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May 24, 2009

Bad Guys

My son recently discovered Bad Guys.

Previously, all the stories we read to him and the tv shows he watched had no villains: Goodnight Moon, Barnyard Dance, Go Dog Go, Maisy Mouse, My Friend Rabbit, Theodore Tugboat.

Now he's suddenly the biggest fan of Superman, Batman and Spiderman; and his favorite book is The Lorax. All stories with Bad Guys. (And he interprets the themes quite literally. Hence, he suggested sending Spiderman to stop the neighbors' tree trimmers.)

By coincidence or not, he now also has the concept of friends, both "for real" and "for pretend." Superheroes help each other; bad guys "boom" each other. ("Boom" is always accompanied by an agitated finger gun motion.)

With the introduction of antagonists--and allies--into his story lines, his imaginative play is much more sophisticated.

It's funny, because I've always considered a story with no real bad guys to be the more sophisticated kind of story, albeit very hard to achieve. But I think it's fascinating to see how a child's understanding of conflict matures, and I wonder if this is a necessary stage. Once I would have said no, it was simply a symptom of our binary, dualistic, Cartesian culture, or maybe the military industrial patriarchy or something like that. (The fault of the Bad Guys, in other words). Now I'm not so sure.

One could blame my son's new obsession with Bad Guys on the content of the stories, but I think has as much to do with perception as content. Before, when he watched Cars, the main thing he took away from it was cars driving, and that was enough to thrill him. Now he notices the rivalry between Lightning McQueen and his friends and the Mean Green Car (and Frank, the Monster Harvester).

Meanwhile, my husband and I amuse ourselves during the 164th viewing of Cars by commenting on the deep philosophical meaning of the soul which has lost it's being being like a car which must rebuild it's own road. (Fun Fact: There's a car with the Apple symbol on the hood in the first race.)

Yeah. We've seen that movie WAY too much.

7 comments:

writtenwyrdd said...

Interesting observation! Childhood perception tends to change from simple and immediate to the more sophisticated, including the contextual difference also known as grey areas. But I can see why you would have thought a that a novel that has no conflict is a more sophisticated version of writing. And I suspect it is--at least from the technical aspect. Writing a conflict free bit of prose would be a daunting task!

ban said...

not as many times as i've seen bolt, monsters inc. or spirit :D
in my opinion ... they learn about 'bad guys' later because at an early stage, they have no concept of the dual nature of people. their little brains can't comprehend someone doing something bad to them or anyone else. as they get older and learn how to be selfish, fib and disobey on purpose, they start to see those things in other people. just my opinion though ...

beth said...

Oh, cool observation. Hmm...I do think that stories with less clearly obvous good and bad guys are more sophisticated and difficult to write, but there certainly is a place for straight up good vs. evil.

Lady Glamis said...

Yeah, I've seen Cars too many times, too. And Maisy. And Theodore. And well, all the kid's stuff. *sigh* - Wall E is getting really annoying...

You have some great thoughts here! I always put bad guys in my novels, but not always in my shorter fiction. I've always wanted to write a book with no bad guys and have the tension come from elsewhere.

I just realized that I've spent the last 2 minutes saying "bad guys" instead of "villains" - is there a difference? Or have I seen one too many kid's shows? Hehehe.

Gregory said...

Haven't seen Cars, last animated movie I saw was Bolt on dvd. Pretty good observation. Well kids are like that as I watch my two nephews grow.

Gregory
myxbooks.wordpress.com

laughingwolf said...

too cool, tara... well done!

my kids grew up in the age of he-man and she-ra, and ghostbusters... but i wasn't home too much, working as a construction electrician....

Solvang Sherrie said...

My son went from loving the heroes (Buzz Lightyear, Peter Pan) to loving the bad guys (Captain Hook, Darth Vader, Severus Snape...of course, in the end the last two were good guys on some level).

I know my kid isn't the only one liking the bad guys. So does it mean when the characters (most) people love to hate evolve into heroes of another kind?