Monthly Archives: May, 2012

ONE SHOW TO RULE THEM ALL – SESAME STREET

Can you think of any children’s show you actually like?  Well, I could try.  How about . . .
SESAME STREET
Before anyone gets up-in-arms, I will say that I am not going to trash Sesame Street.  I just couldn’t.  It’s an awesome little show.  Almost everyone forty and under grew up with this show.  The fact that it is still on the air after over thirty years, with many of the same actors, is testament to the quality.  But I wish to review it anyway, because the shows I snark on could stand to learn a lot from their example.
Bite. Me.
Are there sunny characters that make you want to puke?  Oh, sure.  But for every Elmo (more on him later) there is an Oscar.  Oscar the Grouch is a hairy green puppet that lives in a trash can.  And he LIKES it there, thank you.  In response to his relentlessly cheerful neighbors, Oscar says, essentially “Bite me.”  I admire that in a puppet.  There is also Bert, who contrasts Ernie in an odd couple sort of way (there has been endless speculation from people with too much time on their hands – like me – who wonder what their relationship is exactly.  I say they’re brothers, since they live in the same house.  And I’m sticking to that.)  Ernie is chipper and bouncy and loves stuff like lollipops.  Bert, on the other hand, likes to sit quietly and read (while Ernie tortures him with joy and gladness).  He prefers linoleum to lollipops.  I like Bert.  My husband has said that when Bert finally snaps, he’s sure to take out Ernie first.  But he hopes Elmo is next.
“H” is not for Homey, Elmo.
Elmo is a special case.  Elmo came after a lot of the first generation of Sesame Street viewers grew up.  He is an INVADER.  And not only that, he has his own little spot on the show, called “Elmo’s World”.  Elmo is another scarily cheerful puppet with a high-pitched voice who speaks in third person.  Elmo wants this, and Elmo wants that, etc.  You know a show has a loyal following when adults get violently angry about a new puppet usurping authority.  “We had Grover, darn it, and we were HAPPY.”   But little toddlers love Elmo.  Which means their parents, people of my generation, had to watch him.  And buy the toys.  One of them, “Tickle Me, Elmo” (less said about this the better) was one of those hard-to-find toys one Christmas.  Which meant parents were tackling each other to get a toy of a character they felt had ruined a part of their childhood.  Ironic, that.
WTF?  Where me freakin’ cookies???
But Elmo is still only one character.  Most of the characters are multi-faceted.  They aren’t just nice or mean or happy or sad.  They have personalities.  Grover is sweet and lovable (and also speaks in third person) but has a definite mean streak, like when he’s acting as an incompetent waiter.   And Big Bird has such vivid delusions they actually come to life.  Anyone else remember when Snuffleupagus was his imaginary giant friend?  Now everybody sees him.  I guess they figured if they were friends with a six-foot tall bird, an enormous  whatever-he-is wasn’t such a big leap.  Cookie Monster will always be one of my favorites because of his total lack of self-control.  Don’t listen to those guys trying to make you eat healthy, Cookie Monster!  “C is for Cookie” is good enough for me, too.  He has been paired with polar opposite Prairie Dawn, who is one of the few puppets that you can actively imagine has a stick up her behind. 
And that’s what makes this show so good.  You forget these things are puppets.   People develop genuine love for these characters.  They are purple, and blue, and green, and no one is better than the other (not even Elmo).  Without resulting to syrupy didacticism, this show does present good values to kids, partly because it all just comes naturally.  Seeing such different looking creatures – and their non-caricatured adult human friends – interact promotes diversity.  You don’t have to spell it all out, as in – “Look, here is Cookie Monster, an obsessive-compulsive blue puppet who is hanging out with a hairy, green, homeless hoarder named Oscar!”  Kids can see that for themselves.
The 70’s were a long, long,
 LONG time ago
Sesame Street also has something to offer adults.  There are parodies of everything from “Saturday Night Fever” to the more recent “Law and Order”.  Even Dr. Phil has been puppetized, to hilarious effect.  Also, there are the guest puppets like the “Yip-Yip” aliens.  These wacky looking characters beam down with their giant mouths yipping as they try to understand human culture, usually mistaking clocks and phones for humans and cows.  I can still watch clips of this show and laugh out loud.
Sesame Street is located on a city street, not a sanitized suburb.  This is not a gated community like so many children’s shows.  This is real life – only with puppets.  It’s true that too many of these inner-city neighborhoods are violent, and unsafe, but not all.  Some of them do have neighbors that will work together and form a community.  And even if they don’t, Sesame Street is something to aspire to – it is hope.  The songs, which also stick in your head, are actually meaningful.  It isn’t easy being green, but there are good things that come with the color, along with the bad.  You can come and play here, everything’s A-okay.  Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?
But my favorite message of all comes from crazy old Cookie Monster.  “What is friend?  Friend is somebody you give up last cookie for.”  If Cookie Monster can give up a cookie, maybe there is hope for the rest of the world as well.
Final Analysis
Hairy, red usurper – YES
Multiple Personalities and Disorders Presented – YES
Diversity Promoted Without Nausea – Yes
Is C for Cookie? – YES
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TIME MANAGEMENT!





I have bad time management skills.  Since I am a librarian and veteran student, I have decided to use books to help me get better habits.  In the past, I’ve read books that would help me better organize (currently some of those books are, ironically, providing more clutter in my house).  I’ve read books to help me parent by doctor husbands who worked all day long away from the kids.  I’ve read books to help me save money (hint #1: don’t buy this book).  So why not read something on time management?
Since my time management is so poor, I have little time to go check out a book on this, despite working inside a library.  Self-help books are easier to find in public libraries, and I work in an academic library where the books are more scholarly and thus significantly dustier.  So the easiest thing to do is turn to the Internet and Google “time management” where, it turns out, there are a lot of sites dedicated to helping you become more efficient.  Here are some tips.
#1. Don’t spend so much time on the Internet.
                Whew.  What a lifesaver that was.  It kind of reminds me of those children’s shows that advise kids to quit watching so much T.V.  They do realize that if we were to follow their advice, their websites and programs would cease to exist, right?  They must know something we don’t.
#2. Don’t Procrastinate
                I meant to read this article in its entirety, but I got distracted.  There is a very handy quiz you can take to see if you procrastinate too much.  Hint: If you are taking the quiz, you’re procrastinating.
#3. Multi-task
                Instead of being ineffective at just one thing, when you multi-task you can be ineffective at several things at once.  Real time saver, that.
#4. Take more breaks
                This way you can “recharge” and be more effective when you’re working.  I’m pretty good at this.  Sometimes my breaks last for entire days.
#5. Keep a To-Do list
                I’m great at making lists.  Wait – I’m supposed to do what’s on the list?
#6. Don’t take on too much work
                Better not do the dishes.  And sorry, kids, you’re going to have to go.
#7. Set goals
                Surviving is apparently not a worthwhile goal to these people.

#8. Prioritize your tasks
                Do what’s most important first.  Is laundry more important than computer games?  Nah.
#9. Manage distractions
                Other people can be distracting.  Avoid all people.
#10. Be organized
                No problem.  Where’d I put that book on that?
                After about an hour of dedicated research on this topic, I’ve decided that learning how to better manage my time takes way too much time.  It’s also very tiring.  So my goal today is to lock up the kids and take a break from all this work I took on by taking a nap (I can prioritize tasks while I sleep!).  It will be on the to-do list I’m going to write later, first thing, once I find the paper and a pen.

THE ONE WITH THE PURPLE DINOSAUR

Next up, a character we all love . . . to hate.
 
Barney
Why have I waited so long to cover this show?  For starters, it just seems too easy.  Barney has been parodied by everybody.  His song “I love you, you love me” has had its lyrics changed to “Let’s hang Barney from a tree” and the religiously inspired “I am the devil, worship me.”  There is also the song sung to the tune of “Joy to the World” in which children happily barbecue Barney’s head and then flush it down the potty.  Anyway, I doubt there is an adult anywhere who hasn’t at least heard of Barney, whether or not they have children.  He’s just that popular.
Scary what the mind can
do, isn’t it?

 

What is it about Barney that strikes such a chord with people?  Is it the guy in the fat dinosaur suit?  Is it that the dinosaur is a noxious shade of purple?  Is it the sickly, syrupy, sweet messages of love coming from the purple dinosaur?  Could it be that the song is sung in that annoying voice that sticks in your head and never, ever gets out? Or the overacting children who dance and sing with the dinosaur?  It can be all of these things and more!
But there are other possible explanations.   Barney is a dinosaur, and most young boys adore dinosaurs.  Why do they like dinosaurs?  Well that’s easy.  Dinosaurs are big and fierce, they roar loudly, they eat small creatures, they stomp around, and they do not have to go to bed at 8pm.  Most certainly they do not sing songs about love and safety and the ABCs.  And while scientists can’t really be certain what color the dinosaurs were (or even if they have the dinosaurs all assembled correctly in certain cases,) it’s a good bet that they probably weren’t fuchsia with green bellies.  So, in a way, you could say that Barney ruined the good dinosaur name.  I mean, he most resembles a T- Rex, the meanest, deadliest (and thus favorite) dinosaur for crying out loud.  A T-Rex would not sing nursery rhymes.
Hi, I’m a real T-Rex.  Scuse me
 while I eat this guy.
But one of the biggest annoyances of the big, purple dinosaur is that song.  You know  the song.  “I love you, you love me. / We’re a happy family. / With a great big hug, and a kiss from me to you.  / Won’t you say you love me too?”  Yes, I just recalled all of that from memory.  Not only is it annoying and mildly disconcerting (I don’t WANT a six-foot tall dinosaur to love me, or give me hugs and kisses, thanks) it’s not even an original tune.  It is sung to the tune of “This Old Man”.  Granted, it does make more sense than “This Old Man” (what is knickknack, and how do you play it on your thumb?) but it is still a rip-off of a nursery rhyme, all of which are designed to never leave your brain.
It’s not just Barney on the show.  He has friends, of course.  There are two Triceratops (I guess that’s what they’re supposed to be) that are arguably more obnoxious than Barney, because they’ve usually got some sort of problem that nobody cares about.  One is a girl named “Baby Bop” which makes Barney sound like the best name ever.  Come to think of it, you have to feel sorry for men who just happen to have that name.  That would have to suck.  I don’t remember the name of the other Triceratops, and I’m not looking him up.  Anyway Barney never takes the opportunity to eat either of them, which is what any real T-Rex would do.  It certainly would have increased his popularity.
Haha, Stick ’em up, kids!

 

Another disturbing aspect of Barney is how he starts out as a stuffed animal that at random points magically transforms into a giant playmate for kids.  I can imagine they sold many stuffed toys that way to children who waited several minutes (probably armed with sticks) for Barney to appear, only to be disappointed.  Truth in advertising, people!  It reminds me of when I was in kindergarten.  My teacher told my class to wear our moon boots because we were going to the moon the next day.  I was all prepared for the field trip, but there was no sign of the bus.  We went NOWHERE.  The teacher’s explanation was that we were supposed to “use our imaginations” which I thought was a total crock at the time.  I never did totally trust her again after that.  I could imagine other children feeling just that way about the lovable dinosaur.  Barney’s message: adults lie, kids.
Mostly Barney has just infiltrated our culture as a representative of all that is awful in children’s programming.  Yes, if you’re a baby or toddler your standards aren’t so high, so he’s probably okay then, although I wouldn’t advise taking such a small child to see Barney “live”.  I’ve never understood why some adults think a very small child would enjoy an extremely large animal looming over them like that.  There is a picture of me from one Halloween when I my older brother and I were small.  We’re with our mom who is standing beside a guy in a giant pumpkin suit.  My brother looks vaguely uncomfortable, while I am screaming at the top of my lungs.  If you think of it from the kid’s point of view, you probably wouldn’t care for a nine-foot tall monstrosity either.  Especially if it insisted you “love it too.”
Final Analysis
Adult in big, stupid costume: Yes
Irritating songs that NEVER leave your brain: Yes
Overacting, obnoxious children: Yes
Didacticism: You’re soaking in it.
 

DIRECTIONALLY CHALLENGED T.V.

                 A lot of people put down T.V. because they think it makes kids lazy.  I protest, for often my children watched T.V. while standing on their heads, or jumping on my back, which was revenge for when I used to turn somersaults in front of the set, narrowly avoiding electrocution each time.  At any rate, in order to appease those who think T.V. makes you sedentary and brainless (imagine that!), network executives came up with the brilliant idea of “interactive” children’s shows.  These are shows that ask kids to help the people on the screen, usually by shouting out obvious solutions to the problems of very stupid characters.

                I picked two of these shows to highlight, although I warn you now these reviews might cause PTSD in susceptible parents.  First up:

dora title

                  Dora, Dora, Dora the Explorah is a cute little Hispanic kid with a football shaped head.  She has a pet monkey that wears boots, but nothing else.  Together they force children to help them get somewhere, as if they were tiny human GPSs.  Dora is prepared, though, with her trusty backpack (cue song: “Backpack, backpack, backpack, backpack .  . . “) that contains a map.  Yes, that’s right.  You can’t hear that word without also hearing the song that goes with it.  “I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the MAP!!!!!”

Yeah, um, no thanks.

Yeah, um, no thanks.

                Next an arrow – like a giant, supernatural mouse pointer – “clicks” on whatever object the child is supposed to select.  So it’s like a cartoon computer program, for annoying children who grew up with computers and frequently slam their hands into storybooks expecting them to talk.  I guess the arrow helps them identify the obvious even more . . . obviously.

                Since Dora is Hispanic, she often teaches the kids Spanish words, mostly by repeating herself, which if you haven’t noticed, is a major pattern in this show.  I mean, sure, I’ve heard of Spanglish, or using a mixture of English and Spanish, but this kid just says the same thing in two different languages.  Here we go again: “Come on Vamanos!  Everybody let’s go! “

 Okay, so basically this is what Dora is saying, if you just keep it all in English.  “Come on, everybody let’s go!  Everybody let’s go!”  Do you know anyone that talks like that?  If so, they’ve probably been damaged by children’s T.V.  Anyway, besides teaching Spanish, Dora also teaches kids about using a map to get somewhere, which admittedly, most adults still haven’t figured out either.  Each episode, she pulls out a map and points to three places they have to go on their way.  It’s always three places, no matter what.  It could be to the bathroom, and still she would have three stops.  And she would point each one out.  Repeatedly.

What is that thing hanging from the cliff???

Okay, first the river, then the bridge then . . .what is that thing hanging from the mountain???

By the time Dora has done this a dozen or so times, the kids have gotten the hang of it and are calling out answers to her.  But she doesn’t just want help with direction.  She also needs help with basic motor skills, like when she says “Jump! Salta!  Say it with me!  Salta!  Salta!  Saaaaaaaaaaltaaaaaa!”.  Executives and parenting experts think this means the show is actively engaging the child’s brain, which I guess it is, but only so the child can get the character to SHUT UP ALREADY.

To spice things up, the show has a villain fox named Swiper, because he . . . swipes stuff.  Which I guess is a better name than Clepto.  He has to be one of the dumbest crooks ever though, because he’s always stealing things like parts of railroad track, rather than, say, an Xbox that he could sell on Ebay.  He’s also easy to turn away.  All you have to do is yell – you all remember it, don’t you? “Swiper, no swiping!”

Swiper, what are you doing with that chipmunk . . . noooo!

Swiper, what are you doing with that chipmunk . . . noooo!

And magically he stops what he’s doing, says “Oh, man” and leaves.  Imagine if every criminal was that easy to discourage.  My brother pointed out that this could inadvertently encourage children to say “Sniper, no sniping” which would be a pretty bad idea, considering that the sniper would be much more likely to shoot you in the head as snap his fingers in frustration.  But I guess it’s worth a try, huh?  Hint: It might be more effective if you know how to ask in both languages, just in case he’s bilingual.

After some trial and error, and repetition, repetition, repetition, she gets where she’s going and we are mercifully treated to end credits.  But the song NEVER goes away.  Maybe this will help:

blue title

The second of our interactive T.V. shows is about a dog named Blue and her human owner, who is the stupidest man on earth.  There have actually been two owners of Blue – who you notice gets her name in the title over him, despite being not only a dog, but a cartoon dog.  You can’t blame them, though, since Blue is arguably the brightest one.  Steve was first, before he left for “college”.  Personally, I don’t think he was ready for college.  Except maybe clown college.

Never fear, though, for Steve’s brother Joe steps in next.  I liked Joe a little better, because he was at least cuter, even if there was a vacancy behind those pretty eyes.   Unlike Dora, Steve and Joe – for simplification I’ll call them Stejoe – don’t use a map.  That’s way too complicated.  Instead they must search for clues; difficult, considering neither of them has one.  Blue leaves these clues all over the house and yard in the form of paw prints.  This would annoy the heck out of me, but I guess it is better than her leaving “presents” for us instead.

Clearly the dumbs runs in the family

Clearly the dumbs runs in the family

Blue starts the show by leaving clues for kids to follow in order to guess what she’s thinking.  Because unlike Lassie, she can’t convey this in yips.  Of course she can’t talk – she’s a dog.  Everything else can talk, though, including the mailbox, a clock, a bar of soap, a shovel, a pail, a sidetable drawer, and, naturally, the salt and pepper shakers (Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper).  (By the way, these two got married and had a baby named Paprika.  Don’t ask.)

Get off my breakfast table this instant!

Get off my breakfast table this instant!

Blue leaves her clues on various objects, and Stejoe searches for them, often walking into walls, getting confused, and walking into the same wall again.  Not really, but this wouldn’t surprise me.   The clues are always out in plain sight, but somehow Stejoe just never sees them.  This frustrated my youngest daughter so much that by three she was shouting at the T.V. in frustration “It’s THERE.  Right THERE!  THERE!!!!”

The clue is WHERE now?

The clue is WHERE now?

Once Stejoe finally gets the hint, he writes down the clue on a notepad.  Because the guy can’t remember squat.  Actually, he draws it, because he’s also not so hot at reading or writing.  Along the way, he stops and talks to the inanimate objects, who give him advice like “Right in front of your face, you dork.”  You know it’s bad when you have less intelligence than the salt shaker.

Once Steve has gathered all the clues, he has kids help him guess the answer.  Because trust me, he would never, ever get there on his own.  One thing I’ll give him – he was always very polite, even when I answered his questions rather rudely.

The concept of both shows is really not that bad.  It’s great to teach kids to look for clues and solve mysteries, and everyone needs to know where they’re going.  A few words of Spanish are nice too, for those moments when you must demand that a Spanish person jump.  But the repetition is hard on us parents, who spend most of our lives repeating things anyway, to no avail.  “Get your shoes.  Your shoes.  On your feet.  Your feet. They’re right there.  There!!!  Your shoes!” and so on.  So obviously repetition is not the answer, since it has never worked for me, so why further punish people?  Just get the kids a GPS and a game of Clue and be done with it.

                                                Final Analysis:

Repetition: Yes Yes Yes

Annoying songs: Yes

Forces interaction for self-preservation: Yes

                                                                  Didactic: Sing with me!