Katie Marsico is a proud mother of 3 human children— Maria, 5, C.J., 3, and Thomas, 18 months. She is also the happy guardian of several furry, finned, and scaled pets.
Marsico has happily written for Tails since its inception in 2000 and is the author of more than 60 children’s books. She works from home, which is located in Elmhurst, Illinois (though she hopes that address will one day be changed to a location in southwest Florida).
Dances with Wolves, Disney, and Dialogue about the Human-Animal Bond…
As a mom AND the author of a book about the possible correlation between violent video games and the actions of the Columbine killers, I would like to think that I try to understand how the media motivates and influences our kids. Obviously I’m not going to let my kindergartner watch Goodfellas or play Grand Theft Auto, but media messages—and opportunities for learning—often present themselves in surprising places. And, just as certain films and television programs serve as the fodder for parent-child discussions about the value of life and peaceful conflict resolution, so do many open the floodgates for a chat about the human-animal bond.
I’ll admit that I’m kind of a sissy when it comes to movies that feature a critter getting the short end of the stick. I have to turn the TV off during that scene in Dances with Wolves where the wolf is peppered with bullets, and (while I suppose I shouldn’t pre-judge because I’m not privy to the entire plot line) I’m not dying to watch Eastbound and Down now than I know the second season features cockfighting as a major theme. All this said, however, I never fretted much that I’d have to worry about fast-forwarding through a Disney flick or that G-rated entertainment would act as a platform for mommie-kindergartner dialogue about the humane treatment of animals.
Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World proved me wrong. Normally—and at the risk of sounding like a negligent parent—I pop on a Disney on Demand flick and let Comcast take care of some of my babysitting needs while I catch up on writing. As I recently sat next to my kids and clicked away on my laptop, however, I found my jaw dropping. PII is not a bad cinematic experience by any stretch of the imagination, but there is (from the perspective of wimpy little me) a rather traumatic scene involving bear baiting. Long story short, the moral of this subplot is that Pocahontas objects to the English court’s seeming disregard for nature, animals, and the values held dear by her people on the other side of the Atlantic.
Of course, as I was shuddering at the plight of the poor animated bear, my five-year-old was firing off a stream of perplexed questions. (“Mommie, what are they doing to the animal?” “Mommie, why are they hurting it like that?”) As the interrogation continued, I decided that, instead of flipping channels, I would make lemonade out of lemons and discuss one or two relevant issues. So, I explained what was happening and then turned the tables on Maria and put her noggin to work. (“Maria, why do you think that’s not nice?” “How do you think that makes the bear feel?”) I know it probably sounds like I took a plunge off the deep end with Walt Disney and his pals, but the experience was quite valuable.
Realistically, I don’t find many opportunities throughout the day to start lecturing about why blood sports involving animals are wrong or the importance of displaying empathy and kindness toward all creatures. Nor, I realized, am I a mom OR member of the media who believes that what we see on the big screen is an excuse or an encouragement for the evil in our society. On the contrary, I feel it’s a question of perspective. If you can use something that’s not so nice as a teaching tool to convey a lesson about why and how to be just the opposite, there’s a certain value to that. So, the next time you sit down with your kids in front of the boob tube and there’s a segment or show (pleasant or unpleasant) involving a feathered, furred, or finned being, search for the little chestnut. Find a way to mold the movie into a conversation that speaks to wee folk about the human-animal bond on their level. It’s far easier than you’d imagine and, just to clarify, does not mean you have to reduce your babes to tears by turning on the outdoor sportsman channel. Believe it or not, chatting about the underlying themes of Brother Bear and Over the Hedge might be just what Dr. Spock (and Dr. Doolittle, for that matter) ordered!