Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The President In Pajamas

In Saturday's WSJ, Bret Stephens noted that not even children's TV is safe from politics:

Yet there we were -- my right-leaning self, my otherwise-leaning better half, the Obama-aware-though-not-yet-politically-engagée Lara and her slightly befuddled younger brother Noah -- watching the Noggin channel as it "celebrates President Barack Obama and some of his favorite things." With a voice-over that sounded like a Noggin character and a set of brightly colored illustrations of the 44th president and his family, the segment continued as follows:

Barack Obama is the first African-American to be President. That is what's called a historic event.

Leading a country is no easy task. So what does he do to relax you may ask?

He loves shrimp linguini and the chili he cooks.

He also plays Scrabble; collects comic books.

He likes classical and hip hop and jazz music too.

He always goes shopping for the same type of shoe!

He reads lots of books and writes wonderful speeches.

He goes on vacation and takes walks on beaches.

He loves basketball; it's his favorite sport.

In the White House backyard he'll have his own court.

He reads bedtime stories to his daughters at night.

The president in pajamas, what a sight!

Now you know the president better than before.

Which leaves just one thing:

When he sleeps does he snore?

It concluded with the message: "For more about President Barack Obama, go to" Curious, I went to the Web site but found only the same video (it seems to have since been removed). Still curious, I called Nickelodeon, where I was told the clip was done for black history month (along with clips of other notable African-Americans) and had "no political overtones."

Maybe so, but why then select Mr. Obama when there were plenty of non-partisan role models to choose from? I suppose I wouldn't object to a bit of civic consciousness-raising among preschoolers. Then again, I've been watching Noggin on a more-or-less daily basis for four years, and I can't remember a similar clip about President Bush, his bike rides, cowboy boots and Scottish terrier. So I'm left to conclude that a channel whose chirpy slogan is "I'm using my Noggin!" is up to something else. Actually, boys and girls, Noggin is using you.

We don't get Noggin as part of our cable package, but we do get Nickelodeon. And I saw the short, hagiographic cartoon celebrating President Obama a couple of times during Black History Month. Like Stephens, I too was surprised at how overtly political it was despite Nickelodeon's effort to sell it as simply recognition of a historic figure in black history. And like Stephens, I can't recall seeing anything remotely similar about President Bush on Nick. In fact, I can't even recall his name being mentioned on any special promotions by the station.

But this celebration of President Obama is only the most overt example of Nickelodeon's political bias. Last year, they provided "coverage" of the campaign with kid reporters and interviews with children involved in politics. Far more of these stories were about kids who supported Obama than McCain. Not surprisingly, when the station conducted an on-line poll asking children to "pick the president," Obama emerged as the winner. That result was then enthusiastically reported on the station. At the inauguration, these same "reporters" celebrated the occasion by jumping up and down and chanting "Obama! Obama! Obama!" In that respect, I suppose that weren't much different from their grownup media counterparts.

Then there's the matter of Nick's The Big Green Help. Now, I'm all for protecting the environment as much as the next guy and I think it's fine to teach kids to care for the earth by not littering, conserving energy, and recycling. But that's not what The Big Green Help is really all about. No, it's about fighting "CO2 monsters" who are destroying the planet by causing global warming. And like an infantile version of Hollywood activism (is that even possible?), Nick has lined up all the stars of their shows to add their weight to the effort by urging kids to get involved.

The same people who like to pooh-pooh the "exaggerated" fears of communism during the Fifties and love to ironically mock things like duck and cover drills now have no problem trying to convince children that if they don't turn out the lights their world is going to end. The problem is that kids don't even know what CO2 is and, at least before Nick's agitprop came along, would have no reason to worry about it. Now, they're being called on to fight the CO2 monsters with nary a mention of the fact that use of carbon based energy has allowed us to build the world we have today and heats their homes, fuels the cars their parents drive, and provides the electricity to the very television that they're watching Nickelodeon on.

The problem---as my brother astutely pointed out yesterday--is that the people at Nickelodeon have decided it's their mission to do more than simply deliver quality children's television. Instead of being content to produce shows that entertain and sometimes educate children, they feel the need to "make a difference" and that leads to these efforts to indoctrinate young minds. When you introduce yourself at the dinner party and say you're a children's television executive, it helps if you can solemnly add "We're currently running a campaign to fight global warming." Because making a difference is so much more important than making children happy.

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