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It’s All Raffi’s Fault

April 28, 2010

Get it? It's a BANANA!

There are plenty of things that are unpleasant about being a parent, but for me, nothing competes with children’s music. Projectile vomit to the face is a distant second. Getting kicked in the nuts probably rates third. Vomit can be washed off, and you can’t pee blood forever. But children’s music leaves a mark on your soul that never heals.

Consider these sample lyrics from Raffi’s apparently beloved “Bananaphone”:

Ring ring ring ring ring ring
Banana phone
Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring
Banana phone

I’ve got this feeling
so appealing
for us to get together and sing – SING!

There are somewhere in the vicinity of 145 verses that go more or less just like this. Now I ask you (and be honest here): If you had to hear this song, say, 12 times in a day, how would you feel? How about 25 times? 30? What would you be capable of? Grinding your teeth to stubs? Peeling your face skin off? Murdering someone? Murdering everyone?

The danger to your kids is probably small. Every kid is different, of course, but most have an astonishing tolerance for terrible movies, unwatchable TV shows, ill-fitting clothes, awful food, good food eaten with numbing repetition, all manner of self-defeating behavior, and books that, science* shows, will actually make your brain smaller. Terrible music is just another item in the endless flow of experience pouring into their flexible, developing brains.

But consider your own safety. Most parents allow children’s music into their homes unthinkingly–it’s one of the best examples of parents accepting any indignity, any loss of self, simply because they heard, or assumed, that there would be some benefit to their children in it. Even if there was any such benefit, it would hardly be worth the loss of self-esteem, the inestimable suffering, that you will surely have to endure.

Those who defend children’s music usually offer this argument: Kids love music they can relate to; they love to hear themselves and their own experiences in the music they listen to. By this logic, I should be listening mainly to music about premature hair loss, dental work and knee pain. I’ve never been in an abusive relationship, but have you heard “Kiss With a Fist” by Florence and the Machine? Fantastic. How about “Bird Flu” by MIA? I don’t even know what she’s talking about in that song, but it’s still electrifying. Somehow, I find a way to enjoy this music. The point is that music (and you could argue that this is the main point of music) is accessible to anyone with feelings. The fact that there are people who make music specifically for kids is, in the abstract, baffling. It would be like making pants specifically for people with red hair. Are the pant needs of redheads different from those of people with brown hair? No. Do kids get something different from music than adults. No.

I don’t want to tell you what my kids’ favorite music is, because I’ll sound like I’m trying to make my kids and myself sound cooler than I am. Suffice it to say, my kids listen to what my wife and I listen to. And you know what? They find a way to access it, somehow, without the least mention of bananas.

*By “science” I mean, of course, my opinion, which isn’t nearly as respected as most science, sadly.

UPDATE: Dan Zanes, Laurie Berkner and They Might Be Giants also suck.


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