Monday, November 17, 2014

What Are You Watching?

         Kid's shows. Do you let your preschoolers watch TV? I do. I know there are those who don't let their children watch TV, who cling to the old but bizarre notion that watching TV is bad for kids. That was the "in" thing to aver back when, and has been a common wisdom for decades, but I think it is grounded in unthinking prejudice and herd mentality rather than any kind of objective facts. It just sounds educated and caring when you mouth anti-TV dogma, but I don't buy it. There is nothing wrong with using the TV to entertain your kids as long as you are not using it as a baby sitter and a substitute for personal interaction (at least not too much). And if you are the type to overuse the TV for those purposes your kids are going to be screwed up whether they watch TV or not.

        That said, not all programming is equal, of course. There are good shows and bad shows. What is good and bad is subject to individual taste, I'm sure, but even so, there are some really bad kid's shows out there. Have you noticed? I mean really lame ones. Some are so bad that I can't imagine that they could possibly have any viewers. At least that's what I thought before I started hanging around with Kiley.

        Like many people, I have the TV on all the time. Even if I am not watching anything, the TV is on. (This speaks very highly of the state of modern electronics. The TV is on all day every day for years on end and never needs to be repaired. Incredible!)  Maybe my TV addiction says something about a need for constant stimulation, or an aversion to being alone, or some other psychic failure but I'm not worrying about it. I usually have the news or some DYI program on. I like house renovation and house buying programs too, and crime investigation shows, you know, the true life ones where some horrible example of the dark underbelly of human nature is delved into. But most of the time I am busy doing something else and not watching anything, it's just on for background noise.

        When Kiley started hanging around I changed my choices of background noise. Even if she could talk or understand English, I don't think what is happening on the news would be relevant for her, and the dark underbelly of human nature is certainly inappropriate for a less-than-one-year-old. So I switched to kid's shows for background, and as luck would have it, there is a vast pile of inane programming to choose from.

        I'm a big advocate of pulling the band-aid off quick, getting the hard stuff over with as soon as possible. So let's get the controversy out of the way right from the get-go. If I'm going to stir up the wrath of the masses let's do it now. Sesame Street sucks, okay? Ever since it's debut a billion years ago, Sesame Street has been proclaimed the ultimate kid's show. But it's not. It's just a clever puppet show disguised as educational TV so parents would make their kids watch it and not feel guilty about using the TV as a baby sitter. If it weren't for The Muppets the show would have never even gotten off the ground so spare me the fake education and just give me The Muppets. Attempting to create a learning experience out of every little thing is boring. Math is boring, even when puppets do it. If you want to learn to count go to school. Elmo is okay, but I don't want my tax dollars spent on this junk. Sesame Street is a bigger con game than Bernie Madoff had going. They make hundreds of millions on Sesame Street merchandising and they need my hard earned tax dollars to bankroll their crummy show? It's thievery. Come on PBS, knock it off! Having puppets steal for you is pretty low. And yes, Obama, I am waging a war on Big Bird. Bring him on, Thanksgiving is coming.

        Okay, let's get down to the real kid's shows. I surfed through the children's programming to find what I liked, so let me mention a few. I liked "Peter Rabbit" for one. I like the way it looks, warm and kind of fuzzy. There is also a bit of adventure and tension due to all of the nefarious characters out to get Peter and his siblings – the farmer, the fox, the cat.

        Sheriff Callie's Wild West is good. I like the way Callie handles herself. She has that magic lasso and all. Sheriff Callie is also the only sane critter in the whole town. Everyone else is one kind of lunatic or another who needs a strong woman (or cat) to keep them out of trouble. There's just one thing – how come every time Sheriff Callie sings "Yippee-ki-oh-ki-yay" I think of Bruce Willis?

        Doc McStuffins is great. If you haven't seen it, Doc is a little girl who has set up a medical clinic for toys. When no one else is around but Doc, toys come to life, and every episode she ends up having to fix one of her charges that become broken in some way. What I like about it is not the way the toys transform, though they do have cute personalities, but rather the way Doc transforms. Under normal circumstances Doc is just a kid with parents as authority figures (and yes, even they call her Doc), but when she is alone with the toys, she becomes the authority figure. Doc becomes the grownup with all of the answers and her toys are like children, depending on Doc for everything. I think its' good that children can see another child as a capable authority figure (Doc can fix anything), as well as pleasant, caring and kind.

        Tinkerbelle is also good. It is beautifully drawn, even if it is CGI, and the characters and the world they live in are beautiful too. All of the fairy girls have such beautiful faces and are so graceful when they fly. The plots are typical Disney stuff but the look is charming. And that's the trouble with these kid's shows. The content is purposely juvenile so it is hard for an adult to determine what shows a child would find interesting. Most of the kid's shows I like, I like because of the way they look not because of the infantile plots.  What would Kiley like? That's the question. And the answer is, believe it or not, Mickey Mouse.

        Kiley loves "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse", a basically mindless offering on the Disney channel. I hate this show. All of the characters from a hundred years ago are still there with Mickey – Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald and Daisy Duck, and the villain Pete. The characters have changed somewhat from their original conception. Goofy is not just goofy anymore; he's downright stupid. Goofy does a lot of shtick revolving around his "smelly" shoes and socks, and for some reason Goofy is forever losing his pants. If I didn't know better I'd think he was doing it on purpose. The car crashes, Goofy loses his pants, fall off a ladder, off go the pants, dive into the pool; Goofy's pants are floating. So Goofy spends much of the time stripped down to his skivvies and said skivvies have pineapples on them. It's weird. I'm tired of looking at Goofy's underwear.

        Donald Duck, who was always manic in the past, is now simply insane. He never has any idea what is actually going on and destroys everything he touches.  The other characters are always having to console him for his stupidity and continuous failure at everything he does. Daisy Duck, on the other hand, who was never more than a minor character in the past, is now a major force in the Mickey Mouse world. Yes, Daisy Duck! She is smart, brave and resourceful (as far as cartoon ducks go). She even has an alter ego, Daisy O'Dare, who is a Laura Croft kind of character that has whole episodes of the program devoted to her.

        Pete, who is huge compared to the other characters, looks kind of like a bear but is actually a cat. He is the villain of the show, though even the villain is dumbed down in Mickey's world. Pete's villainy amounts to little more than taking advantage of the others whenever possible and bemoaning the fact that he is unpopular. Going for a walk, everyone? There's Pete setting up a tollbooth and charging for passage. Opening a boutique, Minnie? There's Pete stealing your best bows to sell in his own shop. Once in a while Pete will have an epiphany and realize that popularity is linked to caring and friendship but the lessons never take and the next episode he's right back to being a prick. What do you expect from a cat in a mouse's world?

        And then there's Mickey. This mouse is an absolute megalomaniac. He thinks everything is all about him, and you know what, it is all about him! This is Mickey's world and everyone else just lives in it. Everywhere you go on this show there are images of Mickey. The clubhouse itself is a giant set of Mickey ears with all kinds of weird crap going on inside, and all of it having to do with Mickey. The other characters all adore Mickey (especially Minnie); they practically worship at the shrine of Mickey. Mickey is the undisputed leader of the club that's made for you and me and whatever Mickey wants Mickey gets.  It is a straight up cult of personality. I keep expecting Mickey to put on sunglasses and start handing out Kool-Aid.

And yet Kiley loves this show. It is, by far, her favorite. When the theme song starts she goes into a dance and is mesmerized as long as Mickey is on the screen. I don't know if it's the way Mickey looks, or Mickey's voice, or what it is, but small children have loved Mickey for practically ever, and it doesn't look like it's going to stop anytime soon. We got the Mickey Mouse figures for Kiley to play with and she loves them. She plays with them all the time. She especially loves Minnie. She has Minnie Mouse pajamas, Minnie Mouse shirts, Minnie Mouse socks. Minnie is pleasant enough in a wide-eyed sort of way, but she is also vain and kind of scatter-brained.

        At first I didn't think Kiley was old enough to understand anything that was going on in Mickey's Clubhouse. I figured she was just attracted to the music and bright colors, but I was wrong. Though, at not yet one, she can't possibly be following even the minimal plots offered by the show, she is still picking up simple concepts from what she is watching. It's Pete. She doesn't like Pete. She doesn't like the toy figure of Pete, even though it is smiling and looks as pleasant as the other figures. The Pete figure is not allowed to play with the other figures. When we put the toys away the Pete figure is not allowed to be in the same box as the other figures.  Pete is persona non grata. She has somehow figured out that Pete is not a nice guy. It must be subliminal. Is it intentional as well, some kind of experiment? How much have the Disney scientists learned about the minds of children over the past millenium of Disney programming? How much have they learned about manipulating those minds? What's really going on down in the Disney labs? Who knows what else Kiley is picking up from these "shows"? What other messages are creeping into the little minds of the unwary? To what predetermined end does such slavish devotion to a seemingly harmless icon lead? Where's Annette and what have you done to her?

        You know what? I've changed my mind. TV is bad for kids. Turn it off! God only knows what warped view of reality is coming through the tube. Insanity, stupidity, vanity, megalomania, smelly socks - talk about your dark underbelly of human nature. And all from a cartoon! Don't let Mickey get his hooks into our little ones. In the end, there is only room for one God in the universe and he doesn't have ears like that. And Goofy, there are children present for God's sake, put your damn pants on!


1 comment:

  1. THANK YOU!! I have always thought Sesame Street was crap. My kids enjoyed it a bit but you are right on. Kids can and do learn their numbers and letters. They are not hard, and kids are smart. And Disney and others...damn every show has to teach some lame lesson... "IT;s nice to be nice" "Not being nice is not nice." and that all time favorite, "Be nice!" My grand kids love "Sponge Bob!" I do too. It is all right for kids TV to be entertaining.

    Personally I only watch TV on channels 2-475.