Forget Doug: Kids’ TV today whomps

Christopher Hook

Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network or the Disney Channel. My parents envisioned that their first child would be free of the world of “crap TV” (as my Dad so gracefully put it), with all its crude humor and lack of moral reinforcement.

But my parents’ ban on cable TV extended only to the weekdays. On Saturdays, my mother and a more-than-skeptical father let me, my sister and my brother race downstairs at 7 a.m. to start munching our way through a buffet of four glorious hours of delicious Saturday-morning television. We watched ABC religiously, which aired classics like “Pepper Ann” (much too cool for seventh grade), “Recess,” “The Weekenders,” “Lizzie McGuire” (which made me fall madly in love with Hilary Duff) and at 11 a.m., “Even Stevens,” the show that gave Shia LaBeouf his start. Occasionally, when “The Weekenders” was on rerun (it always seemed to be), we would flip to Nickelodeon for some scintillating “Doug,” “Hey Arnold!” or “Rugrats.”

These shows represented normal childhood — addressing topics like that awkward first contact with the opposite sex, how to deal with bullies, sibling rivalries and how to handle money responsibly. Take “Doug.” This show centered around one normal guy: Yep, Doug, who imagined himself as a superhero in underpants, and yearned for a girl named Patty Mayonnaise. It was a show about nothing, yet it remains a classic today to the point that it has 1.6 million fans on Facebook and every year at Halloween someone dresses as Quail Man.

Meanwhile, the shows about 12-year-old “iCarly,” a Nickelodeon show that, according to Nielson, is one of the most-watched shows in America, is about three 14-year-old kids who each day put on a Web television show in one of the main characters’ bedrooms, which is equipped with a massive television screen, laptop computers and a high-quality video camera. Another popular show is “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” on the Disney Channel, about a pair of adventuresome twin boys, about 10 years old, who live with their mom in a penthouse suite in a swanky New York City hotel. “Zoey 101,” an enormously successful Nickelodeon show that only recently ended, details the life of friends at a wealthy boarding school in Los Angeles. They all have laptops and cell phones and wear fashionable clothing — and money is never discussed as a hindrance. Others, like “Cory in the House,” “Drake and Josh” and “The Wizards of Waverly Place” are much the same.

Kids’ television shows today are full of characters who, in short, have everything. Then they try, like kids’ shows do, to impart lessons about morals and responsibility, lessons that only ring disingenuous and hollow. There is no running dialogue about fiscal responsibility, about working for what you want. These shows try to come off as normal depictions of everyday life. But when characters have everything they want, and especially given our current economic situation, it’s almost disgusting to watch.

I remember one episode of “Recess” when the gang finds a $100 bill on the ground and spends the entire rest of the show thinking about what to do with it. Vince imagines himself opening a basketball league in space, and TJ wants to buy a jet-pack. Others want to go to the moon. They have no idea how little $100 is. But that’s why kids’ shows are so great. It’s that the characters act like, well, kids: innocent, imaginative and amazed at the potential of a day with friends. They inspired us, the viewers. They enlightened us. I worry that the shows of today are not encouraging imagination and discovery, but that they are instilling a false sense of reality in the kids of my brother’s generation. And, in the immortal words of TJ, that totally whomps.

Christopher Hook is a junior international relations and French major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.

Contact him at [email protected].