Children’s Television! ARR!

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I work graveyard shift, and so when I get home, there’s nothing on, since it’s 6.30 AM. So I tend to turn on PBS, when it’s doing all of the children’s shows. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the new kids’ shows bug me.

First off, what the holy fuck did they do to Sesame Street? What is all this blue-screened Elmo garbage? Sesame Street used to be brilliant, and now it’s this horrible thing with all these bells and whistles going on with Elmo hosting. I really can’t stand Elmo. I’ve NEVER been able to stand him. Now the show is his? Big Bird‘s OK; a little annoying, but he’s all right. Back when I was watching Sesame Street more religiously, he was the star, but even then, it was still a more of an ensemble.

But now it’s Elmo, talking to old Muppets of Food, with horrible CG things bouncing and gliding like they’re in some sort of Kai’s Power Goo machine. What happened to Snuffy? And Oscar? And Slimey? Those Muppets ruled. I hate Elmo, though. Same with Zoë, the Girl Version O’ Elmo, as far as I’m concerned. And the Blue one…. Rosita? Conchita? The one who drops Spanish words at random. I just can’t stand any of them; the old ones had a sense of character, but the new ones are just so vanilla, they don’t actually have anything to really grab on to other than the occasional catch phrase. (By the way, remember when all the Muppets were speaking correct English to teach that to children? And now you’ve got Elmo and the equally irritating Baby Bear — Elmo refers to himself in the third person (apparently, this is supposed to be since a lot of 3 year old will do that; so instead of showing the correct way, they encourage it), and Baby Bear has that speech impediment AND refers to himself in the third person. Great.)

Of course, as bad as Elmo’s made Sesame Street, at least it’s still teaching values and information. If you want something that actually goes out of its way to be harmful, I direct you to Caillou. I’m even overlooking his stupid name (apologies if it’s an actual name and not some random collection of letters), his inexplicable baldness (Has he just got chemo or something? Other characters have hair…) , the horrendous animation, or the half-finished backgrounds.

No, while all of that is awful, it’s nothing compared to the actual show. I’ve actually watched an episode of this. It wasn’t because I was thinking, “Hey, Caillou! I’m gonna watch that!”, but rather because there was nothing else on while I was eating my potatoes. And I’m going to actually go through the episode I saw for you, since it was so horrifying to me that they were actually presenting this as a program to help children. The episode opens with Caillou watching his mother put on makeup to “make her more pretty”. Then she goes out and gets a babysitter for him and his Little Sister (I assume that’s what she was, either that, another relative or maybe a neighbor kid. Anyway, I’m just going to refer to her as “LS” since it’s short.). While Babysitter puts LS down (to sleep, not like a old dog, nor was she insulting her), Caillou goes and grabs LS’ doll, and his mommy’s makeup, and proceeds to paint all over the doll’s face, laughing and having a grand ol’ time. After a while of this, the babysitter walks by, and he hides the doll in the toy box and sits on the lid. She asks him what he’s been doing, and he says “nothing”. Then LS starts to stir, so the babysitter leaves, and comes back to the toy room, and she asks if Caillou has seen LS’ doll. He, still sitting on the box, says “no”. Unfortunately (for Caillou), he hasn’t put the doll in all the way and the arm is sticking out. So, the babysitter sees it, and goes “Well, here it is!”. Caillou starts to cry, going “NOW YOU’RE MAD AT ME!!” [Note: The Babysitter has not said Thing One in Tone One to signify that she is angry or even disappointed in him]. At this time, Mommy comes home, and sees this. Caillou and Mommy attempt and fail to wash the makeup off LS’ dolly, and Caillou says “I just wanted to make the doll pretty…but whatever I tried, it just went all wrong…” but Mommy gives her the doll anyway, and she hugs it, prompting Mommy to say “Well, LS thinks it’s just as pretty!” End of “cartoon”.

WHAT THE FUCK?

How I see it, Caillou fucked up big time. First off, he Fucked With Someone Else’s Shit. Which, to me, is a HUGE bozo no-no. A BIG one. This alone would get a Stern Talking To from me. But not only that, but he LIED ABOUT IT. One lie the Babysitter would have known of (and told Mommy about if she was worth a damn as a babysitter), but another lie with that “…but it went all wrong” line — he was ENJOYING HIMSELF WHILE RUINING THE DOLL. Caillou wasn’t thinking or saying “Oh, why can’t I make her pretty like mommy!”, he was thinking “Ha ha ha! I’m being bad and I know it!” If he didn’t know he was being bad, he wouldn’t have attempted to hide it and then lie about the doll. I’m not sure, he may have made some sort of comment about the badness while doing it too, but I think that’s just me misremembering, so I’m not gonna put it in the actual synopsis. Granted, Mommy, not being there, wouldn’t have known about the Intention Lie, but she sure as hell would have known about the “I haven’t seen the doll” lie. But does she DO ANYTHING? NO. Actually, that’s not fair, she VALIDATES IT, by saying that his Little Sister DOESN’T MIND. The whole… “YOU’RE MAD AT ME!!!” thing really pissed me off, too. What a manipulative little shit.

Wow, way to raise up some good kids. What a great message. “Go ahead, mess with other people’s stuff, it’s fun! And if you get caught, lie about it, and then manipulate people into feeling bad for you for no reason! If you really want, you can make a half-assed attempt to fix your damage, but it doesn’t really matter, cause they won’t care! Not a whit!”

I assume the next episode, Caillou goes to a grocery store, and throws candy and cereal and cans on the floor, denting them, and when he goes “YOU’RE ANGRY!!!!” at his mom’s smile, he gets a hug and a chuckle. Perhaps in the season finale, the brat burns down the town and gets taken for ice cream, cause he didn’t mean to pour gasoline all over and then light the match while locking the mayor in the furnace and the Norwegians in the boiler room.[1]

Man, a lot of these shows might be awful, but at least they’re attempting to teach good values. Awful shows like Sagwa: The Chinese Siamese Cat, for example (I majored in segues in college)! Sagwa; what an utterly horrible cartoon. Cheaply made, with those really annoying “Hey, let’s speed up the pans to get some sort of frenetic action/fit more time for commercials in!” type pans. Which doesn’t make any sense because it’s got absolutely NO action, and since it’s on PBS, there’s no commercials. That and the character design is awful. It’s some of the most hideous this side of Klasky-Csupo. I’m also sort of confused by the fact that the character design (well, of the human characters, not so much the cats) is all “I Am Stereotypical Chinese” (not to mention the voice acting…). I guess it’s OK because it’s by Amy Tan, so no one’s gonna call her on it. Thing is, unlike The Proud Family (for the love of god, do NOT watch that piece of shit), the stereotypes aren’t Racist-To-The-Point-Of-Being-Offensive. In Sagwa, the characters and stereotypes are just incredibly, incredibly bland, and none of the characters have any actual personality, so there’s nothing to be offended by. It’s just pre-chewed pabulum.

Honestly, I wouldn’t really say Sagwa’s racist at all, I just wanted to use it as a springboard for my anti-Proud Family rant. So, other than Sagwa being totally boring and stupid, forget everything I said. It was a bad attempt to segue. But, I do stand by everything else, the stupid panning, and the horrible (but non-racist) character designs. The show’s just bland and stupid and poorly done.

Proud Family, on the other hand, thankfully isn’t PBS, it’s Disney. But for a show that’s supposed to be Promoting Diversity, it’s one of the most racist things I’d seen on TV. All the characters are racial stereotypes. It’s like Amos and Andy except: a) Amos and Andy was actually funny, and b)
Amos and Andy didn’t purport to teach any messages or goals. This is like “Black people, though they may be lazy and thieving, are totally like you, and you should treat them as normal. Even though, they’re lazy thieves.” Not to mention the horrible production values and, well, everything about the show. Most of these types of shows are just bland and inoffensive. Proud Family actually seems to go out of its way to be actually offensive. Not to mention just plain stupid. Why would they waste their money on that? There’re billions of other things to spend money on that are better for society. Like big CURRENCY BONFIRES. Or giving money to the ESTATE OF JOHN WAYNE GACY. Even without the whole inexplicable racism-disguised-as-racial-equality-message, I’d advise that everyone keep children away from it anyway for something that I think is far worse — BAD ANIMATION.

This is the same reason why I would not let any child of mine watch any Klasky-Csupo cartoon. Because the only good one they were ever behind was Duckman, and the only reason that worked was because hideous style accurately reflected the worldview of the cartoon. Duckman’s muddy colors and grotesque characters fit in with the Duckman World View, mainly that it’s a Horrible, Ugly World And The Best Thing You Can Do Is Either Die Or Maybe Attempt To Find Love, But Even That Is Fleeting So You Might As Well Go For The First Option. And, well, to be honest, that style does NOT work with bright cheery colors and bland stories about talking animals, talking babies, or talking Skater Punks.

See, if I had children, they’d only be exposed to good animation. Things I could justify. Not necessarily technically proficient things[2], but shows with beauty. That’d be some of the Hanna-Barbera stuff they’ve got coming out, SpongeBob, and of course, Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. My children would be breastfed on that man’s beautiful teat. They would learn about the forest from Totoro, they would learn about friendship and self-reliance and cool fairy stories from Spirited Away and they would learn of heartbreak and sorrow from Grave of the Fireflies. BEAUTY is what’s important for children; VISIBLE LOVE FOR WHAT YOU DO is what’s important for children. What’s not is stupid, bland stories by committee about what values people think you should have with no subtlety. Give these kids some credit; they’re not as stupid as people seem to think they are. They’re a lot hipper to things than you think. You give them something to chew on, and it’ll help them way more than an obvious story where someone learns how important it is to share. Give them a story, not a direct statement. If you have to have a moral, fold it in to the story — they’ll pick up on it. Don’t believe me? Try it. Show them a Miyazaki film and see what they take away from it. It’ll be more than you think.

I deeply believe this to be true, and stand by that.

[1]I figure if shows like Caillou are going to teach bad values, they should actually go out and teach awful ones. Instead of merely creating brats, they should go out of their way to create horribly maladjusted children. Stuff like:

“When you’re in trouble, ask for help! But when someone does help you, be sure to punch them in the face and call them a sucker!”

or

“Always remember: Swearing is Funny! You want to be funny, right? So, just start swearing! It doesn’t even matter if you’ve got a reason!”

“Violence is the answer. If someone has something you want, push them and take it! If it’s an adult who has it, you’ll probably have to go for more drastic measures, like hitting or biting — remember, the genitalia are an adult’s weak point! And if you take their car, you can always run them over in it!”

“Fire is warm and bright and colorful. It’s also the only thing that loves you. Unconditionally.”

“Remember: one child can get what they want. A big group of children can get all sorts of stuff! More so if they follow these other rules!”

After all, if they’re going to have Caillou teach kids it’s OK to be whiny, lying and manipulative, they might as well go for the gold. I’m sure everyone would agree a 3 year old punching a guy in the groin and stealing his car and running him over in it while shouting “FUCK SHIT FUCK” is pretty danged hilarious.

[2]I definitely would include Jay Ward’s cartoons in “Good Animation”; even though they weren’t necessarily the prettiest, you could tell that they were made with care and love; and even though they might not have been able to afford the best techniques, the love is visible in every cel, and it actually is a beautiful show in that respect. While Rocky might have drifted off model occasionally, it didn’t really matter; the show had a wonderful quality in it that’s impossible to capture unless you actually are in love with what you’re doing as the Jay Ward stable were. Even from stills, you can see that, and I think that’s something to be admired.

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One comment

  1. Rev. Syung Myung Me

    What? Big Bird is annoying? That is stupid crazy talk. You are stupid crazy talk.

    Caillou? Eh, you’re right on that one, though. But the girl doin’ Caillou’s voice died in a car wreck. That’s messed up.

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