Monday, June 19, 2017

Josephology

My kids are eight, six and four now (he said, because it's been so long since this blog was updated on anything close to a regular basis that he has absolutely no expectation that anyone would remember) and those really are some fun ages. All of them are too old for diapers, naps, and other such signifiers of babyhood, which gives us on the whole a lot more flexibility of scheduling and freedom of movement and whatnot. The eldest reads at a fairly advanced level (Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and Star Wars novelizations &c.) and the six-year-old is coming up fast behind him; the 'bino still needs to be read to but he enjoys it and will pick books out for himself to listen to. But at the same time, they're all still little enough to have wild, unfettered imaginations, and to enjoy flagrant displays of affection with their parents, and various good innocent fun stuff like that. If it were in fact possible to pause time and keep things exactly the same, now would be as good a time as any to hit the button.

So yesterday was Father's Day and serves well as a micro-case-in-point. All three kids made little craft projects for me at their daycare, and all three involved self-expression. For the four-year-old, the pre-school teacher asked him why he loves his dad and faithfully transcribed the answer onto a keyhook plaque that the 'bino had painted. His answer, for the record, was because I read to him at bedtime. The other two kids are n the same before-and-after elementary school program, so they made popsicle-stick-and-ribbon wall hangings, with a different reason why they love their dad written on each stick. The scion wrote three reasons, leaving the last two sticks blank, though as I unwrapped the gift he promised he would get around to finishing it. (He has some low-grade ADHD issues, so again, this is perfectly illustrative.) And my darling little girl provided her own four reasons for filial devotion, and the number one on her list was: "Because he has a mustache."

Fair enough! That is certainly something that has been true her entire life (and much longer, to be honest). And the mustache also has a pretty good historical track record of symbolically indicating the father figure. In fact, let's just go ahead and acknowledge that American Father's Day is for all intents a repurposing of St. Joseph's Day, the Feast of the Holy Father. I can't recall ever seeing any religious iconography of Joseph of Nazareth where the dude doesn't have a full complement of handsome facial hair. I'm not saying being clean-shaven rules out the possibility that you can be a good dad, but apparently, in my daughter's book at least, the fuzzy-faced look is a big plus.

I'm also reminded of the fact that at some point in my youth (i.e. my early teens, when my own father was in his late thirties), my father shaved the mustache he had been growing since college. He got a fair number of complements, no negative feedback to speak of, and life continued more or less as normal for our family unit (for a little while longer, anyway). His childhood best friend, with whom he was still in regular contact and who also had sported whiskers for close to two decades, observed all of this and decided to un-mustache. His act of radical grooming had for more consequential repercussions! That guy's wife simply refused to accept his naked upper lip, and not only gave him the silent treatment for a few days but convinced his two sons (who were, like, ten and eight or something) to do the same, until the guy relented and began regrowing his mustache. These days we're all still in touch, and while my father has gone several rounds over the past two and a half decades of clean-shaven to fully bearded and back again, his old chum has stuck with the 'stache ever since. So, you know, to each his own.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hooked on nostalgia

It has been about four and a half years since I wrote this post about The Muppets reboot movie - to sum up, the movie opens with classic Simon and Garfunkel, which is Baby Boomer music but intended to transport Gen X-ers (like me) back to when they were very young, when their Boomer parents controlled the radio and let them watch the Muppet Show. The presumption being that Gen X-ers would bring their own kids to the movie, and those kids would be drawn to the inherently magical charm of the Muppets anyway, despite probably not having any particularly emotionally resonant memories of "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard".

Meanwhile ... Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 opened this past weekend. I haven't seen it yet (a situation I will remedy asap, I hope) but that is beside the point. As part of the overall Marvel/Disney promotional blitz, there are a ton of tie-in products flooding various media markets, including some books aimed at elementary school kids starring Rocket and Groot. The little guy (who is now at the tail end of third grade) borrowed one of these books from his classroom library and really liked it.

This, of course, got me thinking that the little guy might enjoy watching the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. As a sign of how much things have changed since our in-home viewing of The Muppets, making plans to watch GotG together is not all that outre. Yes, it's a PG-13 movie, and yes, he's only eight and a half, but then again, it wouldn't even be the first PG-13 movie he'd ever seen. He's gotten four installments into the Harry Potter films, and the other day he watched the original Jurassic Park, and I'm sure I'm forgetting a couple others. Not to say that his mother and I have simply surrendered the point and now let him watch anything he expresses interest in without a second thought; rather, we've entered the phase of giving consideration to individual movies. Is it PG-13 because of sci-fi violence and a couple of fleeting expletives? That's probably fine. Is it PG-13 because of ... "adult" situations, or blunt suggestions thereof? Less shrug-worthy, more careful consideration required. And so it goes. At least he still listens to us, and likely will for another couple of years (if memory serves I was at least in fifth grade before I was ignoring my parents completely and smart enough to keep things secret if I sussed out they'd rather not know about it anyway). We might as well actively parent while the friction level is low.

So, the thought of sitting down on the couch to watch Guardians of the Galaxy on Blu-ray with my little guy occurs. And it is an attractive idea! I really do love that movie. (Re-reading my original assessment of the flick from the summer it came out, I'm a bit taken aback by how I sound, as if I merely liked it, as if it were good but not great. My affection has only increased over time, I suppose.) And as I was mulling over the possibility, considering it from all angles, not least the non-zero chance that maybe the little guy wouldn't especially take a shine to it, I started thinking about how the anachronistic soundtrack is one of the best things about the movie. From the moment "Come and Get Your Love" kicked on during the opening credits, the movie more or less had me in the palm of its hand.

To say nothing of the use of Blue Swede and the Runaways, and maybe most especially Baby Groot grooving to "I Want You Back" ... I mean, COME ON. So good, at least to me and my cohort, right? But I confess I've been pretty slack about indoctrinating my children to the classics, so the Awesome Mix might not be particularly emotionally resonant.

Y'all, I swear to you, it was just this past week that I finally put it together that Guardians of the Galaxy had used the exact same demographic manipulative trickery as The Muppets.

Because ... because ... see, the anachronistic soundtrack in GotG, the Awesome Mix qua mixtape, that's an actual, integral part of the storyline of the movie. It matters, maybe not in resolving the plot of who controls The Orb, but certainly in terms of Star-Lord's emotional arc. It's all he has left of his mom, and as we see at the outset it's been a long time since he and his mom (and Earth) were separated so of course it's a throwback, and not just to his childhood but to hers, passed down through the generations ... I thought that was pretty clever storytelling, using the well-established practice of scoring action movies with pop music and making it both diegetic and intrinsically character-revealing. I still do find that satisfyingly clever, and one of the best things about the movie.

But yeah, boil it all down and it's also a blatant attempt to get the audience on Star-Lord's side with ruthless efficiency, because he reminds us of ourselves when we were little kids. Which is not a bad thing. With The Muppets, I was vaguely aware of it and vaguely skeptical at the same time. With GotG, it just slipped right past my defenses and did its job very well, thank you.

In any case, if the little guy and I do end up bonding over the cinematic sci-fi comic book stuff, maybe that will give me an opening to start priming him and his siblings on Marvin Gaye and Norman Greenbaum.