Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Solicited reviews

Monday, June 18th, 2007

I’ve got a backlog of solicited reviews, so here’s a bunch of bullets about various things that I’ve been sent recently:

  • The good folks at PBS Kids sent me a DVD of their new educational show, coming this fall, Word World.  The learning gimmick is that key words are spelled out, and then the letters transform into the thing itself.  The site says it’s aimed at 3-5 year olds; I think my 3 1/2 year old has already mastered the idea that letters make words that represent things.  But both N and D watched it eagerly, and thought it was very funny.  I asked them whether they liked it more or less than Between the Lions (which is aimed at 4-7 year olds), and they said they liked it more.  N said "it wasn’t scary."
  • Yamaha sent me the Konga drum from their new "real rhythm" line.  I rolled my eyes a little at the literature they sent me about how important drumming is to brain development, but it’s a nice drum.  (I do think music is important to kids, but they can make it with a jar full of beans as well as with a fancy drum.) I know my parents spent quite a while looking for a solid kid’s drum when D was a toddler (without a stick, so he couldn’t put anyone’s eye out) and this one is nicer than anything that was available at the time.  And it’s got a shoulder strap, so you can march around the house with it.
  • I got a CD of a new release — Lullaby Appetite, by Alexa Wilkinson.  If you’re wondering what the title means, so did I.  And having listened to the title track a couple of times, I still don’t know.  So, I’ll send the disk to the reader with the best (as judged by me) explanation.  Overall, I found the lyrics on this album evocative but not quite meaningful.  But the music is catchy and Wilkinson’s voice is fine.
  • Usually publishers email me and ask if I want a review copy, but Friends and Mothers, by Louise Limerick, just showed up on my doorstep.  It’s mommy-lit, Australian style.  I read the first few chapters, and thought they were ok, but put it down in the middle and felt no compulsion to pick it up again.  But Flea read it, and she’s pretty positive about it, so I might give it another try.

Dora and Mickey

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

The NY Times had an article this week (written by a friend of mine, as it happens) on how young children learn from television.  In particular, the article discusses a study that found that the more that children interacted with the television characters — Blue’s Clues is cited as particularly well-designed — the more they learned.

On vacation last week, I heard N shouting as he tried to open the heavy sliding door on our rental house.  It took me a minute to figure out that he was saying "Abre!" just like on Dora the Explorer.  He also loves to make a gate across the entry to our kitchen with his body, and make us do knock knock jokes before he’ll open.  So, yes, I’m sure he’s learning from television.  But I still cringe when we go to the bookstore and he shouts with his enthusiasm about finding books with Dora and Boots.  Why don’t you paint a scarlet "TV" on me while you’re at it, kid?

In spite of the bad rap that TV gets, I’m not convinced it’s bad for small children as long as it doesn’t replace reading.  A report came across my desk today about mother-toddler bookreading in low-income families which confirmed that reading to kids promotes language development.  As the abstract of the study says, "Path analyses show reciprocal and snowballing relations between maternal bookreading and children’s vocabulary."

One minor finding of the study is that moms are more likely to read to their first-born children than to later ones.  That should not come as a surprise to anyone who has more than one child.  I’m sure that younger children are also exposed to more television, and in particular, more non-educational television (e.g. D sure wasn’t watching KimPossible when he was 2).  I wonder if there’s a way to use that fact to improve research on the effects of TV on child development — most current research is flawed because it can’t distinguish between the effects of TV on children and the effects of having parents who allow or don’t allow lots of TV watching.

I’m not worried about N in any case.  We’ve been reading a lot of In the Night Kitchen lately, and he’s been walking around reciting long passages from it.  He particularly likes "I’m not the milk, and the milk’s not me.  I’m Mickey!"  Except that sometimes he says it as "I’m not the milk, and the milk’s not me.  I’m N—!"   or "I’m not the milk, and the milk’s not me.  I’m D—!"  and then he sneaks a peek over at D to wait for his reaction. 

Turn on the power!

Thursday, February 2nd, 2006

I’m tired, fighting off a cold, and depressed by the passage of the so-called "Deficit Reduction Act" (somehow I don’t think they’re going to call the tax cut bill the Deficit Expansion Act).  I suppose we could claim a moral victory that it only passed by a single vote, and that with a fair amount of arm twisting, but that doesn’t strike me as much comfort for the families getting kicked off of Medicaid.

So, here’s a bit of total fluff:

I got an email last week letting me know that a 4-DVD set of the Electric Company is being released next week, and offering me a review copy.  I accepted with enthusiasm, having fond, but vague, memories of it from my childhood.  As far as I can tell, it hasn’t been available until now, so I’m looking forward to seeing whether it stands up to the test of time — and whether my kids like it.  I’ll post a review when I get it, but if you know you want it, you can preorder it from Amazon.  (And yes, my husband and I are totally in the target demographic for this — we already have the complete Schoolhouse Rock.)


1) Dawn at this woman’s work has a much more thought out post about the Electric Company. 

2)  My review copy came today and we watched the first two episodes this evening.  D watched with enthusiasm, and asked for more when the first episode ended.  I’m surprised at how little my memory was jogged.  I don’t know if they ran reruns — if not, it’s quite likely that I only saw the later episodes.  (Without giving away my exact age, I will say that the compilation includes the episode that was run on the day I was born.)

3)  It’s quite fascinating comparing The Electric Company with its modern counterpart, Between the Lions.  Some parts of BtL (Sam Spud, Cliff Hanger) seem to be direct riffs off of ideas from TEC.  The big difference is that each episode of BtL is organized around a story as well as as a phonic element.  It seems that TEC was more of a true variety show, with no real plot. 

Presidents, television and real life

Sunday, October 2nd, 2005

So, I finally got the chance to watch the premiere of Commander in Chief that I recorded last week.  (And yes, I am inordinately proud of having finally figured out how to program a recording using the tv-input card in my computer, since it was scheduled against the new Amazing Race.)  Not planning on watching it again.

Overall the show mostly served as an excellent illustration of Anna Fels’ point about how societally unacceptable it is for women to admit to ambition.  The scenario they spin is that Allen was invited to be VP out of pure tokenism, and everyone knows this, and expects her to step down when the President is incapacitated because her politics and the President’s don’t match.  Well, Kennedy and Johnson didn’t exactly see eye to eye on many issues, but no one ever suggested to LBJ that he not take up the post.  But Allen isn’t even offended that everyone sees her as a token, because she knows she is one.  Not exactly the role model I’m looking for.

Back in the real world, I wish I could summon up more enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate.  I do think she’s running, even though she’s not saying so yet.  After eight years of Bill’s triangulation strategy, and her (appropriate) focus on NY-specific concerns as a Senator, I don’t know what she stands for anymore.  And I’ve never heard her take any ownership of the fiasco that was her health care reform plan, or to discuss what lessons she learned from that experience.

I read last month that Gov. Mark Warner has officially said that he’s not going to run against George Allen for Senate, which leads some people to conclude that he’s running for President.  I think that’s a mistake.  I think he’s been a decent Governor, but he doesn’t have any signature accomplishments to point to, and no one outside of Virginia has ever heard of him.  And Allen is an awful Senator, but the Democratic party doesn’t seem to have anyone else to run against him.  (Yes, it’s an election year in Viriginia this year.  I haven’t been writing much about the race because it doesn’t really excite me that much.  I wish I could summon the enthusiasm about any of the Virginia candidates that my friend Kevin has for Mfume and O’Malley in Maryland.)

John Edwards is clearly running, and he’s saying a lot of things that I agree with.  But the potential candidate who makes my heart beat faster is Barack Obama.  But is he running?   He was just elected to the Senate last year, and after the election, seemed to close that door pretty strongly, saying:

"So look, I can unequivocally say I will not be running for national office in four years, and my entire focus is making sure that I’m the best possible senator on behalf of the people of Illinois."

But, as Eric Zorn argued back in January, political windows like Obama’s don’t stay open forever, and he might want to move while everyone still remembers his convention speech.  And getting down and dirty on Daily Kos strikes me as the actions of someone who is thinking larger than re-election.  (He has podcasts on his website too.)

I know, the election is still over 3 years away.  But it’s fun to speculate.

Three-Toed Sloths

Sunday, September 18th, 2005

D is on a big three-toed sloth kick lately.  Whenever we go to the playground, he has to hang upside down on one of the curved ladders, just like a three-toed sloth.  For a while he was saying he wanted to be a three-toed sloth for Halloween, but I think we’ve talked him out of it.  (T is officially in charge of costuming in this household, so it’s not my problem in any case.)  And we’ve consumed the full extent of the library’s juvenile sloth section (Carle’s Slowly Slowly Slowly Said the Sloth and Robinson’s The Upside Down Sloth).

Those of you who don’t have preschoolers (or whose preschoolers don’t watch TV) are probably scratching your heads wondering where on earth D got a thing for three-toed sloths.   Those of you with munchkins probably know that Dora’s cousin Diego is responsible.  D thinks Diego is "awesome."

The ability to pursue enthusiasms like this, rather than staying doggedly on a fixed curriculum, racing against time to cover all the material that will be on a standardized test, is the strongest argument I’ve heard for homeschooling.  But, for a variety of reasons, we’re not really considering going that route any time soon.  I’m hopeful that there will be enough non-school time to provide the boys with the opportunities to follow their interests.

Last month, the Center for American Progress and the Institute for America’s Future issued a report on how to improve public schools.  Their first recommendation is to increase the length of both the school day and the school year, as well as to make better use of in-school time.  I have extremely mixed reactions to such a proposal.  I’m afraid my basic response is that it’s a good idea — for other people’s kids.  In particular, it’s clear that one of the reasons that KIPP and similar schools have had such success with disadvantaged populations is that the students spend so much more time in school than their counterparts.

But for my own kids, I think I’d be reluctant to give over even more of their lives to formal schooling.  I think they need time to run around the playground like lunatics, time to read books with no literary merit, time to bake cookies, and yes, time to learn about three-toed sloths.

30 days to a better you

Monday, June 20th, 2005

So last night, I watched FX’s new reality show 30 Days.  It’s produced by Morgan Spurlock, of Super Size Me fame, and the idea is that each show is about someone immersing themself in a different way of life for, you guessed it, 30 days.  In the opening episode Morgan and his girlfriend, Alex, try to live for a month on what they can earn in low-wage jobs (the show says minimum wage, but Morgan at least earns a bit more).

The show wasn’t profound but I think it did a decent job of showing some of the hardships that low-income families face, the tradeoffs they have to make, and the ways that even a small splurge (like going out to dinner) or setback (needing to take a taxi because the buses stopped running) could make a big difference to the bottom line.  And the comments on the US health care system — how you can walk into an ER and be treated if you’re sick, but preventive care is hard to get — were totally on line.  The only thing that I think was unrealistic was that they both went to the doctor when they felt sick; most low-wage workers wouldn’t go to the ER for a sore wrist unless the bone was sticking out through their skin, and I’d guess that most would have let the UTI Alex got run its course for a few days to see if it would go away on its own before seeking medical treatment. 

And then at the very end, in wapping up, Morgan said something like "this experience has made me a better person."  I was curious as to what he meant by that.  I’m not in the school of thought that holds that poverty and suffering are inherently ennobling.  And while he certainly knows more than he did before about what it’s like to be poor, I don’t think that necessarily makes him a better person.  (I don’t think that I’m a better person than I was before I did my own one month experiment of living under the Thrifty Food Plan; less ignorant, but not a better human being.)

Turns out Spurlock has a blog, and he amplifies the comment a bit there:

Meeting people who are struggling everyday just to survive made me see that I myself didn’t do enough to help those around me. Since then, I have done more to volunteer, to reach out, to give a "hand up."

I don’t think that’s quite accurate.  I think it was the combination of meeting the people in great need and meeting the people at the Free Store, who gave him and Alex furniture, and made doing more feel possible.

Pop culture, family values, and politics

Friday, April 15th, 2005

Via 11d, I found this interesting debate between Amy Sullivan and Matthew Yglesias about whether it’s appropriate for politicians — especially liberal politicians — to speak out about the ways that pop culture coarsens our society and presents constant challenges to those of us trying to raise children.

The posts are worth reading in full, but the key statement of Yglesias’ position is "liberals are characterized by the belief that the state shouldn’t have substantive views about these things."  Given that, he believes that it is pure pandering for politicians who oppose censorship to use their position to criticize movies and television.  He writes:

"If Dan Gerstein wants to write op-eds decrying Friends then let’s have at it. Friends is not above criticism. But Joe Lieberman shouldn’t be doing this. If he wants to be a movie critic, or a rabbi, or whatever he should leave the Senate and let someone else write the laws."

As several of the commenters on his post point out, however, citizens look for politicians to do much more than pass laws.  We vote for candidates who seem to understand us and our problems, who invoke the aspects of America that we care about.  As much as Clinton’s "I feel your pain" has become a cliche, it worked.  And he was the master of proposing microprograms that didn’t cost a whole lot of money, didn’t do very much good, but sent the message that the government cared.

As Sullivan responds:

"I think that acknowledging the concerns of many Americans–even if you can’t fix them with a policy–is sometimes just the obvious and right thing to do, and shouldn’t always be given the perjorative label of pandering….sometimes it’s not about policies. It’s about proving that you’re not hopelessly out of touch with the real anxieties and concerns of many Americans."

I’d also like to see more people — politicians, sure, but also clergy, athletes, bloggers — helping people come together to develop ways to resist the onslaught.  Because there really is an onslaught.  I’ve written about the impact of advertising on my kids, and it’s only going to get much much worse as they get older.

NewDonkey writes:

"It’s not just about sex and violence; it’s also about consumerism, fashion-and brand-consciousness, and a generally superficial approach to life…. Matt is simply wrong to assume this is all about some "New Prudishness." As a parent of a teenager, I am not that worried that the ever-present marketers will turn him into a sex-addict or a sociopath; I’m more worried that he will turn into a total greedhead whose idea of the good life is stuff, and whose idea of citizenship is to demand a better personal cost-benefit ratio on his tax dollars."

It’s not enough to just say "turn off the TV."  It’s everywhere.  My son watches very little television at home, and we TiVo out the commercials.  But when we go to the doctor’s office, there are TVs in the waiting room, and when we go to the bookstore, the Dora books have ads for video games in the back.  And then there’s the matter of the other kids at school, as well as in the neighborhood.

As Jen commented on 11d, we’re seeing more and more parents — secular liberals as well as religous conservatives — feeling like the media is contrary to their values, and pulling the plug.   We’re also seeing more homeschooling for much the same reasons.  But the culture is pervasive and — unless we decide to become Amish — our children will eventually be exposed to it.  We can’t raise them in a bubble, even if we wanted to.

When I posted this week about D’s case of the "I wants,"  Parke commented:

"We also spend a lot of time in a church community with lots of other parents who are raising children in a similar way, so our children have many friends who also don’t get all the toys they want."

I don’t feel like I have such a community — and I think many people don’t believe that such a community is possible.  I think that there’s a power to talking about these issues in a way that makes people feel like they do have some control, rather than making them feel helpless and cynical.  The only people talking about this are the religious conservatives, and I don’t want to live in their community either.

I like what Anne wrote about this topic, although I’m not sure I entirely understand what she means:

"I became enamored with [the idea] a couple years ago, that to raise a family effectively today you must act counterculturally. That never fit quite right because I am too much a creature of our culture to turn my back on it entirely…. Instead, I can put myself and my family not against the culture, as ‘counterculture’ demands, but orthogonal (perpendicular in every dimension) to culture."


Monday, February 28th, 2005

Yesterday’s Washington Post had an article on the front page of the business section about advertising aimed at children, and the not terribly effective group that monitors it.  It’s an interesting article, and made me once again grateful that we have TiVo and can fast-forward through all the commercials.

Unfortunately, the article was illustrated with big color pictures of several products that have children’s tv and movie characters prominently featured on them. 

So D took one look at the paper, pointed at the box of poptarts with Mr. Incredible on them, and said "I’d like those."

"Do you know what they are?"

"No.  What are they?"

"Why do you think you’d like them?"

"I just do."

"If I put a sticker of Mr. Incredible on these" — point at the bottle of children’s vitamins that I’ve been trying to convince him to eat — " would you eat them?"


"So why do you think you’d like those?  Just because they have Mr. Incredible on them doesn’t mean they’re good."

"I would like them."

I go into the kitchen and pull out a box of macaroni and cheese with Blue on it from the cupboard.  "Do you remember this?  You really wanted us to get this, because it had Blue on it?  When we made it, did you like it?"


He returns to the table and the newspaper.  "But I’d like this.  We can go to the store and buy some."

I sigh.  My husband says to me: "This is going right into your blog, isn’t it?"

D’s a very bright 4-year old.  But he’s simply not able to make the logical leaps that I was leading him towards.

Reality TV roundup

Saturday, February 12th, 2005

I confess, I watched the "liberal lesbian v. conservative Christian" Wife Swap this week.  It was about as painful as I expected it to be.  Shannon at Waiting for Nat sums up everything that was wrong with it in her terrific post "you can’t pray a lie" and also notes that Kris Gillespie is running for Texas State Senate.  Yikes. (The idea that being on reality tv is good publicity for running for office is a pretty scary notion in itself.)

That said, I do think the two families actually learned something from eachother, which wasn’t the case on the other couple of episodes of the show I’d seen before.  The Gillespies did seem to be more encouraging of their daughter’s interest in art, and  Nicki Boone did say she was going to spend more one-on-one time with Lizzie (her version of the "Princess day").


I’m bummed that Kris and Jon didn’t win The Amazing Race.  But I’d rather have their relationship and no money, than Freddy and Kendra’s and the million dollars. 

Supposedly Jonathan and Victoria are going to be on Dr. Phil’s primetime special on Tuesday.  I’ve picked it on the TiVo, but am not sure I’ll watch it.  I’m confident that Dr. Phil will give Jonathon the dressing down he so richly deserves.  But I’m not sure I want to spend another minute more of my life paying attention to that creep.

CBS has opened its casting call for Amazing Race 8, which is going to feature teams of four, who have to be "family" (broadly defined).   T. and I have been joking for months about what it would be like to do this with our kids, but they’re limiting it to 12 and older.

Max and Ruby jump the shark

Friday, January 14th, 2005

The other day I noticed that someone had found my blog by googling for Max and Ruby jump the shark.  I thought this was pretty funny, so I mentioned it to my husband.

Without missing a beat, he said "it’s the Easter bunny episode."