There has long been a school of thought that watching television and films harms children; only last week a report was published by some UK Watchdog suggesting that Under-5s should not be exposed at all and that under-14s should have their television watching, particularly in school, reduced radically. Whilst I *sort of* agree on one level – Ofsted’s increasing desire to put a screen and/or technology in-between children and their learning instead of books was a bugbear of mine so severe I actually left teaching because of it – I have to wonder what the world is coming to when so-called experts actually question stimulation of any kind as being “harmful”. Whilst I would never have a child of mine watching TV all day, every day (and yes, I’m aware some parents do), I do happen to think that TV and film actually aid learning and understanding of the world. How can I not? If I didn’t, as a writer I couldn’t in any conscience do what I do without feeling like a fraud at best and a kind of a pusher at worst.
Besides which, I was a total telly addict as a child: this not only did not harm me in my opinion, it has actually aided me. My parents always insisted we go outside, play in fields, rolls in mud etc etc but if given the choice, I would watch a film. I LOVED films. Had there been the internet readily available back in the 80s when I was growing up, I’m sure I would have loved that too. But what’s more, I was not a passive receiver of these images: I incorporated elements of these stories into my own games and my own stories – I still have a notebook in which, aged 9, I wrote a story imaginatively (if not weirdly) called THE BROKEN ZODIAC which is basically a re-telling of Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, a Ying/Yang tale of good versus evil.
Like all kids growing up in the 80s, the muppet content of my TV and film diet was high. God how I loved those things. I was going to be a Muppeteer when I grew up, I could think of no better career at this point. My love of muppets encouraged me to make my “own” out of toilet rolls, lolly sticks and bits of Laura Ashley wallpaper my Mum had left over from particularly questionable bedroom suite; it also made me realise that actually, acting and performance was not my forte: but writing was. So I had my many sisters and brother doing the performance side whilst I wrote and organised a show that we called DEMON DANCING, loosely inspired by Labyrinth and using the music of the delightfully moody Thompson Twins on cassette. My parents had friends over to watch us. We got a standing ovation. Niiice. My love of muppets extended as I reached the fabled “double figures” my Dad would always bang on about, but my expectations of them grew too. I’ve written before that as a teen I loved Farscape probably because of them, but it was The Company of Wolves that showed me just how dark Jim Henson’s creature shop could be…And I loved it. I don’t recall how I managed to end up watching this in the middle of the night, on my own, age 10: I strongly suspect I had got up to sneak around the house alone as I was prone to, simply because I wasn’t supposed to. I do remember the first time I saw it the sound was off. This made it seem all the more mesmerising to my ten year old brain and when Stephen Rea makes his hideous transformation, I remember being truly frightened.
Of course, in this age of CGI it looks dated and even a bit shaky: I found my son watching my special edition DVD only the other day and like a *responsible parent* I turned it off, telling him that he shouldn’t watch that until he was older. He raises a cynical eyebrow and says, “Mum. It’s hardly Alien, is it?” I say, “When the hell did you watch Alien!” and he says, as if I’M crazy, “All the time.” How silly of me. Note to self: get a lock for the DVD cabinet. Or should I, if he’s going to be a writer himself one day??