All this may make it sound like I’m making an “eat your vegetables” argument for watching My Neighbor Totoro. It’s true that I do think that most children’s entertainment has been pumped with a kind of spiritual and aesthetic corn syrup, in a desperate effort to make it go down easy. I just think that the desperation is unnecessary, and has resulted in a sort of “Dorito effect” in children’s media: louder, faster, higher-stimulus entertainment is addictive, and has the tendency to crowd out quieter pleasures. But I do realize how insufferable it is for someone like me, who does not have children, to speak prescriptively about matters of parenting.
Watching My Neighbor Totoro is not eating your vegetables—if anything, it’s more like eating a basket of perfect, small, ripe strawberries fresh from the farmer’s market.
Since my wife and I have signed up for a life that involves many long journeys and few of the structured outlets available to the children of our peers (e.g. dance classes or libraries), we spend a lot of time thinking about what sort of entertainment we want to expose our children to when the mosquitoes come out or we’re halfway through a 13-hour plane flight. I’m thankful that some material for children is trying to work against our tendency towards “louder, faster, higher-stimulus entertainment”, but it’s an uphill battle.
I love Wilford’s analogy here because I want my children to love and appreciate books, music, TV shows, and movies that are like strawberries. They’ll get Doritos when they go to their friends’ house, I’m sure — and it’ll be up to them what sort of consumption habits they adopt. But I was so glad to have found My Neighbor Totoro and I’m so glad that they loved it as much as they did. I look forward to watching it (and other “strawberry” films) with them over and over again over the years.
Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org