We all know that there is really only one reason we have kids. I mean, yeah, there’s the whole “walking bag of donateable organs and blood” part. But the real reason one has children, the true reason, is so that you can fill up their bizarre little brains with your own pet affections, vigilantly programming them to love the things you love, and also to love you, I guess. It’s like having a parrot, but instead of teaching them to say the things you want, it’s to have the emotional bonds to the pop culture that you want.
Friends, I am going to straight up say this right here—I have miserably failed in my efforts to indoctrinate my children with the appropriate pop culture references. Well, I say that I have failed, but I feel like at least 70% of the burden of failure rests on my two very bad garbage sons, who have both proven to be just dogshit at liking the right things.
At least I’ll always have access to their organs.
Here I will recount some of the ways that my efforts have not succeeded, so that all the parents out there who are making tiny copies of themselves in the hope of forcing their genre loves on their children can learn from my mistakes.
To begin with, I had assumed that the Large Son would take to genre like a duck to water.
The main reason for this is that genre is everywhere now. It’s about as common and unremarkable as paving asphalt. Whereas in the ’80s you were considered a big ole nerd for buying a Han Solo poseable action figure, in the bright, beautiful era of the 21st century, you can buy a bag of Star Wars-themed oranges and nobody even blinks an eye.
This is way different than when I grew up, when we kept renting a wobbly VHS of A New Hope from the library, and then my dad brought home The Empire Strikes Back and suddenly we realized that they had made more of these movies, oh my God.
So the Large Son is absolutely drowning in genre exposure. He lives in an age of abundance that I was utterly denied. But does he take advantage of it? Does he religiously memorize all of the various planets, as well as the types of ships?
No. He does not. For a whole damned year he called Darth Vader “Star Vader,” and he still calls Boba Fett “Bobo Fett,” and he calls every kind of land transport an “AT-AT,” which is just abysmally fucking wrong in every kind of way. I created a spreadsheet for him but I am fairly sure he only gave it a cursory glance. Perhaps the most galling thing about it all is that, incredibly, despite having never actually watched a Star Wars movie in the six years of his life (he says they are “too loud,” which, okay, sure), he somehow already knows that Vader is Luke’s father, and he’s just utterly fucking blasé about it, too.
No, wait, that’s not true. The worst thing is that his Star Wars is all prequels, which I see now were completely engineered for children, where Jedis just casually whomp battle droids and the battle droids make humorous, honking sounds as they die, and absolutely nothing matters. This, too, is Doing Star Wars Wrong. Like, even though the Ewoks were ridiculous, I still remembered when one of them attempted to wake up the mangled corpse of its friend, and then moaned in despair as he (she? Am I not Ewok woke?) realized his friend was dead.
Even when shit got saccharine, there were still some goddamn stakes. Teddy bears got their brains blown out. It was hardcore. The way they’re doing Star Wars today is just all wrong.
One of the places I can find common ground with Large Son, though, is in the Star Wars Lego Wii game where he plays as Artoo and just makes him fall off cliffs over and over again, laughing as Artoo makes that chirrupy scream as he dies.
That’s good. That’s pretty good.
While this was going on, I tried to teach Smaller, Louder Son about the Biblical parables hidden within Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Son. He responded by somehow ejecting feces out of every seam of his diaper except those around his buttocks, as if his lower torso were covered in hidden anuses.
VERDICT: VERY BAD
It seems as if Legos have somehow become the conduit for all things pop culture in our lives, and inevitably Large Son was gifted with some Lego Batman sets. These I approached with great interest. I remembered watching Batman: The Animated Series as a six-year-old, and wondering how I could possibly jimmy together a grappling hook in our shed, unaware that such a feat might be far easier for a genius, athletic, scientifically gifted billionaire than a STEM-challenged six-year-old in the South Carolina sticks.
Yet this, also, turned out to be a failure, because Large Son insisted on making Batman fight Steve from Minecraft. This is not canon. Worse, Large Son insisted that Batman would lose the fight because Batman was not—and here I quote directly—“immune to lava,” namely because Batman was incapable of carrying cobblestone.
First of all—again—this is not canon. Second of all, just because my son has not witnessed Batman carrying or utilizing cobblestone in the Minecraft universe, the idea that he is inherently incapable of doing so is preposterous bullshit. If Batman wanted to carry cobblestone, he would devote weeks of his time learning the best and most established methods of carrying cobblestone, and he’d map out dozens of plans and scenarios for carrying the cobblestone, carefully researching the mineral composition of the cobblestone, and he’d develop backup plans for the backup plans not only for carrying the cobblestone, but also implementing the cobblestone, delivering the cobblestone with surgical precision.
However, before I could finish making this argument, my son simply left.
After this, I approached Smaller, Louder Son and tried to strike up a conversation about how Batman: The Long Halloween, Batman: Dark Victory, and also the Hush storyline were all basically driven by the same narrative gimmick—murder mystery whodunit that lazily cycles through all available characters just to pad time—and also, man, isn’t that also basically the plot of the show Heroes, another work Jeph Loeb masterminded? However, instead of engaging with the argument, Smaller, Louder Son proceeded to yell incredibly loud, which made Wife come, and then she also yelled just incredibly loud, holy shit.
VERDICT: HOLY SHIT
I was pretty much at the end of my rope after this. As a white, middle class, male American nerd, I am only capable of expressing my anemic inner self through vapid genre references. Pop culture is my sole language of emotion! If my child does not appropriately love the intellectual properties I am attached to, will I be capable of loving either child? Especially Smaller, Louder Son, who smells like death yogurt??
But then, I realized I was perhaps going too fast. Perhaps it’s like my music teacher always said about practicing pieces slowly, and then speeding up: it’s like putting a frog in a pot, and if you slowly increase the heat, the frog won’t jump out, and the water will boil, and you’ll successfully kill the frog. (On an unrelated note: this is the worst metaphor of all time.)
So, one day while playing Legos with Large Son, I had an idea—what if we grouped the Lego dudes into two teams, with two bases, and we took turns: each turn we’d get to move one Lego person, and attack once. Each Lego person got two hit points. Whoever ran out of Lego guys first won.
He agreed. And we played a good game—and, though he was unaware that I was basically training him for countless board games, he enjoyed himself a lot.
Part of the reason he enjoyed himself, I’m sure, is that his guys outnumbered my guys three to one, and also they got all the guns, and my guys were armed with one (1) stick, and one (1) fish. This doesn’t necessarily indicate that he might not eventually love nerdy stuff. It might indicate that he’s an asshole, though.
Encouraged by this, afterwards I went to Smaller, Louder Son and talked to him about how interesting it was that Emily Blunt somehow managed to star in not one but two of the most innovative sci-fi movies of the recent era, Looper (2012), and Edge of Tomorrow (2014), and also she played somewhat similar characters—a tough, independent love interest who reforms the wayward main character—and I was expanding on what’s interesting about this curious cultural symmetry when I noticed he had fallen asleep.
Robert Jackson Bennett was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but grew up in Katy, Texas. He attended the University of Texas at Austin and, like a lot of its alumni, was unable to leave the charms of the city. He resides there currently with his wife and children. He latest book, City of Miracles, is now available from Broadway Books.