Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Udders and the concept of Noise

I never used to fall asleep during movies. To a big movie fan, like myself, it was like a sin. But something changes when you grow up, have kids, and end up with an extremely busy existence. You end up falling asleep during movies sometimes and last night I fell asleep during the computer animated movie "Barnyard."

I got about half way through the movie, hadn't laughed much, and started to drift off. I was expecting the movie to be funnier, I must admit. It was written and directed by comedian Steve Oedekerk, who was responsible for one of my favorite cinematic guilty pleasures of recent years, "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist." My wife groans every time I watch that movie, but there are some movies that women just will never appreciate.

I have to wonder if one of my problems with "Barnyard" was that I was never able to get my simple brain past one big hang up. Ok, the main character of the movie is a cow, a male cow, and he has a udder! In fact, all the male cows in the movie have udders! My wife and I thought, "do they not know?" "Is Hollywood that out of touch with reality?" Turns out Mr. Oedekerk knows perfectly well that bulls don't have udders, but he thinks that udders are funny.

Well funny maybe, but I just found them distracting. It seems I'm not the only one as I found many postings on internet discussion boards from people who felt the same way. This is a great example of the concept of noise, which I remember studying when I was a communications major back in my college days. "Noise" is not necessarily audible, but it's anything that distracts the audience from the message. Here the noise is that there are male cows with female parts which distracts the audience from the enjoying the humor of the movie.

Noise is an important thing to keep in mind when planning a puppet program or children's church program. Kids, and for that matter adults, are distracted easily. A puppet who's moves are too wild and hyper is usually a puppet with a noise issue. The audience will stop paying attention to what the puppet is saying, the message, and start paying too much attention to the weird movements.

I think everybody has something they do that causes noise. My family is in the process of looking for a new church home, so we are visiting new churches. A few weeks ago we attended a church where the preacher had a quirk that to me came across as noise. He was a good preacher, but he had a habit of every so often tacking the phrase "yes or no" to the end of his statements. I found myself starting to focus too much on how many times he said "yes or no" than the important points of the message. For those of us in puppet ministry and children's ministry, we should also try to tune in to what things we may do that cause noise. Things that distract from the real message.

I've done a lot of blacklight puppetry, it's a lot fun, but there are some cases where the blacklight effect may take away from the message rather than enhance it. That would be noise. My previous church met in a high school and I had to lead children's church in the library. I think that sometimes that fact that we were surrounded by book shelves rather than kid-friendly visuals could have been considered noise. It didn't set the tone for the exciting things that went on in class.

So here's the challenge, whether we're putting together a puppet show or planning out a children's church set or, I suppose, making a multi-million dollar movie about cows who walk upright, we need to think about if we're being noisy.

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