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October
1999
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Channel 2: Hey, Kids' TV was ALWAYS Worrisome

By P.Kellach Waddle

Among boob tube issues (Hey I am talking about TV, get your mind out of the gutter), perhaps none is still more controversial than the issue of what will, in the words of Eric Cartman "warp the fragile little minds" of today's kiddies. And I am not talking about what horrors might occur if you don't notice your rugrat watching Fox's new raunch-com "Action" and wondering exactly WHAT a crackwhore-with-a-heart-of-gold is. I am talking about the TV that is AIMED at kids.

I, not being a parent and being an advocate of no-holds-barred television, am still a bit worried when I see some of what is marketed to the toddler set. On a sheer horror level, could someone explain to me what the deal is with this Nickelodeon show about a talking sponge with a hat and eyes? (The message this show seems to be sending is for kids to do a lot of drugs when they get older so they can chat with their very own conversing cleaning supplies in their very own homes.) Or how about Nick Jr's AWARD-winning turtle "Franklin?" This show seems to send your 4 yr.old the message that if your are nosey and dress like a choreographer with a lisp (turtles with ascots, No… just, uh. NO.) then you will have a whole gaggle of equally annoying pals also obviously think the world revolves around them.

How can I surmise that these little animal folk are so self-centered?

Franklin's parents' names are…get this... MOTHER AND FATHER. (So much for the parents of turtles evidently having identities away from raising their shelled offspring.)

However the point that sticks out to me is that this misconception that any of this kids' TV sending creepy messages is a NEW thing. It isn't.

Before someone assaults me let me emphasize that I think "Sesame Street" is perhaps the greatest broadcast invention of the last 35 years. And let me add that I sobbed like some little 4-yr. old myself during Mr. Rogers' speech upon winning the Daytime Emmy trustee award a few years ago. However, I still am haunted by examples from both of these shows where I am not sure that the message being sent was terribly plausible, or for that matter, GOOD.

Now I am sure Mr. R. never saw that as we approached the end of the millennium that there would be children killing children.. but STILL, was this VERY educated and literate man naive enough to buy his hoo-hah that if you just TALK to and reason with difficult people, then they will stop hurting your feelings? And should 5-yr.olds REALLY be told to believe this Polyanna hogwash? Not to mention, that the main "hurter of feelings" from make-believe was a puppet of ambiguous sexuality named Lady Elaine Fairchild. (I know puppets don't have sexuality, but she's Artistic, She LIVES in a museum, she's brassy... do the math.) She was the only make-believe resident who wasn't some simpering wuss, yet she was always presented as interpersonally inept. Was dear Fred telling us the only way to care about others was to be a milksop like that whining tiger who lived in a clock or that cornpone Hooterville refugee that lived in a factory that didn't really make anything? Fred is deservedly an icon, but I don't think these messages were very helpful in terms of how to teach kiddies relationship skills.

Now moving to that most famous of sunny-day streets, three big things bothered me here.

#1. Yes, I made mud pies and rolled around in the grass sometimes, but in general I bought into the notion that cleanliness was next to Godliness. So please tell me why my little self was supposed to feel left out because I found nothing REMOTELY hilarious every time that clumsy chef spilled down the steps with random numbers of bakery products culminating in his being decorated with said foodstuffs. I thought it was creepy, it made me sad that all of that yummy food was wasted, and I was offended that this slapstick baker was supposed to be SO friggin' funny that there was an uproarious laugh-track underlining his lack of sure-footedness. My beloved "Sesame Street" during this sequence always seemed to by telling me some Three Stooges bit of wisdom here that falling with food is funny. It isn't.

#2. I know I was a freak of a child who was learning to do long division and reading Shakespeare before I went to kindergarten, but I was NOT one of those genius freaks who completely eschewed kiddie things like my beloved Muppets. But could someone tell me why until the early 90s "Sesame Street" wanted every toddler to believe that perhaps numbers just didn't EXIST above 20? The pinball machine rap (which everyone I know can still sing) only went to 12, the obnoxiously loud preface to the aforementioned pastry/stairs disasters only went to 10, and NOTHING until circa 1991 ever mentioned the possibility of something so mysterious as the number 21. I personally think it might have been more important to show a few more numbers then to beat it into our 4 year-old heads how to count in Spanish. (When you are a four year old, counting to 20 in Spanish in the Tennessee Valley or the Midwest, is at best a parlor trick, not really a skill with any practical uses.)

And finally, the most disturbing message of all concerns something big and brown. (And no, I do not mean Susan on a particuarly bloated day.) In a day and age when children were possibly having to convince parents of seemingly unbelievable horrors .. someone PLEASE tell me what kind of message SS was sending with all the grown-ups for years telling Big Bird his VERY real and LARGE friend Snuffleupagus was only a figment of his imagination? And not to mention if Sesame Street was trying to teach respect for one's elders.. well how much MORE STUPID can adults look telling poor BB that his pal which is the size of a motorhome isn't REAL?

So the next time you hear parental tongues clucking about the possible strange messages being sent by new Kids' shows.. remind them that even on a sunny day... when your sweeping the clouds away….there could be odd messages coming out of even the classic children's TV aimed at your kid.

Editor's Note: Kel is a very grumpy old man, and his views expressed do not usually agree with those of The Shrubbery, its staff, and its readers. According to us, Santa Claus is real, and Bert and Ernie are not gay (not that there's anything wrong with that.)

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