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Mike Reyes, aka Mr. Controversy, has considered himself a writer ever since he was a child. He wrote for various school publications from about 1995 until 2006, and currently runs both The Bookish Kind and Mr. Controversy, which is an offshoot of the regular column he wrote in High School. He's also authored several short stories such as "The Devil's Comedian", "The Devil v. George W. Bush", and most recently "Wait Until Tomorrow". He resides in New Jersey. Any inquiries for reprinting, writing services, or general contact, should be forwarded to: michaelreyes72@hotmail.com

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

War and Monsters

I was watching the news with my dad last night, and this story came up on Channel 7 news.

First off, I feel sorry for the reporter who has to talk to Elmo like a real person. Thinking the same interview technique that is used for George Clooney or President Bush is also used for this little red reject just makes me weep for journalism. But I'm not here to talk about journalism. I'm here to talk about children's television.

Once again, The New Era of Sesame Street (I refuse to call it plain old Sesame Street. That would be a slight upon Jim Henson.) takes it upon itself to teach children about the woes of the world, via preachy themed episodes. Yes, the same people that brought you an AIDS infected Muppet have sent poor Elmo's dad to Iraq. He's being redeployed soon, going back into the Middle East. Elmo's personal journey in dealing with his father's absence will serve as a springboard for real children to deal with their parents being away in Iraq.

Now, I'm not being negative about the subject itself...children need some sort of outlet for their fears and inquiries about life. Not to mention, Sesame Street handled this pretty well when Mr. Hooper had passed away. But this?! This is just a little too much in my book. I really think The New Era of Sesame Street has just jumped a little too high to reach the cookies this time, and now we're all gonna get crumbs dumped on us. And who's going to be dumping the crumbs on us?
That's right, America...Elmo, the world's first retarded Muppet, is going to help kids learn about Stop Loss, GitMo, and Abu Ghirab...oh, wait...he ISN'T?! Oh, well I just assumed that since they were going to teach children about the War in Iraq that they'd go the full bore and explain what got us there, why we're there, and why Daddy has to leave so soon after he came home? I mean, c'mon MTV made a film about Stop Loss for god sake! If we can explain it to teenagers, we can explain it to children. It seems rather logical.

"Daddy, why are you leaving? You just got home."

"Well, son, unfortunately the Army needs Daddy back for just a little while longer. There aren't enough soldiers, and Daddy made a promise that if they needed his help, he'd go back and help out."

See! It only took two sentences, and you've explained Stop Loss to a child. The fact is, as educational as Sesame Street and its shallow imitator are, the original handled a delicate subject matter for children with genuine respect. Whereas The New Era of Sesame Street seems to be aiming to tackle everything that's in the headlines today, merely because they feel its their responsibility to the children.

It's not. It is a parent's responsibility to decide how and what to tell their children about the world outside. It's their responsibility to make sure their children are equipped for the world and its harsh realities. Somewhere along the way, the Children's Television Workshop got it in their minds that it was their responsibility to educate children about more than just scholastic knowledge. Now they're teaching children about AIDS and redeployment, and I have a feeling it's going to be in a simplistic and incorrect way. Not to mention, those in control are just going to cherry pick the issues they feel kids should know about.

Children's television today isn't what it used to be. Sure, we're not pandering around issues like we did in the early days. Howdy Doodey and Captain Kangaroo are no more, hell Dumbo Circus is a thing of the past too. Even good old Fred Rogers seems outdated to some, though it should be considered blasphemy to think so. Mister Roger's Neighborhood would never, ever have survived if it started out in the present day. It isn't marketable, it isn't flashy, and it would come off as too preachy to all the cynics and smartasses our culture breeds today. Yes, I know I'm a cynic and a smartass, but I have a heart too damnit! While Mister Rogers didn't try to act "with it", he instead acted as a mentor. The kindly old man who talked to you like a normal person, who tried to teach you things with as little treacle as possible, and who always welcomed you back with a smile and a song.

True, children's television has indeed modernized and grown up, but there's also a dumber side. A MUCH dumber side, and Elmo paved the way. With his high pitched voice, squeaky singing, and very limited mental capacity; Elmo is no Big Bird, the often forgotten predecessor who introduced generations of children to their letters, numbers, and various bits of knowledge. But Big Bird had to compete with an upstart...someone who opened the door for dear old Elmo.

Barney! Everyone remembers this purple monstrosity, and how he mesmerized a generation of children with his simplistic songs, his dimwitted cohorts, and his signature "I Love You, You Love Me" attitude. Needless to say, in my eyes, Barney is the Charles Manson of children's television. After eliminating Big Bird, Barney took over and spewed forth his messages that while educational, seemed watered down and sugar coated, even by kids tv standards. But the message isn't what truly had me hating this Mesozoic bastard...it was his business. Anything you could slap his visage on and get parents to buy, he was on it. Bottles, sneakers, home videos...the works. He and his friends invaded the public consciousness like Hitler in France, and parents capitulated in order for peace to prevail.

Now we have Diego and Dora, the "lovable" pair of bilingual adventurers who roam the land with grating, high pitched voices and silent animal companions. Before you could say, "Mas Rapido, Mommy", you had a craze that looked educational, but lead to the prerequisite ice show, stuffed animals, and direct to DVD films that children now expect and parents now expect to provide. The only education this all really provides is that, "children are our future, so we must give into their demands."
Even if it poisons them, both in mind and in body. You WILL purchase the Diego fall collection of merchandise, Mommy! Then you WILL pay for my Hannah Montana tickets and iPod when I reach Junior High, Daddy! And I hope Grandma and Grandpa have been saving their Social Security money, because they WILL pay for my abortion and/or princess wedding when I turn sixteen and fuck my whole life up (eighteen if you're lucky). Well, Ms. Cyrus, and all others of your ilk...it's on. You've thrown the gauntlet, and I hope to God my generation picks it up and combats your evil influence on children. I hope Big Bird turns out to be a Phoenix and rises from the ashes Elmo perpetuated upon The Street, only to slay you and your contemporaries down in a great, bright firestorm! Most of all, I hope kids TV brings itself back to actually balancing out teaching and entertaining, instead of doing one or the other and sucking at it.

Children's culture today is scary, and children's television certainly isn't helping. So parents...please talk to your kids about children's television. And children's television...please stop cherry picking and sugar coating the world and all of its glories/misfortunes. Just...stop. Jim Henson, Fred Rogers, and Mr. Hooper; wherever you all may be right now, on behalf of the human race I say, "I'm sorry."

And to think, future generations will probably never get something as original as this...http://youtube.com/watch?v=jSFLZ-MzIhM

Goddamn you, Elmo.

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