Is it just me or is Curious George kind of an asshole?
Whenever my toddler brings me one of her numerous Curious George books, of course I’m always happy to indulge her; I want her to learn how to read and white and communicate, you know, good. I make a point to read her anything that she brings me: “Wonton Soup,” “jury summons,” “Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe—How did you find that old chestnut?” More often than not, my daughter’s reading preferences tilt towards a tall, lanky man in a bright yellow hat and his mischievous simian companion.
Some might even say “curious.”
But is he? Really? Or is he just a brat? (A brat who, amazingly, never seems to get his comeuppance.)
“He’s a literary icon,” you say. “You can’t come down against Curious George!”
I disagree; I think that if I saw a child do some of the things George does out in the “real” world, I’d want to drop kick him like the hard drive for my stupid computer (which, as I type this, is an overpriced doorstop that I can’t re-gift).
“But he’s just acting like any normal, ordinary, two-dimensional, multimillion dollar franchise child,” you say. And I agree. Because what you’re essentially saying with that statement is, “He’s acting out.”
And I don’t think it’s fair. My job as a parent is tough enough, man. Of course kids like Curious George because he gets to do all the things that they cannot. He gets to act out … without repercussions! I don’t need some irresponsible simian encouraging my toddler to do things she isn’t supposed to be doing. And I certainly don’t need said simian reinforcing the idea that after a particularly irresponsible action, everything is going to be fine, we’ll share a laugh and the sky is going to rain gumdrops. Why haven’t they published Curious George Gets A Time Out? Or Curious George Goes To Bed Without Reading Himself? Or Curious George Sneaks Into An Abandoned Nuclear Power Plant and Makes Himself Infertile?
I can hear your response: “You’re overreacting,” you say. Or maybe, “You’re making too much of this. You’ve got issues. See someone.”
“Do you have any idea how many of these stories they’ve published?” I counter. On Wikipedia, I count fifty-eight. That’s exactly fifty-six more than my wife and I. They outnumber us by, well—a lot. Those books are like the monsters in Aliens, or the Huns, or Mondays: they just keep coming and coming and coming. They’re unstoppable. We have to protect ourselves; we have to do whatever we can.
Then again, as much as it pleases my cynical side to beat up on a character that brings joy to millions of children around the globe, there was a moment at the playground the other day that made me reconsider my position.
The word “hellion” springs to mind. A mother sat reading as her child—who couldn’t have been more than two—played in the sand. Except that he wasn’t playing in the sand, he was throwing it. At people. Dogs. Other children. Himself. And between throws, he would return to his mother, not for a hug, or a “hello,” but to rip pages out of her book. Shredding them. Eating them. And what was the mother doing? Nothing. Well … she was reading. (How, I have no idea.) But was she doing anything to restrain, discourage or curtail her three-dimensional monster’s excessively aggressive mischievousness? No. And this is the kicker, ladies and gentlemen: guess what she was wearing. “A hat?” you say. Well, no, actually … She was wearing a scarf. But it was yellow! Mostly. Partially. Sort of.
This made me think that maybe I haven’t been looking at the big picture. Maybe I need to take a step back.
Insomuch as it is the job of my wife and I to nurture and protect our toddler, perhaps George’s mischievous behavior can be attributed to a certain fellow with a jaundice-colored sombrero. As my wife oh-so-wisely observed a few weeks ago: “Who the hell brings a monkey to a baseball game?” Or the ballet. Or a library. Or anywhere that doesn’t have bars and a padlock. Who is this mysterious “man with the yellow hat” and why is he such an irresponsible guardian?
Have I been missing the entire point of these stories?
Are Curious George’s adventures … not really about Curious George? Are they, in fact, a plea to parents to not be like the man in the yellow hat? Are we to learn from his poor—nay, dreadful—example? Is it up to us to fill in the times outs and the repercussions?
Maybe this George character is cleverer than I thought. I think there may actually be a method to his mischievousness. Does that mean—
Ah … My time here seems to have come to an abrupt end. My toddler is prodding my kidney with a book. “What title have you brought me now, my darling? Let’s see … Curious George and the Hot Air Balloon.”
A hot air balloon???
Who the hell brings a monkey up in a freakin’ hot air balloon??
James C. Ferguson is an author, playwright and screenwriter living in Los Angeles with his wife, daughter and a dead plant that should probably be thrown away. His novel, Context Clues, is available on Amazon.com. And his film, Happy Holidays, will be available this winter. (Look for info. on MySpace and Facebook.)