Back in my younger days, before I became a cynical college newspaper columnist, I was a fresh-faced lad who loved children’s television.My favorite channel? Nickelodeon.
The programs that graced this cable network during its golden age, 1991 to 1996, helped make me who I am today. They made me laugh, wonder and even filled me with unspeakable terror on occasion.
Why do I have such fond memories of shows that ended more than 10 years ago? Because they had something that today’s children’s television lacks: moral lessons.
Who can forget the episode of “Doug” where everyone’s favorite preteen philosopher, Doug Funnie, seeks out a slick new pair of Sky Davis basketball shoes to impress the kids at school?
Not having enough money to purchase the ultraexpensive super shoes that turn lame dudes into vicious street ballers, Doug parks his buns on a bench in the mall and stares at his beloved, albeit out-of-style pair of tennis shoes.
Then, presumably descending from heaven, Sky Davis himself walks up to Doug, wearing the exact same brand of old shoes. Sky tells Doug that while he hawks the basketball shoes for the big bucks, he’d never trade his trusty pair of sneakers for some flavor of the month. Then, they autograph each other’s footwear.
The lesson? Trusty old friends beat the flashy, popular ones any day of the week.
This was no rare occurrence, as every episode of Doug ended with a moral truth for the viewer to soak up.
Today’s kids watch SpongeBob SqaurePants run around naked, hunt jelly fish and defy the laws of existence by starting fires underwater. While entertaining, there isn’t much to take away from the experience besides a few laughs.
The dearth of lessons isn’t just in cartoons, as live action shows have gone down the same path.
Take an episode of the early 1990s summer camp-themed classic “Salute Your Shorts.”
One day, Bobby Budnick convinces Michael to fake sick so they can miss out on instructional swim.
After the boys put on their “faking sick” act, their counselor, Kevin “Ug” Lee, reveals the campers will be heading to the beach instead.
Budnick and Michael are unsuccessful in convincing Ug that they’re really in perfect health, so they have to stay in quarantine while the other campers go and enjoy the beach. Forced to stay together all day in the prison-like nurse’s office, the two former enemies become friends as a result of their shared boredom.
What did the viewer learn? Not only did the boys get hosed for lying, they also found out it only takes a little bit of interaction to turn a sworn enemy into a good friend.
Today’s TV works a little differently. “Drake and Josh,” a program about two teenage stepbrothers living in San Diego, is a prime example.
When the boys’ parents go to Los Angeles during Spring Break, the brothers decide to turn the house into a bed and breakfast for college students. Soon enough, the living room becomes a crazy party and is featured in live coverage of MTV’s Spring Break, which the boys’ parents see. Then, they call home and warn of their impending arrival.
In a pinch, the boys pretend toxic nerve gas is leaking from the vents, causing everyone to leave in a panic. They quickly clean up the house just in time for mom and dad to roll through the door. The parents feel bad about their suspicions and offer to take the kids out for pizza. Then the cops roll through and arrest the parents for hosting a televised event without a permit.
What did Johnny Q. Schoolboy absorb? Acting irresponsible and faking a terrorist attack will earn you a pizza, and then a completely innocent party will be blamed for it. How nice.
Sure, children’s television still teaches the ABCs and 123s and entertains kids, but what good is counting if you’re tallying up drug profits instead of aid packages to Darfur?
Kids spend all day in front of the TV, so why not throw a couple of life lessons in too?
David Hall is a sophomore news-editorial journalism major from Kingwood. His column appears Wednesdays.