I’ve been reading other blogs to try to get a sense of what makes one blog popular, and not another. And you know what I have discovered drives popularity?…Controversy. The best blogs out there deal with controversial topics, like Marc Driscoll. And the more incendiary the treatment, the more hits that posts gets. So even though I tend to be very politic in my writing, I’m going to get into this too, in order to drive traffic to my blog, not because I necessarily care about the topic (in what I see is true blogger style).
But, the trick to this is that I have to critique something that I have a lot of experience with, preferably on a daily basis. Hm, so what should I write about?…I KNOW!
WHY THE FOLLOWING CHILDREN’S SHOWS BUG THE HECK OUT OF ME.
Let’s start with my least favorite:
1. Blue’s Clues
Yup, I’m going right for the throat. For you folks out there who don’t have kids…you probably get a lot more sleep than me. And you also have no idea what Blue’s Clues is, so let me explain it to you. See, there is this guy, Steve – he is real, as in non-animated. And Steve has a dog named Blue, who is animated. Blue used to be a character in a book, until she jumped out of the book and became Steve’s dog. And they live in a largely animated world, where most things are animated, even salt and pepper shakers. And these salt and pepper shakers can speak, along with side table drawers and clocks, how fun! But strangely, his DOG can’t speak, but only can vocalize in this strange “bow-wow” noise. And because what she says is so intelligible, she is forced to put on elaborate scavenger hunts, a.k.a. Blue’s Clues, so that people can figure out just what she wants. Later, after Steve goes to animated college and is replaced, Blue discovers a secret room in which she can speak and is a live action puppet.
Make sense? Good for you, because it’s doesn’t make sense to me.
The reason this annoys me is because the premise behind Blue’s Clues is that its creator felt like people were underestimating the abilities of young children to track information and follow a plot. So she created a show that featured a scavenger hunt, where kids would have to put three clues together to find an answer – good premise. But strangely, the world that she created is completely nonsensical, without any consistency or logic – why can’t Blue talk, while a clock can? How does a dog jump out of a book and become the pet of a real person in an animated world? And then how does that same dog become a talking blue puppet later who CAN speak? And how in the world do a salt and pepper shaker procreate to create…paprika?? If you think that children are more intelligent than you think, then create a world that has a little depth and consistency, and makes sense. Strange to assert that children are so smart, and then create a stupid and shallow world for them.
It reminds of Harry Potter, where it was clear that the author was creating elements of the wizarding world as she was writing each book, and that the lore was not firmly entrenched in her mind… hm, I think I have discovered a topic for my next incendiary blog post.
2. Dora the Explorer
Don’t get me started on Dora. Now, I do want to say that creating a show for minorities is an awesome idea, and I applaud Dora for being such a trailblazer in this regard, along with Nihao Kai Lan and whatever. But now that I’ve gotten all of that political correctness out of the way, let me say this:
The voice talent used in Dora makes me want to eat ground glass.
Dora needs to calm the heck down. Girl is just too excited about everything, with absolutely no subtlety or variance, just, “JUMP WITH ME! JUMP! JUMP! JUMP!” And Map…that character sounds like a cross between a violin and a whiny child, which is the worst possible sonic hybrid imaginable. I can do an incredible Map impersonation, and how I do it is by pretending to be a baby with terrible constipation. If you come over, I can do it for you. In animation of any kind, the voice talent is of paramount importance, but especially in a children’s show where the actual images are so simplistic like Dora. If you aren’t going to entertain people with the visuals (which Dora clearly does not aspire too, as it looks like cartoons I drew in third grade), then make sure that you get good voice talent. For the love of mike, think about Beavis and Butthead, the ugliest characters ever, but so aptly voiced by Mike Judge.
And because of this, Dora fails to capitalize on its one saving grace, which is providing exposure to the Spanish language and Spanish-speaking culture. When characters speak in Spanish, because the voice actors’ uses voices that are so shrill, it’s difficult to follow, and translations of the phrases they use are inconsistently provided. This is okay for Spanish speakers, but if you don’t know any Spanish, like me, you walk away with little to show for it. My children walk around trying to imitate what Dora and her friends say, but they don’t say it correctly, and don’t know what it means. It is a golden opportunity lost.
And then there is this character Swiper, a fox who steals stuff, and then throws it far away from people. Why does he do that? Why not keep it for himself, and instead throw it into the snowy mountains of snow? IT MAKES NO SENSE!!
Let me start with the good – even though the drawings in Pinky Dinky Doo are very simple, the voice talent and sound engineering are top notch. The actors are good, the music is original and well recorded, and there are a lot of sound effects that keep that part of the presentation interesting. So kudos to you, Pinky Dinky Doo, for succeeding where Dora failed so miserably.
But I still don’t like the show. Pinky Dinky Doo is hard to explain, as are the premises of all children’s shows. Basically, there is this girl, and her brother, and they draw imaginary stories on the sides of a cardboard box. But these stories are used to explain different vocabulary terms, like “reluctant”, or “hullabaloo”, or “ukelele”. It’s not a bad idea when you think about it, because the story will always help the child remember what that word means!…except that the definitions that they provide for these terms are often not correct or appropriate, ruining the whole premise of the show.
For example, there is one episode where the little boy Tyler is afraid of going to the movie theater. His sister asks him how he feels, and he responds that he’s not scared, but “reluctant” – the big word of that day. And he goes on to say, “Reluctant is when you really really don’t want to do something.” Yes, it’s true that’s what reluctant means – but that’s not how Tyler really feels! He’s scared, and “reluctant” is just an euphemism for that. But they go on to imagine a story where an explorer is scared of the dark, but says HE’S reluctant as well. So…what I take away from this is that “reluctant” means: “When you are scared out of your wits but don’t want to admit it to people.” And that’s not really all that good of a definition for that word.
There is another episode where that same little boy does not want to stand up and recite the alphabet in his class. He and his sister search out for a word to explain how he feels, and they decide on “suspense”, that Tyler cannot handle the suspense…really? Suspense is not the word I would have chosen for that circumstance, because it’s usually used in the context of someone observing something that someone else is doing. A movie you watch causes suspense, but when you are afraid of messing up yourself? That’s not really suspense, but apprehension, or uneasiness.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, that’s a little picky. And it is, and I tend to be picky about word usage, being an aspiring writer. But remember that teaching children vocabulary is the central premise of this show! If I’m going to be picky about anything related to Pinky Dinky Doo, it should be about that. If you’re going to purport to teach children words, then by God, teach them the right definition of words in their appropriate context!
So the issue I have with these shows is not that they are silly or annoying or whatnot, but that they fail to live up to their central premises, which is kind of ridiculous. If you are going to teach Spanish, make sure the Spanish is clear and intelligible. If you are teaching vocabulary, teach the correct definitions. I think this is an important goal not just in children’s programming, but in all of life, really, and parents have the right to critique these shows on this basis.
But to be honest, this is all very tongue in cheek as I don’t hate these shows, not like people used to hate Barney in the 1990’s, where they would burn him in effigy. I let my kids watch these shows on occasion, and even watch with them often, rolling my eyes every few minutes or so, or pretending to vomit over the side of the couch. But if I don’t really have a problem with Blue and Pinky and Dora, why did I write this inflammatory critique that will surely earn me the ire of brownshirted thugs from the studios of Nickelodeon? Well, I did this mainly to drive traffic to my site, like I said at the start. But also because I realize that despite the grandiose premise of these shows, it’s not their job to encourage my kids how to follow one idea to its conclusion, or how to learn Spanish or the definitions of hard words…it’s mine! So it’s pointless to get mad at Blue for not doing a job that only I can do.
(But that doesn’t mean I can’t scoff at the prospect of a salt shaker and a pepper shaker getting it on and having a little baby paprika shaker as a result. I mean, first, there’s the question of anatomy. What are the anatomical parts of a spice shaker, and…)