We went into Ice Road Truckers with the best intentions for our eight-year-old, I swear. It's the History channel, right? It's educational!
The topic of choosing appropriate entertainment and limiting screen time is one that comes up a lot in our household. Due to the nature of my work – and my exceedingly poor impulse control when it comes to retail purchases – we have a truly alarming number of DVDs and videogames around the house.
This is either totally awesome or deeply disturbing, depending upon your point of view. Our eight-year-old boy thinks it's great that Dad makes his living writing about what is politely termed "consumer technology". He inherits lots of free stuff, some of which is arguably good for him – DVD compilations of old Charlie Brown TV specials, for instance. Some of which, not so much, maybe – DVD compilations of Ice Road Truckers, say.
It's this last one that's precipitated our most recent crisis. One of the more controversial parenting choices we've made this year is letting the boy start watching DVD collections of Ice Road Truckers, the History channel show dedicated to big-rig drivers who haul cargo around Canada, Alaska, and more recently, the Himalayas.
We went into this with the best intentions, I swear. It's the History channel, right? It's educational! Besides, my dad was a truck driver in Detroit for 40 years, and when I was a kid, trucker culture was cool in a totally earnest, non-ironic way. CB radios. BJ and the Bear . C.W. McCall's hit song, "Convoy" (Don't know it? See below.)
(I am aware that I may be losing some of you younger readers at this point, so here's a quick cultural conversion chart from 1979 to 2011: CB radio = Twitter; C.W. McCall's “Convoy” = Rebecca Black's “Friday”; BJ and the Bear = hmm …. There really is no contemporary equivalent of BJ and the Bear. Which is as it should be, I suppose.)
Moving along. As I say, Ice Road Truckers seemed like a good idea initially, until we discovered that the drivers in the series tended to swear like – well, they swear like truckers. Even the most careful bleeping cannot obscure the series' endless stream of profane and anatomically evocative commentary.
Plus, the series regularly depicts episodes of fist fighting, beer drinking, drug testing and other issues of concern to heavy haul transportation professionals. Even within the scope of my inclusive, just-say-yes parenting style, I had to concede: Maybe this show isn't really for eight-year-olds.
By the time I realized intervention was necessary, though, our son was already deeply hooked by the glamor of the arctic trucking lifestyle. For the last several months, he's been transforming the couch into his own long-haul tractor-trailer, precariously balancing oversize loads of cushions, pillows and/or cardboard recycling bins, then strapping them down with a tangle of jump ropes.
Kids at his age soak up information like sponges, and he's clearly paying close attention to all aspects of the show. Without prompting, he'll explain about the hazards of whiteout road conditions, the average haul time from Anchorage to Yellowknife, and the industrial history of Prudhoe Bay's offshore oil rigs.
He's even recruited his little sister to play various roles in his trucker fantasy. Sometimes, she's an Alaskan DOT official – eternal nemesis of the free-spirited ice road trucker. Sometimes she's the driver of the pilot car, a kind of pace vehicle for truckers carrying dangerous or oversize loads.
But usually, she is simply “Lisa”, the earnest rookie trucker who nevertheless wins over her gruff male counterparts with her inexhaustible moxie and verve.
It can all be plenty cute, all right, and there are times when we marvel at the inventiveness of their make-believe domestic trucking operation. But then we realize he's queued up Season Three for the 45th time, and another bleep-filled monologue is ringing down the hall.
I don't know – these kinds of parenting dilemmas have been in play since the glow of the first television screen, and even before that, probably. I'm sure that somewhere, circa 1933, you could find a dad yelling at his kid to turn off the radio, forget about that Lone Ranger nonsense, and clean his room. (“I'll kemosabe you, mister, if you don't make your bed this instant!”)
Every family has to figure out where to draw the line, and we'll trip up on it eventually, I'm sure. Actually, the line may have been crossed this past weekend when I heard a grunt of frustration coming from the living room. I peeked in to see my son wrestling with the jump-rope cargo straps wrapped around the couch, and muttering about the goddamn brake line.
Ah, well. If innocence must be lost, I guess I'm OK with gradual little slips concerning swear words and imaginary brake lines. I'm inclined to let it slide. Just don't tell his mother, OK?