He did not, for example, try to argue that he had a toy dragon and wasn’t scared of that, so why should he be scared of a movie dragon? I’m not sure how I would have answered that, honestly, without further traumatizing the little guy by reminding him of how sometimes he runs out of the room when animated movies get too intense, and the movie we saw looked very real. But instead, the little guy was curious as to whether or not in the movie we saw there were any knights to defeat the dragon. We admitted to him there were not, which confused him, until I explained that it was part of a trilogy (he was bound to get this lesson from me sooner or later) wherein the first movie was about getting to the dragon, the second movie was about seeing the dragon, and the last movie would be about defeating the dragon. A few days later I actually heard him playing with his sister and explaining to her “No, this is the middle of the trilogy!” so apparently the formula made enough sense to him to be adopted into his own flights of fancy.

(Incidentally, vis-a-vis the little girl, we are still dealing with some of the fallout from that movie theater trip to see Hobbit 2. Originally we were going to put the little girl down for a nap, leave when the babysitter came over, and let the little girl wake up to the sitter and her brothers, but when we tried to explain this to our daughter she FREAKED OUT so we amended the plan and let her skip her nap so that she was awake when the sitter came and we left, which went down much easier. But she remains a little scared that at some point we are going to casually abandon her while she’s sleeping, despite our continuous reassurances to the contrary. She also is convinced that, because we left almost as soon as the babysitter arrived, that my wife and I do not like the sitter, and the little girl often tells us, “You should like her, she’s nice!” The two-year-old kid-logic of it still amuses me.)

The upshot, I suppose, is that there’s always a hazy distinction between tales of heroism, be they consumed or play-acted, and tales of harrowing terror, all dependent on where you allow your point of identification to rest. And there are fantasies for little kids and fantasies for grown-ups, but those distinctions can get somewhat hazy as well. I’m sure this will be far from the last time I’ll find myself wondering over these things as the little guy (or any and all of my children, really) continues to absorb more and more.

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