Fred: Another Sign That I Am Old

For the past few days, I’ve been telling everybody about Fred. Instead of repeating myself, I thought I’d make a blog entry out of it.

Last week, Andy pointed to a series of YouTube videos about a character named Fred, writing:

LA Times on YouTube’s Fred — insanely popular with tweens, he has 242k subscribers and a sponsorship deal; here’s an interview.

Because I follow all of Andy’s links, I followed these. The LA Times article is fascinating because it describes how Fred may portend the arrival of truly egalitarian media. (This is a theme I explored in an interview yesterday with Scott Burns, a long-time newspaper columnist. We discussed how newspapers are dying and the web is allowing a sort of democratization of information providers. Though I interviewed Burns for my personal finance blog, there are vast portions of the conversation that aren’t about money. I may post them here.)

But the amazing thing about Fred isn’t that a random fourteen-year-old from Nebraska (Lucas Cruikshank) can rocket to internet celebrity with no traditional media coverage. No, the amazing thing about Fred is that he clearly illustrates some sort of generational divide. Here’s a recent episode:

Do you think that’s funny? Neither do I. But apparently kids love him. Seriously. They think he’s hilarious.

We were talking with Mike and Rhonda last night, and the women were expressing their bafflement over Italian Spider-Man. “It’s funny,” I said. Mike agreed. But Kris and Rhonda were unconvinced. This led to a discussion of humor, and how different people perceive it.

“I can usually see why something might be considered funny, even if I don’t think it is myself,” I said. “But this Fred thing. I don’t get it. There’s nothing funny about it at all.” Because my companions had never seen Fred, they didn’t get my meaning.

From the LA Times article:

If you’re past a certain age, Fred’s appeal is essentially inscrutable. His antics are Kryptonite for grown-ups, repelling any but the most vigorous attempts to watch an entire episode and keeping us in the dark about why kids seem to love him so much.

“They just think he’s the funniest thing ever,” said Valerie Moizel of the L.A.-based WOO ad agency, which found out about Fred after it conducted kid-centered focus groups for its ZipIt instant messaging product — which later showed up in Fred’s videos. “We watched them watch him — they fall on the floor hysterically laughing. They’re just mesmerized.”

And more than just the zaniness, it’s possible that kids are connecting to Fred on other levels too. He has parental, behavior and girl problems, so there’s a little something for everyone.

“The biggest draw is the subject matter,” Moizel added. “He really knows how to touch on things that are current and that teenagers deal with.”

What do I know? I’m just a middle-aged man. I wonder if my father felt the same way about Monty Python and the Holy Grail?

Curiously, I actually like some of the videos from JKL Productions, which features Lucas Cruikshank (a.k.a. Fred) and his twin cousins, John and Katie. This video of the trio dancing and lip-syncing to Hannah Montana is exactly the sort of thing I used to do with my friend Heather when I was in high school. It’s fun.

But Fred? I just don’t get Fred…

Star Wars as Told by a 3-Year-Old

As a follow-up to yesterday’s musical extravaganza, here’s a masterpiece of narration. George Lucas should take lessons:

I can picture it now: a blog devoted to the creative arts for the pre-school set. Song! Film! Naps!

(My favorite part of this clip? The “symbolic” calendar. (Which is the same cat calendar that Kris and I buy every year, by the way — we love that thing.))

Hey Jude!

I don’t blog for weeks, but when I do it’s to share pure solid gold:

Yes, I know this has been making its way around the internet, and I’m probably the last one to see it. I don’t care. I love it.

Here Are Some Facts About Santa

Eight or nine years ago, Kris and I took a Saturday around Christmas to drive all over creation playing Santa, delivering goodies to our friends. We’ve harbored fond memories of that trip, but never made the time to repeat it until now.

On Friday, Mr. and Mrs. Claus boarded the sleigh — Mrs. Claus’ sleigh because Mr. Claus still has no heat in his — and delivered presents to good boys and girls down near Canby and Woodburn. We got to chat with Kara, Kim, Kristin, and Steve and Mary. On Saturday, the industrious couple made a run to Newberg, Beaverton, and various parts of Portland.

“We should do this every year,” I said to Mrs. Claus when we had finished. “I like spending the hour or so chatting with each family, seeing them in their environment without a lot of stress all around. And all the kids seem to like it, too.”

“Yes,” Mrs. Claus said. “It’s fun.”

Because we were too lazy to drag our sleigh all the way to McMinnville, Michael and Laura and Ethan and Sophia agreed to meet us halfway. They joined us at a Chinese restaurant in Newberg. We had a slow, relaxed lunch during which the children charmed us (as they always do). Ethan is six and Sophia is four. They are both very verbal and overflowing with ideas. Ethan gave us updates on his nature museum and bug zoo. His fund-raising drive is going well, and he hopes to have the museum built and opened by summer.

Near the end of our meal, Kris asked Ethan, “What do you know about Santa?”

Ethan fixed her with a serious gaze and said, “Here are some facts about Santa.” Fortunately, I had my notebook open and ready to scribble. Most of what you read below is verbatim from Ethan’s mouth.

“Here are some facts about Santa,” Ethan said. “One, he has super powers. Three, he —”

“You forgot number two,” the adults corrected.

“Two, he has jingle bells. Three, he has a sleigh. Four, he has a magic sleigh. Five, he has magic reindeer.”

“What about his home life?” Kris asked. “Does Santa live with anyone?”

“He has Mrs. Claus, and he has some elves,” Ethan said.

“Do they have jobs?” asked Kris.

Ethan nodded. “The elves have lots of jobs. One, they have to be disguised in public. Let’s say I was bad. The elves — who could be disguised as anything — would see and would tell Santa.”

“Two,” Ethan continued (he likes lists), “they have to find out what kind of toy you like. Three, they make the toys. They invent the toys. Four, the elves guard the sleigh — there are a couple of elves on board. Five, they help Santa with The List.”

“Is there on-board navigation?” asked Michael, Ethan’s father. “Like GPS?”

“Sort of,” Ethan said. “He has an air map.” He spent a couple minutes describing how the air map worked before Kris steered him back to the original topic of conversation.

“What does Mrs. Claus do?” she asked.

“Well, Mrs. Claus has to make dinner,” Ethan said. “Sometimes they go out. How do they go out without people knowing they’re Santa? They dress up like just regular people. But pretty much Mrs. Claus does clothes and stuff. Sometimes she gets to relax. Mostly when Santa is gone.”

“Is Santa really fat?” asked his mother, Laura.

“No, he’s not. He’s really skinny,” Ethan said. And here my notes end. He gave us more information on Santa, but they were all minor compared to the enumerated lists he’d shared before.

I’ve often noted to Kris how different friends play different roles in our lives. Some are for relaxing. Some are for exploring new things. And some make me think in ways that are different from normal. The same is true with children. I have to admit, I find it exhilarating to interact with kids — especially young kids — who seem to have unbounded imaginations. Ethan and Sophia are two of those.

Dead Baby Jokes

On a whim, we met Celeste & Nicki and Rhonda & Mike for dinner at Gino’s last night. It was a damn fine meal with damn fine friends. Gino’s can be hit-or-miss, and last night was definitely “hit”. The food was hot, the portions were enormous, and the conversation was hilarious.

The highlight of the evening wasn’t actually the clams, as one might expect, but a brief departure into Dead Baby Jokes. Kris loves Dead Baby Jokes, and I can’t say I disagree. She told our two favorite, and they had me gasping for air.

Q: What’s the difference between a truckload of bowling balls and a truckload of dead babies?

A: You can’t unload the bowling balls with a pitchfork.

Q: What’s sadder than a dead baby nailed to a tree.

A: A dead baby nailed to a puppy.

That last joke brought the house down. Or at least our little corner of it. “It’s hilarious on so many levels,” Kris said on our drive home. Just thinking about it made me laugh again.

I’ve been trying to decide what makes Dead Baby Jokes so funny. I think it’s because they’re just so wrong on so many levels. They violate taboo. They shock. They provide unexpected juxtapositions.

The real problem with Dead Baby Jokes is that they’re difficult to craft. There are thousands of these on the internet, and maybe one-percent of them are funny. Most are just dumb. Some go for intentional gross-out, which is not the same as humor. I can’t believe that of all the Dead Baby Jokes I’ve read, these are the only two that I really like, but it’s true.

The best way to generate new Dead Baby Jokes? Set the dingoes loose!

Bonus joke:

Q: What do vegetarian dingoes eat?

A: Cabbage patch kids.

Yeah, I know — it’s more of a groaner than a laugher, but still…

Smart Kids

Here’s a post I missed last week at Metafilter. Thanks to the magic of Matt’s new podcast, though, I found this gem today, long after the discussion had died. The post is awesome. It’s so awesome that I’m going to leave it up here for a couple of days until all of you — especially you parents — have had a chance to read the linked articles. Here’s the entire post:

“You’re really smart!”
Psychologist Carol Dweck says that praising a child for being smart only teaches the kid to avoid any effort that might fail. "When we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes." Malcolm Gladwell chimes in with his thoughts on the importance of being a smart kid, "What a gifted child is, in many ways, is a gifted learner. And what a gifted adult is, is a gifted doer. And those are quite separate domains of achievement."
posted by revgeorge (218 comments total)

The 218 comments are filled with great anecdotes about smart kids who learned not to try for fear of failure. I was one of those. I am one of those. I was always told I was smart (and I appreciate the love my parents showed by praising me in such a way), but these affirmations had the opposite of the desired effect. They made me less confident in my abilities, not more.

Here are a few of the interesting Metafilter comments:

I’ve chewed on this question pretty much my whole life. School came pretty easy to me and I was always told I was smart. That never really jived with how I felt — I assumed I was lucky because I was curious and tested well. I felt (and still feel, to some extent) that I was gonna be “found out” — that I really didn’t know shit from Shinola. I think my lazy and procrastinating streaks are probably a result.

There are a couple of points the articles don’t make (but, on preview, I see that other posters have made). One is that heaps of praise can lead to a pernicious imposter syndrome — if I try and fail, then everyone will know that I’ve been faking all along. If I appear to be simply apathetic, well, I’ll be judged for that, but no one will think I’ve been faking intelligence, at least. Another is that if all my achievements are chalked up to some sort of innate, in-born talent, then I’m not really getting any credit for my hard work, am I? I see that with professional athletes, as well–Michael Jordan was certainly born with a predilection for being very good at basketball, but he also worked very hard at it. Calling his accomplishments the result of pure talent reduces their value.

Danish novelist Peter Hoeg, in his horrifying autobiographical novel Borderliners, talks about the pitfalls of praise; his idea is that value judgments are artifacts of the adult world, that during childhood curiosity rules. There are so new things to explore and make and want to do, and these experiences and ideas live outside the adult world of good or bad, right or wrong. So, according to Hoeg, even praise forces a child to see, during the initial period of childhood discovery, in adult terms of right or wrong, and unfairly forces a child into a mindset and a track based on an adult’s judgment.

I was a smart kid– too smart for my own good, in many ways– and almost always got good grades. But one thing that I distinctly remember is how much I loathed being praised for my effort. I hated getting a report card in grade school and seeing an “A” for results and another “A” for effort. It always felt like cheating, somehow. If I was going to be praised, I felt, it should be on my intrinsic merits, not just because I had “worked hard,” whatever that meant. After all, anyone can apply time and concentration to a task. I would know I had achieved true academic success, I believed, when I received an “A” for results and a failing grade for effort. I never did.

If I run a half-marathon and do well despite lack of proper training, just through determination, I feel like I cheated. Sure, I made it, but I didn’t train. I didn’t become better. I just made myself do it. Similarly, I remember a certain philsophy paper that I pulled out of my ass and scored an A. It didn’t deserve an A. I certainly didn’t put A-level effort into it. Did I keep the paper? No, it got tossed in the trash. Did getting that A build self-esteem? Far from it. Pushing yourself builds self-esteem. Achievement, especially for those for whom it comes easily, is worth little, whether or not you do better than others.

The older I’ve gotten, the less likely I am to try something new and my cognitive experience is that my enjoyment of an activity is linked to my success as perceived and reported back by others, or winning, or perfect performance. I am incapable of internal, inherent standards and rely on external cues from others to judge my personal satisfaction with an experience.

(That last sentence is so true it hurts.)

The kids who do well in later life are the ones who are given the emotional and psychological mechanisms to cope with set backs and failure and who are taught how to see (simple simple at first) things through. Kids have to be taught that their failures are as important, if not more so than their victories, but in this culture if you don’t get out there early and distinguish yourself you’re thought of as “not good enough”.

And then there’s the absolutely amazing comment from “robocop is bleeding”: the story of Dr. Addler and The Wheel.

I’ve read the two main articles now, and have read about a quarter of the comments. Whenever I get free time, I go back and read a few more. This is fascinating stuff, and I think it goes far in explaining some of the challenges I’m facing lately.

This “smart kid” syndrome is the reason I get stage-fright regarding radio interviews or even posting to my blogs. This is the reason I’m always asking for constructive feedback. When people only tell me how much they love something I do, it has the opposite of the intended effect. Instead of being proud of what I’ve accomplished, it gives me a reputation I feel I have to maintain. It makes me afraid to stumble.

By the way, my “take away” from all this is:

  • Parents, praise your children, but don’t give them general praise like, “You’re so smart” or “You’re helpful”. Instead, give them specific praise: “Thank you for helping with the dishes”, “You did a great job on that essay”, “That pass you made was excellent — it helped Chris score a goal”.
  • Hard work and intelligence are both important, and both should be emphasized. But it’s the work that is most important to praise.
  • Failure, while it probably shouldn’t be encouraged, should be shown to have positive aspects. We learn from our mistakes. We cannot grow without failure. Failure is only bad if we let it defeat us. Don’t stigmatize failure, but show how it can be used for gain.
  • Don’t be afraid to criticize. Criticism, when it is constructive, helps a person grow.
  • It’s much kinder, in the long run, to mold a child’s behavior than it is to mold an adult’s behavior. By the time your kid is 38, it’s too late to change things that have fucked him up. The time to take care of that stuff is when she’s 8. But that can be very, very hard to do.

There’s a lot of information in these articles. A good book could almost be drawn from them. But it’s well worth reading.

Music for Nine-Year-Olds

Naomi is a writer. From time-to-time she sends out stories of her family life via e-mail. (She really needs a blog, but she won’t listen to reason.) Last weekend she sent out a bit entitled “Sk8er Boi on God’s Planet”, which describes the challenges of guiding her oldest daughter, Lydia, safely into the world of rock music. Naomi writes:

So suddenly my 9-year old daughter has become fascinated by the rock music scene. I had anticipated this, of course, but I was hoping that our Machiavellian plot of making her an early reader would serve to make her a late bloomer in the realm of teenager music. No such luck; she is apparently multifariously precocious.

But despite my misgivings, I was (at first) greatly comforted by the fact that her first love is Avril Lavigne and not Britany Spears. For those who don’t know, Avril is on the dark-eye-liner, black-clothes-wearing, pouty-lipped, politically cynical angry-at-the-entire-world end of rock music women, balanced on the other end by Brit’s cheerleader act. (no prejudices here, folks; as a Christian I love everybody equally. Really.)

As a fellow who loves music, I’m very excited that a kid I know has finally reached the age to be interested in rock. I don’t know Lydia well, but Naomi’s message still prompted me to spend two hours on Sunday (two hours that would have been better spent writing) gathering together songs that I hoped a nine-year-old would like (and that a nine-year-old’s mother might approve of). I was careful to choose songs that sounded “hip” without being risque.

But when Kris found out my plan she said, “What are you doing? You can’t make a mix for a nine-year-old girl. She’ll think this is her parents’ music. She’ll think this is lame.” I was mortified to realize that she was right. Still, I remember that I liked some of my parents’ music when I was a kid. And they listened to some of the stuff I liked. Maybe there’s hope.

I wrote to Naomi asking her advice. She replied:

I checked with Lydia, and she’d love to get your “Lydia mix.” She is not nearly as snobbish as she could be, partly because of her terrible isolation from anything pop culture. I kid you not, only a year ago she came home from school and asked “Mom, what’s Pokemon?” The scariest thing is not that she didn’t know Pokemon (scary enough) but that she still sees me as a source of accurate information about kid culture. That one will change soon enough!

So, in order to vet this mix for Naomi and for those of you hip to nine-year-old culture, here’s the pool of songs that I’ve managed to collect. This is slightly longer than a CD, so a couple of songs have to go. Which ones? Are there others that might be included? For each song I’ve listed the artist, provided a link to the lyrics, and posted a YouTube video. (I hope the latter doesn’t kill things for people.)

Lydia’s Mix

Kelly Clarkson – Since U Been Gone

Gnarls Barkley – Smiley Faces

Hilary Duff – Come Clean

Wilson Phillips – Hold On

Kylie Minogue – I Believe in You

Vanessa Carlton – A Thousand Miles

Green Day – I Fought the Law

Go-Go’s – We Got the Beat

Girls Aloud – Sound of the Underground

Rick Springfield – I’ve Done Everything For You

Sarah Washington – I Will Always Love You

This isn’t the version I’m putting on the CD

Natalie Merchant – Wonder

Diana Anaid – Last Thing

Jewel – Intuition

t.A.T.u. – How Soon is Now?

Avril Lavigne – Take Me Away

Us3 – Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)

The Decemberists – The Chimbley Sweep

This is not the official video, obviously, because there isn’t one.

Apples in Stereo – Signal in the Sky

The Might Be Giants – Why Does the Sun Shine?

R.E.M. – It’s the End of the World as We Know It

A*Teens – Mamma Mia (ABBA cover in Spanish)

Actually, I may send Lydia a copy of this CD. I love it.

  • Dandy Warhols – Bohemian Like You
  • The Postal Service – Such Great Heights

    Pat Benatar – We Belong

    Sixpence None the Richer – Kiss Me

    Basically, I’m looking for fun songs that I can imagine a young girl dancing around to. I tried to picture a young Kris Gates bellering along to these songs. If I could picture it, they stayed. (Of course, I had to draw the line at Helen Reddy, which I know Kris used to sing along with.) I really wanted to put on some other songs, like The Black-Eyed Peas’ Hey Mama, but I recognize they’re inappropriate. Please, readers, I beg of you: help me create a CD that a nine-year-old girl would love. (I hope to be able to use this for other nine-year-olds as they crop up during the next few years.)

    Liam Mackenzie!


    I’ve been in negotiations with Mac and Pam to go to The Great Wall, a Chinese buffet in Salem, before Pam gives birth to their second child in late March. Looks like we’ll need to change our dinner plans.

    Mac reports that at 10:12pm on the evening of 18 Feb 2007, Pam gave birth to Liam Mackenzie Smith. He arrived five weeks early.

    He is 19 inches long and weighs 5 lbs 12 oz. Considering he arrived 5 weeks to early, he is doing very well — no tubes or ventilators, just monitors. He’s eating well and seems to be adjusting well. Mom had another unconventional birth, but she is doing very well and is happy that Liam is doing as well as can be. Megan is a little dumbfounded, but she already loves her little brother.

    Congrats, Mac and Pam!

    A Salty Snack

    We had dinner with our friends Chris and Cari on Saturday night. Michael and Laura joined us. And, of course, the kids were there: Kaden, Ethan, Emma, and Sophia.

    Kaden is nearly seven, and has begun to exhibit strong personality traits. He was born on Leap Day, and so I always kid him about his age. “You’re still only one,” I say. “You’ll be two soon.” The other night he frowned a little and told me, “That’s not really funny anymore.” Touché! He likes his tropical fish, and he loves his Legos. I think he’s a great kid. (The other three kids are great, too, but this entry is about K.C.)

    While at dinner Kaden commented that he liked salt. Kris told him how I have a habit of eating salt when I’m very, very hungry. We’ll be sitting in a restaurant waiting for our food, and I’ll tide myself over with a touch of salt from the shaker. Kris thinks it’s strange, and I suppose she’s right.

    Anyhow, K.C. was effusive in his praise of salt, so I took a page from Craig‘s book. I’ve created a salt sampler for him from the various flavors in my library, and I’ll mail it to him later today.

    The flavors I sent him include:

    • Top row: sea salt, real sea salt (very salty), sea smoke salt, garlic salt.
    • Bottom row: herbed salt (from Italy — very good), seasoned salt, Caribbean salt (from Connecticut), hickory smoked salt (I use this all the time).

    The herbed salt came from Amy Jo (who has recently resurrected From a Corner Table). Craig and Amy Jo appreciate my love of salt, and encourage it with salty gifts from time-to-time. And now I’m passing these gifts on to the next generation of salt-lovers.

    Cat vs. Kid: The Showdown

    In light of my recent controversial complaints about children, and the subsequent video I shared of my cats, this short piece perfectly encapsulates the foldedspace pecking order:

    Jeff’s reponse upon seeing this was, “Poor kid,” to which I replied, “Poor kid nothing. He got what he deserved.” (And what about those parents? They deserve to be keelhauled.)

    Ah, there’s more where that came from. How about an angry sheep:

    Or a less angry (but still violent) sheep:

    For Nicole, here’s a brave, brave bunny:

    And, finally, for Lynn — an animal “bred for its skills in magic“:

    Have I mentioned that I love YouTube?