I dropped by to see my daughter Cally the other day and to check in on my 2-year-old granddaughter, Riley. Like most kids her age, she’s started watching Disney Junior on cable because, frankly, she’s gotten too old for CNN. All of the cartoon characters are basically the same as when we were kids. Mickey’s voice might be a little higher. And, of course, these characters have been around for more than 80 years, long before there was a Parents Television Council. But as I was watching, I got to thinking how tough it would be for the Disney producers to get the Council’s approval if they pitched the idea of those characters today.
I can almost see the nervous spokesman for Disney presenting the scenario.
“Okay. Try to follow me on this. The main character is going to be a mouse, with a voice that sounds like he’s getting something squeezed too hard. His only attire will be red hiking shorts, oversized Cole-Haans and four-fingered white gloves. We’re going to keep him shirtless, because we’ve taken note of the popularity of the show Cops. He’ll have a love interest that is basically his mirror image, except for longer eyelashes and a lower voice. One of his best friends will be a dog. He’ll walk upright and wear turtlenecks, Doc Martens and a hat. The mouse will also own a dog. He’ll walk on all fours and wear a collar. Of course the mouse’s friend will be able to talk. The other dog will just bark. We don’t think viewers will ever notice the paradox. Oh, and let’s not forget the ducks. We envision three cute young brothers with names that rhyme. Also, no mention will ever be made of their real parents. Instead, they’ll just live with an uncle who has anger issues, a speech impediment and never wears pants. The uncle will also be one of the mouse’s best friends and have a girlfriend with perfect diction. By the way, none of the characters will be married or have steady employment. So what do you think?”
Well, in today’s political climate, I don’t think Mickey, Goofy and Donald would have ever gotten off the ground. A lot of the reason has to do with the Children’s Television Act, which was enacted by Congress in 1990. It was passed in order to increase the amount of educational and informational programming for children. Broadcasters must specifically design shows to meet that need.
Years ago, the emphasis was on entertainment. And making money. Now the emphasis is more on educational and political correctness. And one other thing. Making money. If you think Sesame Street isn’t raking it in, I suggest you drop by any Target or Toys “R” Us. Some of those characters could have their own wing. That show also makes millions worldwide with licensing and franchise fees. Yeah, Oscar might live in a garbage can, but he’s got a Maserati parked out back.
Now there’s no question that television can be a valuable tool for education. Some of the information is very enlightening. But some of it is trivial. For instance, one host thought it was amazing that Eskimos have 50 different words for snow. Big deal. Some people have a thousand different words for their ex-spouse.
If television really wants to succeed, it needs to tackle the tough questions like why flies always rub their little hands together, or why Lysol only kills 99.9 percent of the germs. I mean, are they letting a few selected germs go free so they can warn the colony? Okay, okay, I’m sorry about that rant. Those are just things I’ve always wanted to know since I was a child. Maybe I expect too much from children’s programming.
On the other hand, maybe just entertaining kids ain’t such a bad idea. It sure didn’t hurt Disney any. And I doubt that anyone’s obituary will ever read, “He owed his entire success to what he learned on the final season of Teletubbies.”