Humor Me: TV Trouble

WORDS
Mary McLaughlin
ILLUSTRATION
Mary Dunn
PUBLISHED
July 2013 in
DFWThrive
UPDATED
August 12, 2013
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My son’s loyalty knows no bounds.
 
I realize that his loyalty is a function of his autism, but truly, he is the most loyal person I know. Once he loves something, he loves it to his core and he loves it long-term. He may add interests to his repertoire, but he very rarely eliminates them.
 
Let me give you an example. My son is 13 years old – a teenager with the attitude to prove it - but is still loyal to the preschool television programs he watched as a toddler. He is a self-proclaimed “expert” on preschool programming. He is a connoisseur. An authority. He spends hours cataloging episodes and transcribing scripts. He makes PowerPoint presentations that walk the viewer through seasons of episodes from PBS KIDS, Nick Jr., Playhouse Disney, and the now-defunct and often mourned Noggin.
 
As you might imagine, through repeated exposure over the past 13 years – and, much to my chagrin – I’ve become something of a preschool television expert myself. More often than I’d like to admit, I find myself driving alone in the car, humming a song from Jack’s Big Music Show or comparing and contrasting the grassroots, homegrown, low-fi Sesame Street of my youth to the high-production, concept-rich version that exists today.
 
And I find myself pondering. Oh, do I ponder! I ponder in depth the things that the average parent, exposed to preschool television for two or maybe three years, rarely even notices. Things like:
 
Winnie the Pooh. Why doesn’t he wear pants? Well, because he’s a bear, right? Bears don’t wear clothing. But Pooh wears a shirt! Why a shirt and no pants? I mean, if we’re going to go for one and not the other, isn’t it better role modeling to have him in bottoms with no top? And really, what would be the harm in suggesting to children that they might want to leave the house fully dressed?
 
Of course, Max and Ruby are fully dressed, despite the fact that they’re rabbits. But Max and Ruby appear to live in a home without parents. Ruby, purportedly the older sister, takes on a maternal function with goofy little Max, but she brings to the role all the worst stereotypes of motherhood – she nags, she criticizes, she badgers. And she does it all unfettered. Are there no real guardians here? And if there aren’t, why is no one calling Child Protective Services?
 
Then there’s Maisy. You know Maisy. She’s a mouse. Did you also know that Maisy has a pet? It’s a cat. For real. Maisy Mouse has a pet cat. What is that about? And what’s worse? Minnie Mouse also has a pet cat – a feline named Figaro. Why is this? Is there an important educational message embedded in this role reversal – of the prey caring for the predator? If so, why don’t we find this motif elsewhere in children’s programming? I can’t think of a single cat who has a pet dog. I mean, Oswald the Octopus has a wiener dog, but as far as I know, squid and canine are not natural enemies. So what’s with the mice? What is my takeaway message supposed to be?
 
And Caillou. Don’t even get me started on Caillou. Whose brilliant brainchild was this character? And who heard the pitch and said “YES!” A child who whines until his backbone-lacking parents capitulate and pander to his every whim: “Let’s do it.” Really, after a single episode of Caillou I find myself wondering where the censors are when you need them.
 
And what about Sesame Street? Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore Sesame Street. I grew up on Sesame Street. But I am also a parent raising a child with a pragmatic language disorder. So please, somebody tell me, why, why, why must Cookie Monster speak exclusively using the first-person objective pronoun? “Me want cookie. Me love cookie. Me eating cookie now. Num, num, num.” Why doesn’t Bob ever join him onscreen to do a little speech/language intervention: “Do you want a cookie, Cookie Monster? You say, ‘I want a cookie.’”
 
And while we’re at it, what about Elmo and his insistence on referring to himself in the third person? “Elmo wonders what Dorothy is thinking about today. Elmo wants to ask Dorothy.” Here’s a thought, Elmo: Perhaps it’s time for Dorothy to think about first-person singular pronouns. Please, Sesame Workshop, we need your help here – it’s time to make “I” the letter of the day.
 
Yes. These are the issues that dominate my thoughts, the things that clog the grey matter that I really should be using more productively. But I can’t help it. I’m an expert by proxy. A connoisseur by chance.
 
I’ve just really got to work on my loyalty.
 
Mary McLaughlin writes about life with her son Bud, who has autism, on her blog, Mom – Not Otherwise Specified at momnos.blogspot.com.

Published July 2013



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