I hope not to do this more often than once a month, because they’re likely to be very long. However, I’ve been watching the Nostalgia Critic and his female counterpart for a while and I have a number of bones to pick with today’s television producers that neither of those two ever mentions.
I refer, first of all, to the disturbing trend in which, for some strange reason, television producers have decided that only children watch the so called “kids shows” and that the text-book definition of “child” somehow includes the phrase, “mentally deficient.” In short, those TV producers must think my kids are stupid. I know you’re hoping for examples and I’ve come prepared. First of all, let’s look at the dumbing down of Sesame Street. That show premiered back when I was a kid. At the time, I suppose it was assumed that some adult would watch the show with their kids, and Jim Henson was no fool. At that particular time, Sesame Street was originally created to help New York’s inner city kids get excited about reading. There were a fair number of kids, at that time, who were ten and up and still didn’t know their ABCs. After that, they came up with the Electric Company, which was a sort of variety show type thing that made a lot of celebrities careers and managed to teach advanced reading skills in the bargain. I mean, who doesn’t remember names such as Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno and Morgan Freeman. Of course, there were a number of actors that nobody remembers anymore and, of course, no one remembers the names of the Short Circus (an actual group of kids), with the possible exception of June Angela, the only member they didn’t switch out when she got to be older. Getting back to Sesame Street, though, I think it was shortly after the death of Jim Henson that some genius on the production crew decided that more parents were at work than were watching TV with their kids and the people who WERE watching them obviously needed some kind of mindless drivel to keep those kids properly anesthetized. Enter Elmo’s World. That segment of Sesame Street that is the most predictable part of the show. “Why change anything in that segment other than the subject,” someone must have said, “kids don’t care about that.” And people wonder about declining test scores, for crying out loud. Now my kids are far too smart for their own good. They will only watch a show for so long. When it ceases to be interesting, they are either gone or asking for a change of programs. I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only mother that has noticed this trend. Boring show = disinterested kids. Disinterested kids = no advertising profit. No advertising profit = a show that’s lucky if it makes it through the first season.
The second problem I have with today’s children’s television is how the characters talk to kids. Remember how I said TV producers must think my kids are stupid? The quality of TV programs proves this. Look at Blue’s Clues. They started out okay, when the sole human on the program was Steve. Then they switched out Steve for Joe and added, of all things, a puppet segment. Joe, unlike Steve, had a way of looking at and speaking to my children as if they were two. Too many shows were like that. They insulted my children’s intelligence and the intelligence of all children across the nation. Any mother who’s paying attention will manage to stifle baby talk early on. After all, they don’t want their kids to talk like that. So, when did it become okay to do it on TV? You know, I’m willing to bet that a fair number of the people who write those shows DON’T HAVE KIDS!
Finally, I have a problem with the messages these shows are teaching kids. Take Bear in the Big Blue House, one of the few shows I liked because it wasn’t boring or stupid. The only problem I did have with it was the fact that you could get Bear to agree to anything just by saying the word, “please.” It didn’t seem to matter how much the other characters, modeled after different aged children, invaded Bear’s space, imposed on him inconvenienced him or were inconsiderate of him. If you said, “please,” you could get Bear to agree to anything.
Scene: Bear comes into the bathroom to find Ojo reaching for his prescription pain killers.
Bear: Ojo, you shouldn’t take those.
Ojo: But I need them. Please?
Bear (hesitant): Well, okay. It’s kinda hard to say ‘no’ to ‘please.’
Sometimes, it didn’t even seem to matter if Bear started to object (which he frequently did). Message: “Please” is a word you use to pacify your parents. Sometimes, children’s programming (movies included) makes me want to follow the suggestion of Roald Dahl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the book) and toss my TV out the window. I think my husband might have a thing or two to say about that. Still, my kids get more from Spot the Car than they get from the TV shows aimed at them.
If I had my way, I would still write shows meant to teach kids a few things. Morals. The Alphabet. Numbers. How to Recognize Stranger Danger. But I would write them as if I were talking to people who were smart enough to understand what was being offered them and encouraged them to ask questions if they didn’t understand. To be honest, I was rather fond of “Lazy Town,” which was entirely written and produced in Iceland by the guy who plays Sportacus. The characters were rather stereotypical and formulaic, but they managed to get their message across (leading a healthy lifestyle) without being boring, insipid or giving the wrong messages by accident. This is why Magnus Scheving, an Olympic gymnast, is so rich and famous now. Plus, he could actually do all the things he had Sportacus do. As a mother, it would be nice if there were more shows like that.
Now, if you managed to get all the way through this without falling asleep, you deserve a medal.
Edit: I realize I seem overly opinionated and, obviously, there are other opinions about this subject. Bear in mind, however, that I'm just a concerned mother, not a social scientist.