Taking the Fun out of Fun; Social Responsibility Comes to Children's Television
Byline: Scott Galupo, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
On "Feeling Good With JoJo," an interstitial vignette that runs periodically on the Disney Channel's "Playhouse Disney" morning slate, a young clown announces that she will instruct viewers how to - and I quote - "do things with your body that will make you feel good, inside and out." Now, parents, if that doesn't rouse you from morning slumber into a state of utter confusion and panic, I don't know what will.
Fear not: The line is an introduction to a preschool exercise routine.
Given the childhood obesity epidemic that accounts for as many newspaper and magazine column inches as excess human pounds, it's hardly surprising that physical fitness would become a regular theme of children's television programming.
Another staple of the "Playhouse Disney" menu is "Captain Carlos," a superhero who leads viewers through "adventures in nutrition." Time was when "adventures in nutrition" meant a pie-eating contest.
At every rumble of Carlos' tummy, his little sister is there, tempting him with all manner of junk food goblins. "They may not be good for you, but they sure look like fun," goes her devilish incantation to summon the fat-activating toxins of the nutrition resistance movement. Carlos never fails to withstand his sister's foul entreaties, of course.
Speaking only for my adult self, naturally, I must say I've become entirely immune to the hectoring of today's most popular cartoon characters.
It's not just the not-so-subliminal health exhortations; it's "Lou and Lou: Safety Patrol," the Disney Channel twins who function as the prekindergarten outreach arm of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration; it's the British public television import "Bob the Builder," a small-town construction manager whose mantra is "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle"; it's the spiritual instruction of the "Veggie Tales" series.
Mind you, I'm not philosophically opposed to eating right or doing my part to protect the environment. Heaven knows I don't want the next generation of socially conscious cartoons to allude to January heat waves in Nova Scotia. Nor do I begrudge parents' desire to emphasize religious values at an early age.
My beef is with so-called edifying cartoon entertainment, period.
I'm disquieted by the notion that there's a battle for children's minds being waged through a cable connection as parents prepare dinner, rather than at the dinner table itself.
In the 1970s, programs such as "Schoolhouse Rock" and "Sesame Street" were in vogue. One encounters a similar didactic approach on public television's "Between the Lions" (a literacy-themed show over which your 4-year-old may, in fact, prefer a visit to the dentist). …