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This Post Brought To You By The Letters F and U. Maybe a T. I Don’t Care. Pass the Fritos. September 5, 2006

Posted by doctorolove in Pop Culture Rants, TV.
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Oprah has told me I should be worried. And Oprah is the EF Hutton of America: When she speaks we listen…or she speaks and we all get cars and plasma TVs  (still trying to figure out the logistics on that one). But regardless, she has decreed our schools in a state of emergency. And not just a tiny emergency, like a paper cut on your finger or the cable going out during Desperate Housewives, but a full blown Defcon 2. Test scores are low, dropout rates are high and kids are getting pregnant, doing drugs and joining gimmick religions at alarming rates. All in all, we are no longer raising a nation of Britney Spears worshippers; we are raising a nation of Britney Spears clones.

The blame has been passed around like a blunt during a Snoop Dogg video shoot. They blame the teachers and their paycheck myopic view of the workweek. They blame the parents who are too busy working eight jobs and blowing their money on frivolous things, like lottery tickets, car stereos and health care. They blame the kids, who have become so lazy, with their video games, their Ipods and their 8-track tapes (Some  senators and critics haven’t emerged from their state-mandated “cryo-sleep” for quite some time.) The nation  even blames entertainment, still having not listened to Charles Barkley, who coincidentally is “still not a role model,” though he may now be fat enough to apply for his own nation status (Qatar- 4416 square miles, Charles Barkley’s gut – 3216 square miles….you do the math.)

But really, one quick view of PBS, and I know who the real culprit is. It’s not the students or the teachers or even the entertainers (though Johnny Knoxville is rocketing up the charts like a surprise Division I football team who pulls off a major upset). It’s Sesame Street. And the parade of crap it is invited into our homes by its’ sudden decline in high standards. We are slowly letting the brains of our future generation turn to oatmeal and if we don’t fix things soon, no amount of cinnamon, granola clusters or maple syrup will be able to save us.

How many of you have actually watched “Da Street” recently? It is no longer the frivolous calliope of skits and educational vignettes you may remember. The Sesame Street of former generations was a perfect blend of Muppets and strange visuals that made you wonder just what drugs they were pushing at Mr. Hooper’s Pharmacy. It taught millions of kids the value of sharing, self-esteem and the joy’s of eating mounds of cookies without truly swallowing )Obviously, the show was a teaching tool for Nicole Ritchie.) On any given show, you could learn how to count to twelve, watch a bunch of trippy, dancing men in pimp costumes discuss the benefits of following your mother’s instructions and still learn enough basic Spanish to order at the local Tio Pepe restaurant. And kids learned because right behind them were their parents. Adults of all ages watched along with their kids because they too grooved to the “bordering on Zappa video” craziness. The five year old in their stead didn’t understand that the strange dancing bugs were satirizing the Beatles: they only learned that “book” and “baseball” started with Letter B. The seventies Lichtenstein Pinball cartoon (you know the one…1,2,3,4,5,…Tweeeeelve) drew the parents in by reliving a few ‘concerts” back in the day. The Muppet characters made children smile, in turn, opening up their minds. And the parents laughed at them, knowing they’d see many of the same faces that night, performing in a vaudeville burlesque show featuring Charo or Ben Vereen. And when the child turned around with questions about specifics, they were speaking to an adult, who could answer them the best they kid, and not a groove in the couch where their parents should be. Sesame Street was at the forefront. It wasn’t solely teaching: it was providing a base in which to learn. And the beginnings of an open environment in which parents could watch along with their kids – maybe to help out or maybe to catch Maria in skimpy clothes. But viewing is viewing, whatever the reasons.

Sadly, this is no longer the case. The Muppets we remember are still there, but they are no longer accompanied by their late night bawdy cohorts. Instead they seem to be just running through the motions. You can almost see the puppeteers mouthing out their lines, choking back the vomit this new pablum causes them to upheave. The writing has gone from cutting edge parody with educational undertones to cutesy fables that sound just a step above Dick, Spot and Jane. The characters are too perky – think Up With People on Smilex Gas. And I won’t even mention Elmo, a character so vile that he makes every scene in which he appears bordering on pre diabetic shock. Those trippy visuals and cartoon vignettes? They’re still there, but appear only occasionally, probably to placate the stoners who still watch the show when they can’t figure out what they’ve done with the remote. And forget about learning any Spanish. You can now learn more from reading the back of a box of Frosted Flakes you picked up at the bodega than from any lesson on Sesame Street.

Reasons why? I suppose there are many. The death of Jim Henson. A newer, more, realistic culture. Elmo owning blackmail secrets on most of the puppeteers. Whatever. The truth is, the show has declined. And parents just don’t want to watch it with their children anymore. They would much rather plop them in front of the television and placate them. While a show may be designed to teach it’s audience, you need the parent there to answer questions and to possibly elaborate. The bonds are broken and before a parent can say “Ala-peanut butter sandwiches,” the die is cast. Sesame Street was famous for what it did, but now it stands as a cold reminder of what children’s TV has become: reconstituted dreck that could barely teach its’ way out of a paper bag. The Teletubbies? It masquerades itself as a show for the ultra young, but how can a parent sit through a show with their child where there are big fuzzy men in fat suits that watch the same skit over and over again on their stomachs. (Come now, showing the same skit is not teaching: it is a cheap way to fill out 22 minutes of television, leaving the writers more time to smoke pot. Because we all know they’re sober…they put a baby in a sun for Chrissakes.) Don’t even get me started on Blue’s Clues, which may have tried to gain the “trippy” vibe by adding talking condiments, but loses it’s credibility by talking to kids like they just stepped out of the audition room for Rain Man. And these shows have rocketed in popularity because of the Street’s decline. If you allow the standard to be one of insincerity and low intelligence, then what do you think you’ll get? A nation of kids who can no longer spell and share, but who eat “sometimes foods.” Great, we’ll be fit and dumb. (Again, must be Nicole Ritchie’s favorite show.)

Can they fix it? I don’t know, but bring back some good writing and please no more characters that are too cute to learn from. Naming a Muppet Abby Cadabby isn’t cute or endearing: it is merely teaching bunches of kids how to misspell. Maybe more cartoons and old school vignettes that make parents want to join their kids on the ride. I think Gnarls Barkley would kick mad ass on the “Me and My Llama” song, but that’s just me. Elmo? Yeah, if Lucas couldn’t kill Jar Jar, I think the world may be SOL on that one.

The schools are in danger because our kids no longer have the base we once did. Sesame Street may have been relied on too heavily and yes, it may have been salving a wound that was ready to burst, but for years, it worked. And if it continues on its’ decline, the schools may just get worse before it gets better. Sesame Street taught us the basics, gave us interaction with parents and instilled a hope for the future. And now we must lay in the bed that was made by piss poor children’s programming. At the rate this is going, we may soon have a show that is nothing more than made up puppets, spouting rhetoric that teaches nothing and leaves us stupider than when we started.

Oh wait, we already do. It’s called E! Live With Ryan Seacrest.

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Comments»

1. Ratboy - September 5, 2006

This is the ghost of Mr. Hooper… It all went downhill when ‘Susan’ went on ‘227’!!!!

P.S. Guy Smiley just asked me to “shine his pole”…Does that have anything to do with my local firefighters?

2. Mike - September 10, 2006

Very funny, and I agree mostly.

There are problems with the public school systems, as well as the public education. This is why almost anything the gov touches turns to sour grapes.

I personlly have started to homeschool. I know I can do better than any one else at it.

3. doctorolove - September 11, 2006

The only drawback I think homeschooling can ever have is the whole “social” aspect of school. But with a good family base and afterschool activities though, it may be okay.

Thanks for the comment Mike. And yes, I agree with the givernment “anti-Midas” touch with everything…


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