Children's TV: last bastion of liberal utopia

Marta Mossburg wants programming for kids that celebrates individual responsibility, not just collective action

August 16, 2011|Marta H. Mossburg

According to polls, liberals in Washington are losing Americans' trust. But they have a stranglehold on the next generation.

Watch children's programming to find out why.

As the mother of two young boys, I've seen the range of shows available to children. Most are cartoon depictions of a progressive utopia without money, winners or losers, or consequences for one's actions. And, of course, most characters live in cities or planned communities where everything is accessible through public transportation or walking. SUVs are not just bad; they do not exist.

The subjects for shows change, but the leitmotif is the same: Individualism is bad, the collective — and especially the environment — are good.

"Dirtgirlworld" on PBS Kids Sprout overtly presses an environmental agenda. As one review of the show said, "This vibrant, dynamic series will capture the interest of the future generation of environmentalists and give them a head start on green living ideals."

It does not just push a worldview, however. The characters are creepy, the colors brash and dark, and the outdoor environment a natural dystopia. Imagine dropping acid before turning on cartoons, and that is what watching "Dirtgirlworld" is like. Chickens play harsh rock music; a worm with a human face smiles bizarrely; and Dirtgirl, with her huge eyes and pouty mouth, suggestively urges viewers to "get grubby," opining that, "It's all about balance."

It's not all bad, of course. Some of the shows are just silly, like "The Wiggles," whose fruit salad jingle is permanently embedded in my brain. And "Caillou," a show about the everyday life of a 4-year-old boy, is both gentle and realistic in its portrayal of the imagination, emotions and behavior of children.

But even in shows with a traditional hero like "Fireman Sam," which depicts life in the tiny Welsh enclave of Pontypandy, the government wins. Most shows revolve around the bracingly annoying character of Norman Price, who nearly drowns, burns buildings or maims other characters in each episode. He never saves himself nor learns from his lessons. Instead, Fireman Sam and his friends at the fire station waste no expense to rescue Norman, using a helicopter, speedboat, fire truck and other state of the art equipment in each episode. Norman always apologizes but never changes — and never pays for his mistakes.

Then there is the ever-popular "Bob the Builder." Bob and his friends have many admirable qualities: They work hard, they share, and they like to help others. But each lesson revolves around the theme "Working together, they get the job done." Occasionally characters go it alone. Bob takes dance classes on the sly, but no one triumphs by himself or herself. Young viewers also never see Bob quote a price for a job, make payroll, fire anyone for sloppy work or pull up to a gas station to fill up his heavy equipment. And he is obsessed with recycling. "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" is the show's mantra. If I were a child, I would think "Sunflower Valley" sprang, sui generis from repurposed plastic bottles and that adults volunteered for a living.

Let me be clear. I am not hoping for shows adulating the themes of the "Ayn Rand School for Tots" depicted in "The Simpsons." I would not like my boys to see pacifiers ripped from characters' mouths. Neither would I like to hear "helping is futile" after a request to unload the dishwasher.

But I would like to see a few more characters who overcome adversity through their own hard work and free will. After all, teams do not work unless each person is doing their best. My older son, who is 3, derives great pleasure from accomplishing things: carrying a grocery bag from the car, throwing out the dog poop bag in the park and watering the plants in the backyard. Surely he would enjoy stories about other children doing the same thing. And the many parents out there would probably enjoy more characters who depict productive, responsible boys and girls than those who lecture their children about recycling.

And while my family lives in the heart of Baltimore City, suburbia is the most likely place to find moms, dads and children. A "Sesame Street" in the exurbs would not be nearly as multiracial as one in New York City, but then neither are most children's experiences. Learning to view other people who look differently than you as equals and friends is a good thing, but so much of children's programming shows a world removed almost completely from reality.

Arts and crafts, play, and reading fill the majority of my boys' days, but they watch TV, too. I do not worry that TV shows will replace my husband and me as moral guides, but I would like other options besides political indoctrination.

Marta H. Mossburg is a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute and a fellow at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Her column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. Her email is martamossburg@gmail.com.

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