I'm fond of telling folks about the very modest contribution I have made to my nephew's moral development; less because I feel that my contribution is all that important than because I take a lot of pleasure in seeing him working things out for himself.
My nephew knows me as having a puzzling un-adult enthusiasm for talking about superheroes, and we were having a lively discussion about Batman while he was playing a video game in which he guided Batman in bringing the Joker to justice.
“Why are they fighting?” I asked.
“Because Batman's a good guy and the Joker is a bad guy.”
“How do you know? Batman looks pretty scary. Maybe he's the bad guy.”
“No he's not!”
“How do you know?”
“Because he fights the Joker, who is a bad guy.”
“How do you know that the Joker is a bad guy?”
“Because he fights Batman, who is a good guy!”
“So they fight each other,” I said. “But how do you know which one is good and which one is bad?”
“Yeah. It can't be the fighting.” The light had clearly gone on about the circularity of his original reasoning. He paused a long time to think, then said, triumphant, “Joker steals things and Batman gives them back.”
Some time after that, he was video gaming the Hulk, fighting monsters and smashing things up. I asked him whether the Hulk is a good guy or a bad guy.
“The Hulk is always breaking things, but I don't think he's a bad guy.”
“Why? Breaking things is bad.”
“Yeah, but he fights these monsters that are trying to eat people. Protecting people is good.”
“What about those Army guys he was fighting? They're not monsters.”
“Oh yeah. That's bad.”
“Did he just attack those Army guys? Why did he do that?”
“No, they attacked him first.”
“Aha! What's that about?”
“They want to stop him from breaking things. But when they attack him, it just makes him angry. So he gets stronger.”
“They're afraid of him,” I suggested. “After all, he is the Hulk. He's pretty scary. What does the Hulk want?”
“He wants to be left alone. But he's always getting into fights.”
“So is he good or bad?”
“He's kind of both.”
I couldn't resist making a suggestion. “The Hulk is like a force of nature. Maybe he's not really good or bad.”
My nephew liked that idea. “Yeah. He's not good or bad. He's just the Hulk.”
At Christmas I gave him a big collection of the initial run of the Fantastic Four. I can't wait to talk to him about the Mole Man and Galactus.
I say all of this as an introduction to a couple of surprisingly moving items I found on the internets.
First: Adam Rodgers' little essay What Batman Taught Me About Being A Good Dad.
Second: Moviebob points us to Drew “Moriarty” McWeeny's series about watching the Star Wars movies with his kids for the first time.
- A New Hope
- The Empire Strikes Back
- The Phantom Menace
- Attack of the Clones
- Revenge of the Sith
- Return of the Jedi
Yes, I got the order right there. Or rather, McWeeny did. Read the series and see why.
(Update: You may also want to try watching the series in “machete order”, which has a lot to recommend it.)