Conservatives, Rotting Children’s Brains On Principle

Why can't today's TV pass on good taste like this to our children?

Perhaps I am over-reacting, but I was recently horrified. Sometimes conservatives allow their ideology to lead them into places that make it impossible to take them seriously, or  to view them as rational and responsible. This is especially true when it comes to the arts.

Yesterday, radio talk show host Laura Ingraham was bemoaning the coarsening of the culture, and the way she feels that television is poisoning the minds of children. She spoke nostalgically about how entertainment in the golden past was family-friendly, and reliably conveyed the values of humor and wit that enriched children’s minds, their taste, and their understanding of “good entertainment.” Those days are no more, Ingraham said. Television is vast slime-pool, and concerned parents can only look to past gems of the comic arts to teach their children “humor and wit.”

So what show did Laura Ingraham, accomplished writer, former Supreme Court law clerk, and author of political satire extol as epitomizing these lost values? What classic TV show’s complete set of DVDs did she reveal that she had given to a colleague so he could save the minds and souls of his children?

“Gilligan’s Island.”


I know—Sherwood Schwartz, creator of that show as well as “The Brady Bunch” just died. Still, giving “Gilligan’s Island” to a child to whom you are trying to provide cultural nourishment is like giving a starving African orphan a Frosted Pop Tart. “Gilligan’s Island” was pegged by critics and anyone with a modicum of taste the embodiment of the TV wasteland when it was new. “Gilligan’s Island” makes “The Beverley Hillbillies” look like a Noel Coward play; it makes “Green Acres” seem like Shaw. “Gilligan’s Island” was a Saturday morning kids TV show-quality piece of junk that became a camp icon for some bizarre reason, just like Schwartz’s other hit, “The Brady Bunch”—which Ingraham also praised because of its “values.”

What values? Insipidness? Clichés? Obvious stereotypes? Lowest-common denominator diversions? Dumb scripting? Amateurish acting? “The Brady Bunch” made “The Partridge Family” seem like “The Forsythe Saga.”

Using the term “wit” in connection with either Schwartz show is to render the term meaningless. I feel safe in saying that there was not one moment of genuine wit in either show, and yes, I have watched most episodes of both—and don’t ask me why, because I’ll take the Fifth Amendment. There is more genuine wit in five minutes of the lamest episode of “The Simpsons” ever broadcast (Laura also derided “The Simpsons” as denigrating fathers, which is nonsense) than in the hundreds of hours Schwartz’s creations clogged the air waves.

There have been many, many past comedies that I would happily show to children to have them appreciate genuine wit and humor. Bob Denver, a.k.a. Gilligan, co-starred in one of the best, “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” “I Love Lucy,” “M*A*S*H”, “The Honeymooners”, either Bob Newhart show, “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Mary Tyler Moore,” “The Odd Couple,” “The Cosby Show,” “Cheers,” “Taxi”…Heck, even lower breeds like “The Addams Family,” “The Golden Girls,” “Car 54,” and “F Troop” had classic comedy values and clever scripts. “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show” are so far above “Gilligan’s Island” in quality that they couldn’t see Ginger’s cleavage with the Hubble telescope.

I would no more give “Gilligan’s island” to a child to improve his sense of humor and wit than I would have him watch “Wipeout” to enrich his sense of drama.

Conservatives like Ingraham don’t do their cause or their credibility any good by praising mediocrity and trash as a desirable alternative to crudeness. They don’t do their children any good either by force-feeding them so-called entertainment that was and will always be the TV equivalent of baloney on Wonder Bread.

Making kids of any age watch “The Brady Bunch” or “Gilligan’s Island” will either imbue them with the sparkling sense of whimsy and satire of Michelle Bachmann, or drive them to “South Park.”

Of those two alternatives, I’d hope for the latter.

17 thoughts on “Conservatives, Rotting Children’s Brains On Principle

  1. Everything can be good entertainment, so long as the viewer thinks (a) that it’s good and (b) that it’s entertaining. I would never watch The Human Centipede, but I know a guy that thinks it’s good entertainment. It’s all a matter of taste and to further that analogy, what Ingraham really means is that the food is too spicy and she wishes it to be more bland and to her palate’s liking. She’s simply upset she can’t find anything new on TV to watch that suits her….and that’s the rub. Whenever someone makes statements like this, TV producers should take note. There may be an under served market here. How under served and how large this market is…I’m not sure. However, it might be worth exploring.

    • The point is that if you are going to bemoan the need for entertainment that teaches wit and taste, you have to come up with something better than “Gilligan.” If you want to say “I like ‘Gilligan’s Island'”, fine. I like cheesy horror movies. But I would never hold them up as cultural exemplars.

  2. — “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show” are so far above “Gilligan’s Island” in quality that they couldn’t see Ginger’s cleavage with the Hubble telescope.

    That’s the best sentence I’ve read all day. Thanks for that!

  3. Gosh…thinking about it, I have no memory of watching Sesame Street. Surely I must have. I just remember my mother recording the episodes of I Love Lucy that were on during the day and watching them with her the minute I got home from preschool. My parents considered I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Twilight Zone vital to their kids’ educations.

    Considering I learned all about Wagner and capitalism from Looney Tunes (there’s a great propaganda short where a mouse from Eastern Europe visits his American cousin), I find crap like Spongebob Squarepants particularly depressing. It’s just a vast right wing conspiracy to keep kids stupid (just kidding, sort of).

    • In Spongebob’s defense, it could be surprisingly creative (at least in the days when I actually watched it, which was several years ago), particularly in playing with the medium; there’s an episode where everyone goes above water and the rest of the episode is done with live action puppets (of course, by puppets, I mean a bath sponge, a toy crab, a dried starfish, and a squirrel doll).

      But I haven’t really watched TV since Who’s Line is It Anyways? ended, and my friends’ TV-related frame of references all pertain to cult sci-fi shows, so I can’t really say anything about this (except that the Internet has added a whole new dimension to this issue).

        • I feel the exact opposite. The kids programming I watched religiously growing up were Looney Tunes, X-men, Eureka’s Castle, and Are You Afraid of the Dark? You know what was so great about most of them? There were no silly “lessons;” They simply challenged my imagination. I don’t really get that from Spongebob and Dora the Explorer. This is clearly a “your mileage may vary” situation though.

          Except for the fact that everything is 500% better than Yogi Bear. That’s just fact.

          • I wouldn’t put Spongebob anywhere the same category as Dora, considering that it has throwaway gags about Toulouse Lautrec.and asexual reproduction, pokes fun at its own silliness (I don’t remember it ever teaching a lesson that it didn’t subsequently mock), and can get pretty times. Doesn’t mean you have to like it, of course, but they’re very different shows.

            Honestly, children’s TV has become incredibly diverse in the past two decades or so, ranging from incredibly sophomoric fare like Dora the Explorer to surprisingly mature material like Avatar: The Last Airbender.

            • What’s interesting is that things like Avatar aren’t exactly new; they’ve just been discovered by a larger audience.

              And I have to admit, I’ve seen, at most, 2 episodes of either Spongebob or Dora the Explorer. It was foolish of me to use them as examples of poor children’s programming as my opinion is based on such limited exposure.

  4. I’m with you on the shows you named, especially “The Muppet Show” and I’d like to add “The Carol Burnett Show,” which I loved as a child.

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