Trying to understand why your child likes a particular TV show, movie, or fairy-tale character is usually a losing proposition. Baby Einstein? Fine if you’re stoned, I guess. Elmo? Daddy doesn’t get it. Dora? <Blink, blink.>
Most of the time, this is not a big problem. The TV, after all, is our blessed electronic baby-sitter, and while Sasha watches it, I’m often making dinner, reading the New Yorker, having a beer, or otherwise keeping my adult self entertained. Sometimes, though, I really want to know what she’s watching, not out of some supervisory parental obligation but because I want to share her cultural references and make sure she’s growing up with good taste. Or at least my tastes.
Unfortunately, for a while Sasha was obsessed with “Datou Erzi, Xiaotou Baba,” a monumentally stupid cartoon produced in mainland China in, I’m guessing, the late 1970s or early 1980s. It is, as its name suggests, about a child with a big head and his small-headed father. And as that name equally suggests, it’s incredibly stupid, and strange without being intriguingly weird. In the clip below, you’ll see what happens when normal-headed mom finally walks out on the idiotic men she’s been condemned to support. (It’s much more entertaining, I think, if you don’t speak Chinese.)
God, for months Sasha loved this show, which her preschool teachers had introduced her to. But I couldn’t stand it—couldn’t, wouldn’t try to follow it. Eventually, though, she outgrew it, and went on to other things: the Chinese version of “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger,” Bubble Guppies, and, bizarrely, Before Green Gables, an animated series about Anne’s rural life that happens to be in Japanese. (We still don’t know how much Sasha understands of it, but she loves it.) These were all improvements over “Big Head, Little Head,” but just the same I couldn’t get into them. They were shows for her, not me.
Until recently. One evening, flipping through the channels, we stumbled on Adventure Time, a half-hour Cartoon Network series about Finn, a kid in a hoodie, and his magical dog, Jake, who’s apparently modeled on Bill Murray’s character in Meatballs. The show is nutzo! And in the best way possible. In last night’s episode, for example, the lewd Ice King tries to seduce two “Breakfast Princesses,” whereupon Finn and Jake interrupt and ground him. In revenge, the Ice King hires a hitman, Scorcher, to off the heroes, and the whole thing ends with the Ice King freezing Finn and Jake in blocks of ice, sitting atop them, and gloating, “You’re grounded—under my butt!”
This is weird shit, the kind I love. As Sasha and I watched Scorcher trying to slay Finn and Jake, I thought back to the old Transformers and GI Joe series, in which no one ever died, and indeed the prospect of death never came into play. Even when I was a little kid, that struck me as strange, and I remember discovering Robotech, the Japanese series in which people—many, many people—actually died, with a kind of joy. The fact that Adventure Time would bring up this possibility so nonchalantly—and so joyously weirdly—was impressive.
Plus: butt jokes!
Anyway, Sasha likes it, and we’ve finally found a show to watch together. Even Jean giggled at the butt jokes. Now, if only we can find it in Chinese…