Regulars

 A Very Special Webster
The Devil's Playground
by Daniel Radosh
John Paul Sartre said that Hell is other people.
      And Pat Benatar said that Hell is for children.
      So I feel I can say confidently that Hell is other people's children.
      I've always believed that there are too many children in the world. This is not an overpopulation thing, I just don't like kids. Well, I don't mind them in small doses or when they
keep to child-appropriate spaces—like, say, their rooms—but when children are unleashed into otherwise civil environments it tends to be bad news. Restaurants do not have tables so that kids can crawl under them. Movie theaters do not have seats so that kids can bounce on them. Supermarkets do not have carts so that kids can send them careening into the canned tuna display.
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      And the World Wide Web does not have vast multimedia capabilities so that kids can tape up their artwork like it's some giant, digital refrigerator.
Deanna
      Before I started my Web exploration it didn't even occur to me that there would be children here. Oh sure, I knew that kids surfed the Web—that's who we're supposed to be protecting from the rampant pornography, after all—but I had no idea that they would be so conspicuous. Who could imagine that so many 8- to
14-year-olds would have the time and inclination to maintain their own home pages? I figured they'd be too busy scrounging around for pornography.
      But the Web turns out to have more young 'uns than you can shake a stick at—and believe me, I'd like to. One particularly frightening gateway to this hell is the Buchanan Family Web. More than just a home page for the pudgy, half-cute spawn of Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan, the BFW aims to be an actual web: a limited alternative to the big, scary World Wide version, with links only to other "child-friendly" sites.
The Buchanan Family Web
      The blonde, horse-faced young Buchanans are Deannea, 10, Ashley, 9, James, 8, and the "twins", Bridget and Larry III, 4.5. Don't ask me why "twins" is in quotation marks. Perhaps this is to indicate that Bridget and Larry III are not conventional twins but the product of some twisted genetic experiment. No explanation is offered.
      Nor do any of them offer much in the way of personal insight. Dennea wishes us to know that it's "pronounced 'Renee,' but with a 'D.'" Her brother, meanwhile, opens with "Hi, I'm James and I'm 100% boy!" Are we sure this is child-friendly? You half expect a come-on like that to be followed by a 900 number.
      For the total Buchanan Web experience, check out the Netscape 2.0+ version.
This sets up a frame, so that no matter how many links you follow, the Buchanan kids always keep their place in the top and left margins,
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an implicit promise that anything inside the frame has their approval as child friendly.
   The family patriarch (Larry II, presumably) oversees all links just to be sure. He proudly posts a review of the site from the San Jose Mercury News. The headline—"Maximum Fun, Maximum Security"— apparently doesn't sound as ominious to him as it does me.
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      Dad does occasionally have a strange ideas about child friendliness. The maudlin update on Baby Meghan (some sort of heart transplant) is followed by a tribute to Jerry Garcia. "While I was never a 'Dead Head,'" writes Dad, in case we couldn't guess, "I do agree that the man was an icon to many." So was Stalin, but I wouldn't want him as a babysitter. The Jerry tribute includes a photo of the Fat Man smoking a cigarette and drinking something brownish that may or may not be a diet soft drink.
      Even without direct links to dead hippies, a completely hermetic kiddie web may be impossible. To take just one
example beyond Dad's control, Dennea links to a page by her friend Rachel, who in turn offers a link to T 'n T, Tristan and Tiffany's Daily Cool Stuff for Kids, which recommends a visit to the foam weapons arsenal. From the arsenal it's one click to the home page of its creator, Bill Dickson, and from there to any of five Liz Phair sites, where you can view mildly salacious photos and read seriously salacious lyrics, all within the Buchanan frame.
      There's something satisfyingly evil about seeing Dennea, Ashley, James and the "twins" grinning down one side of the screen and the words "I'll fuck you till your
The Buchanan Family Phair
Liz framed by the kids: Despite their best intentions,
a Liz Phair site is still clicks away.
dick is blue" on the other.
      Larry Jr.'s only solution would be to forbid his daughter's friendship with Rachel, an 11-year-old who is in herself harmless, unless you count her poetry. Rachel's site is largely given over to simply praising other kids' sites. Indeed, most children on the Web seem compelled to provide links to as many of their cohorts as possible. The level of collaboration is almost scary in a Village-of-the-Damned sort of way.
      When it comes to children promoting other children the word "cool," already the most overused on the Web, gets
even more of a workout. As in, "Dennea Buchanan is just starting her home page but it looks cool and she wrote to me and sounds cool so I bet it's a cool page." Dennea counters that Rachel not only "has a really cool site," but also "some really cool stuff on her web page."
      Some other cool kids include Megan Petry (not to be confused with Baby Meghan), who threatens us with a violin performance, though the sound file is a dud, so at least we don't have to applaud politely, and Bronwyn Lee, 12, who has a link to the Stoli-drenched Ab Fab site in addition to the
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usual child-friendly crap.
      While most children (or their watchful 'rents at least), seem obsessed with maximum security, there are those who may not be cautious enough. English sisters Alice Mary Bowen and Emma Jane Bowen, ages 10 and 8, practically invite trouble. Alice encourages visitors to download "a photograph of two children by Lewis Carroll, alias Charles Lutwidge Dodgson," while Emma asserts, "I like Children's BBC television, especially Blue Peter." In the U.S., a Charles
Dodgson photo and a Blue Peter are grounds for arrest.
      Even creepier are the pages set up for other people's children by adults, such as Uncle Bob's Kids' Page. Are there any parents in this day and age who have not warned their offspring that they don't have an Uncle Bob? And what could have been the trouble at Kids' Crossing, where a message informed us that "The New Kids' Crossing Bulletin Board has been disabled due to inappropriate behavior by a non-member." His name wasn't Dodgson was it?    </end>

DANIEL RADOSH is a New York based freelance writer who is a frequent contributor to the New York Press, Details, the New York Times Magazine and The Transom. Radosh was a senior contributor to alt.culture, an encyclopedia of alternative pop culture from Harper Perennial.
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