Growing up in the 1970’s the only television that you had that was actually directed towards youth were educational programs and cartoons that subtly dealt with adult topics, while ‘entertaining’ American youth. A show like the Flintstones or The Jetsons encapsulated adult humor around children’s fascination with impossible situations, like living in space without any real concept of what life on Earth was like or progressive society in the stone-ages. Kids liked the bright colors and ridiculousness of the social situations while adults enjoyed the dark humor. Shows like Kroft’s “JR Puffinstuff” were among the few that actually directly appealed to the imaginary tastes of children, although they were unable to do so without being somewhat of a reflection of their times.
These days however, after 20 years or so of Nickelodeon and other networks directly competing for the attention of children and teenagers, like ABC Family youth culture is big business. While a few cartoons, most notably ABC networks “Recess”, which dealt with situations that only served as heavy metaphors of what is typically adult drama through a 50’s aesthetic (what children take the playground even as remotely seriously as these kids do today), still deal in yesterdays minimalist mindset, many other programs have graduated from ideologies postulated through the likes of child psychologists. Shows like the “Teletubbies”, British creations that appear on both American and European television serve as an indicator of the enormous potential for such programming. On the other hand, Japanese anime brings their own unique style of programming; bright colors, emotionally and visually aggressive, and darkly spiritual, to the American shores.
Animation has went from a medium which postulated anthropomorphism as an acceptable art-form for the airwaves to creating situations in which children are immersed in a world that is totally of their own, which they can easily manipulate to their own liking. Rather than laugh about animals hurting each other in an environment that is absent of death and consequences, adolescents watch cartoons in which sorcery and other forms of spirituality serve to teach one about their own mortality. While Mr. Rodgers and Captain Kangaroo held our imagination kids that grow up watching music videos need programming that is quick and to the point, and today’s shows are not just effective on children, but can have mesmerizing effects on adults as well.
Yet the aggressive changes in television programming have done little to prepare kids for the cruel environment one finds on the other side of the television set. It was fun watching shows like “Saved by the Bell”, while preparing for college, although those situations were foreign to anything I had actually experienced in school. While today the changes in societies attempts to reach out towards children can even be seen on Christian networks like TBN and reality shows like TruthQuest that attempt to infuse Christian values through the catalyst of reality televisions voyeuristic atmosphere children seem to be as isolated and disaffected than ever. One has to wonder if today’s politically correct atmosphere is not responsible for children’s programming that is even more homogenous and artificial than ever. Do we really want our children to grow up with the fantasy of a perfect adolescence that is even farther from truth than anything adults watch on television? Are we going to continue to shield our children from real life under the guise of education and socialization or are we going to find more practical ways to slowly integrate them towards any realization of what life is truly like?
I would have loved to been able to enjoy any of the attention that society showers on children today, and while my childhood experiences were those that I created or found myself working through, rather than those that society attempted to tailor to me, I do not begrudge my becoming the adult that I am today. Yet it bothers me that today’s children find themselves in situations in which they may be killed by bullies, or where the victims of indifference feel the need to kill others at school because of the way that certain individuals made them feel. Individuals that, while they had little if anything to do with making these kids feel outcast, perhaps did little to reach out to them. Of course, the reality is that the aggressiveness of today’s youth inspired programming is not something that will ever be curtailed, yet at the same time, rather than allow these children to be programmed by television programmers themselves, it would be nice to see more parents involved in the process. The only tragedy of which would be if the strained relationships the parents have with the children is a big part of why the children would run to the television set to begin with.