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Posts Tagged ‘children’

The Vestigial Clown

June 23, 2014 | by

1948_Hans_Breinlinger_-_Clown_mit_Spiegel

Detail from Hans Breinlinger’s The Clown, 1948.

Yesterday, a friend and I entered into a great debate. It started with my question:

“Does the clown exist who could make you laugh?”

He said yes; he thought that clown who does the act with snow off Union Square would make him laugh. (The show is lauded for its masterful clown-craft and its evocation of childlike wonder.)

“Okay,” I said, “has a clown ever made you laugh?”

“Of course not,” he said.

Does anyone expect to be amused by clowns in this day and age? We all know that clowns are creepy, clowns are scary, clowns are lame—but that understanding has always been predicated on the understanding that, like dolls, clowns are supposed to be happy, fun, innocent. Thus, when a clown goes psychotic, it is doubly terrifying. Or it was thirty years ago, at least. Now, in a world of John Wayne Gacy and It and Insane Clown Posse and Diddy’s coulrophobia-driven “no clowns” rider, we expect clowns to be sinister.

Take this recent survey of kids in children’s hospitals, a historical clown stronghold:

More than 250 children aged between four and sixteen were asked for their opinions—and every single one said they disliked clowns as part of hospital decor.

Even some of the older children said they found clowns scary, Nursing Standard magazine reported.

The youngsters were questioned by the University of Sheffield for the Space to Care study aimed at improving hospital design for children.

“As adults we make assumptions about what works for children,” said Penny Curtis, a senior lecturer in research at the university.

“We found that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them frightening and unknowable.” 

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This Machine Will Self-Destruct, and Other News

June 19, 2014 | by

monopolies_big_business

Kaboom!

  • New additions to the list of things the pen is mightier than: the mouth, the camera. “As soon as kids acquire a basic understanding of letters and reading … they exhibit a greater trust in printed textual information than in oral or visual information … something about the act of learning to read causes children to ‘rapidly come to regard the written word as a particularly authoritative source of information about how to act in the world.’” And it is. Trust me.
  • Clancy Martin and Amie Barrodale on the Chateau Marmont: “To the left is a room with a lot of nice old mismatched couches and armchairs. Not blocking the chairs, so you might not notice it, just against the far wall, is a podium. An attractive person is always standing there, and if you try to sit in the lobby, he or she says, ‘Are you staying here?’ If you are, then you can sit.”
  • On DIS magazine and accelerationism: “‘Do they really just worship consumerism?’ … As curator Agatha Wara, a DIS associate, once explained it to me, accelerationists believe that ‘the only way to get over capital is through capital’—that is, by accelerating capitalism’s own tendency toward self-destruction.”
  • Speaking of that very tendency, Amazon is making a smartphone.
  • Did you know? It’s not easy to translate Proust: “There is always a tension in translation between the spirit and the letter, between conveying things we might call tone, mood, feel, or music, and being as literally faithful to the original as possible. Moncrieff excelled at both.”
  • How an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation describes the outermost limits of our capacity to communicate: “Tamarian verbalisms depict the world through images and figures, which distort their ‘real’ referents. Troi and Picard can’t help but interpret Tamarian through their (and our) cultural obsession with mimicry: Metaphorical language operates not by signification, but as poetry, by transforming the real in a symbolic mirror. But for the Tamarians, something far weirder is going on …”

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The Cat Came Back

April 9, 2014 | by

The Incredible Journey Quad

Detail from the poster for Disney’s The Incredible Journey, 1963.

Yesterday, a dog raced a Metro-North train from the South Bronx into Manhattan. The train slowed down at several points so the dog, an adorable shepherd/collie mix, would not risk injury. Passengers feared for her safety during the mad dash—and cheered lustily as she was collected by two transit cops, who took her to animal control to treat her injured paw.

We love to see pets going to great lengths for our companionship, or whatever it is they’re doing. It’s hard enough to know what your dog or cat is thinking as it goes from room to room—and no one can divine the thoughts of these heroic specimens who follow their masters across continents, Incredible Journey–style. We usually choose to regard this as proof of pure devotion. But in other cases, we see these antics—especially by cats—as slightly sinister. Consider the case of “The Cat Came Back.”

Written in 1893 as a minstrel song with a very different title, “The Cat Came Back” tells of a malevolent cat who won’t stay away—until he’s killed. It’s not the sort of enlightened fare we usually associate with modern elementary education. And yet, a sanitized version of the song is a staple of nursery schools and day camps, where it’s seen as a useful tool for teaching young children about rhythm and harmony. For whatever reason, kids love the minor-key tune and the story of the grim, Mephistophelean cat.

There’s a G-rated modern version in which the owner tries to pawn the cat off on Santa Claus and an air balloon; and then there’s an earlier iteration, in which said owner clearly wants to see the feline dead. Kids laugh at both, because this cat will not be ruled by man. He defies adult authority—to say nothing of the laws of physics and geography—and this is as reassuring as it is terrifying. He “couldn’t” stay away, we are told—but not because he so loves the beleaguered Mr. Johnson, or Wilson, or whatever the owner’s name happens to be. He is a law unto himself. And the glee in telling his story has little to do with affection, and much to do with things dark and unexplained.

If no owner claims that train-loving dog, animal control is going to put her up for adoption, even though her heart is clearly wild and free and her thoughts inscrutable. But maybe for someone, that will be an adventure. Maybe they’ll like the minor key of its small mysteries. And why take on another life, if not for that?

 

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No Grownups Allowed

March 27, 2014 | by

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Photo: Dick Rowan, 1972

There are certain places—mostly playgrounds—that post signs advising visitors that no unaccompanied adults will be admitted without a child escort. Sometimes, these are practical concerns: jungle gyms and ball pits are not made to bear a grownup’s weight. (This is to say nothing of creeps.) But maybe they are also meant to give kids a sense of specialness in a grown-up world.

There should be far more of these signs. In fact, they should be expanded to include “No unaccompanied adults on grounds of preserving their dignity” and “No unaccompanied adults on grounds of Baby Jane–style macabreness.” Signs for both these categories would bar adult entry to petting zoos; most merry-go-rounds, with special dispensation for the kind with brass rings; and any restaurants clearly intended primarily for little girls. (These prohibitions sort of apply to groups of wild teenagers who scare little children, but of course they know exactly what they’re doing and run the world.)  It is not that I don’t understand a need for nostalgia and childlike wonder. But over the weekend—while I was accompanied by young children, may I add—I saw a young French woman texting as she rode the Central Park Carousel, so. Read More »

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“By Jove, the Monocle Has Returned,” and Other News

March 10, 2014 | by

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Illustration: Jean-Baptiste Adolphe LaFosse, c. 1854.

  • Writing advice for children: “If you can get inside the creepy, disgusting mind of a monster you will really scare your reader.”
  • For more than a century, the Times has seldom passed up an opportunity to discuss the monocle: “Monocles used to be gimmicky … but now people realize they are useful with menus and theater programs.”
  • Thirty cult films you must see, including Sharktopus: “the tale of a genetically engineered half shark, half octopus who wreaks havoc at the beach.”
  • At last, a quantum leap in airship technology—the new Airlander can stay aloft for three weeks, and is, despite its bulbous bloat, pretty handsome to behold.
  • Silence is now a luxury product. “The fiercely defended philosophy of the quiet car is spreading.”

 

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O, Youth!

January 30, 2014 | by

post office

From letters published in the February 1, 1881, edition of Harper’s Young People, a spinoff of Harper’s for readers six to sixteen.

Will Mary R., of Sunbury, Pennsylvania, please oblige me by giving her method of cultivating heliotrope, as it is one of my favorites, and I can never succeed in raising it. I have over two hundred plants in my parlor and sitting-room windows, and not one heliotrope.

I have a beautiful black goat named Dan, and a complete set of silver-plated harness … Dan will not allow any boy to come near him, but he loves me dearly, and I love him. I am eleven years old.

I and my brother used to have such good times fishing on these lakes in our canoes, and hunting deer in the woods, but now I am so lonely, for my only brother is dead. He went out in the woods to hunt deer, and got lost, and froze to death.

I am a subscriber to Young People, and although I am not one of the “little folks,” I find the Post-office Box very interesting, as I am very fond of children and of pets. I have a bright, intelligent pony, a Mexican dog four years old that does not weigh more than two pounds, a mocking-bird, canaries, and a lot of fancy pigeons, and two aquaria filled with fish.

In my letter printed in Young People No. 62 I intended to say that I would exchange postmarks, not for other postmarks, but for stamps and minerals. I regret that I made the mistake.

I am very much interested in “Toby Tyler” and “Mildred’s Bargain.”

I spent one summer at Cape May, and there I found a turtle that was so tame it would eat out of my hand, and drink out of a tea-spoon. I fed it on raw meat, soaked bread, and worms, but it ran away.

 

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