M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Sunday, December 19, 2004  

Parental Guidance Already?

I knew there was some twisted children's literature out there, even before I had a kid. Obviously everyone knows about Grimm's Fairy Tales, which even in their modern, watered-down version feature tons of cannibalism, infanticide, and child abuse. Even a current board book telling the story of Noah's Ark opens with, quote, "God decid[ing] to punish the wicked people." So you have to be on the lookout for stuff.

I wasn't expecting that to be the case with Baby Einstein.

Baby Einstein, of course, is the wildly popular series of books and videos that helps kids learn stuff. They didn't have them when I was a kid, which is why I'm not solving the mysteries of quantum mechanics right now. My niece Deniece has a bunch of them, and at not quite three years old I think she's already smarter than I am.

So obviously we wanted to get started on these right away with M. Tiny. The sooner he can get out there and get a job, the better for us. So the other day I sat down with him and a copy of See How I Feel.

I'm still getting used to the menagerie of colorful cartoon characters that populate this series. The protagonist of this particular one is a bright blue goat named Vincent. At first I thought that the story of Vincent was meant to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of oxygen deprivation or hypothermia, but apparently he's supposed to be that color.

So on the first page, Vincent is happy because he's playing with his best friend Paul. On the second page, he's proud of a picture he's painted. Then he's sad because his favorite straw hat blew away. Then he feels silly as he makes faces with his brother Theo.

Wait a minute.

A painter named Vincent? With a brother named Theo? And a best friend named Paul, as in Gaugin? This blue goat is none other than Vincent Van Gogh.

Which explains the BANDAGE ON HIS EAR.

I didn't notice the bandage at first. Even though Vincent is using it to accessorize a paint-splattered artist's smock on the cover. It's tied around the base of the ear, which thankfully is still present. I don't think M. Tiny is ready for the sight of a bloody stump yet. And when the book begins, it's not even there. It doesn't appear until page three, when Vincent becomes sad over the loss of his jaunty lid. Because even though M. Tiny is 9½ weeks old, it's never too early to introduce children to the efficacy of self-mutilation as therapy for depression.

Vincent goes on to be inspired by a sunflower field and a starry night, but the damage, literally, has been done. The bandage remains until the penultimate page. Or board, since it's a board book.

So, great. Now I have to rent Lust for Life to give M. Tiny some kind of context. For now, though. I was satisfied with giving this explanation:

"See, Vincent Van Gogh was a great artist who cut off his own ear."


"Because he went crazy."


"Syphilis, I think."


"Don't worry, you're not in any danger of it for a while."


"You get it from running around with bad girls. Do you understand? Bad girls give you syphilis."


"Don't worry. Mom and Dad will tell you which girls are bad, so you don't have to worry."


"I love you too."

Now that I think about it, I don't think Van Gogh had syphilis. But I know for damn sure he wasn't a blue cartoon goat, either.

Today's best search phrase: "'Paper mill' poop." Because one of those things alone isn't stinky enough.

posted by M. Giant 3:24 PM 9 comments


That book is awesome in the twisted way that is so fun to read, write and talk about.

I love it!

Although I can live without paper mill poop. That's too much stink!

By Blogger DeAnn, at December 19, 2004 at 3:51 PM  

We have that book! If you look closely, you'll notice that Vincent the goat is named Vincent van Goat. Though, actually, that might not be in the book. But it's in the Baby Van Gogh video. He scares my daughter in the video--he yells and he's covered in paint.

By Blogger Laurel, at December 19, 2004 at 4:18 PM  

I think things like that are just a nod to the parents to see if we're awake and paying attention. Sort of like those jokes on the first few seasons of the Simpsons, before the writers gave up on the subtlety.

For instance, in Hippos Go Berserk, by Sandra Boynton, what I want to know is why do "Seven hippos moving west" leave those "six hippos" so distressed? (My husband, on the other hand, is bothered by the fact that the six hippos never officially leave the premises.)

It's why I broke out the Edward Gorey books for our child. He loves the Doubtful Guest and the Gashlycrumb Tinies. I figure if it's going to be weird and dark, it might as well be overtly weird and dark, with good illustrations.

I am, however, holding back The Curious Sofa.

By Blogger Girl Detective, at December 19, 2004 at 7:00 PM  

I saw that book in the bookstore while looking for Mr. Men books for my nephew. The first thing I saw was the goats ear, and laughed for a good 10 minutes, by myself, looking like a crazy person. I may have to actually buy it next time I see it. Don't worry, kids don't get the crazy stuff in books like adults do. M. Tiny should be alright for about another 9 years!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at December 19, 2004 at 7:28 PM  

The loss of the jaunty straw hat is a pretty heavy metaphor, dude. I think Paul hooked up with this prostitute that Vincent van Goat thought was his girlfriend, and he sent her his ear in a box as a token of his love, so she would like him better than Paul. Tell M.Tiny that generally the severed body parts do not go over so big with the ladies. Better to say it with flowers. Bad girls also accept cash.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at December 19, 2004 at 9:45 PM  

Long gone are the days where you learned to count using the beatings your parents gave you. Now it's all high tech. I think teaching is loosing it's subtle nuances. Damn the internet. (and yes, I mailed in this comment to the blog... shut up...) (I don't even remember where the post office is any more...)

By Blogger chao, at December 20, 2004 at 6:32 AM  

I recall writing a paper in college called "If Van Gogh Had Prozac." A lot of stuff about serotonin reuptake inhibitors and whatnot. Anyway, the point of my stupid paper was that pharmacology can be bad for art. How profound.

We have a Baby Einstein book, too, but ours must be for the "above-average" child instead of the truly "gifted genius," because it consists of a bunch of small mirrors into which the baby is supposed to gurgle and drool. Where's the context in that?

By Blogger sisyphus75, at December 20, 2004 at 7:28 PM  

My mom, whom I don't often quote, told me that Van Gogh went crazy because he had a tic of licking his paintbrushes, and was slowly poisoned by the chemicals in the paint (lead, arsenic, etc.)

Any art historians out there who can confirm or deny? My mamma used to want to be an artist, but she's also a fundamentalist christian, so I don't think her word can be trusted.

By Blogger Joanne, at December 22, 2004 at 8:59 PM  

I also heard the paintbrush sucking anecdote (not entirely improbable given how many of the brighter--and his favorite--pigments contain/ed heavy metals), though I know there was definitely a prostitute and delusional love as well. Oh, those wacky artists! The world may never know!

See if you can get WireMonkeyMother to share some of the alternate lyrics she and the Lad have created for Baby Einstein vids....

By Blogger Angeltiger, at January 3, 2005 at 12:23 AM  

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