Let me tell you about Oobi. This is Oobi:
Technically this is Oobi and his friends and family. Oobi is at the center left. Grampu is at the top. You can tell he’s old because he has either a moustache or a wrinkled upper lip.
Oobi and his cohort speak in short, declarative sentences. They don’t use pronouns, since young children have trouble figuring out pronouns’ antecedents. They teach life lessons and help educate toddlers and I totally don’t care because Oobi freaks me out. I finally figured out why Oobi disturbs me so much. It’s as if someone had flayed all of the skin off of puppets and then forced them to go on camera anyway. I don’t care that the show is innovative and intelligent and helps children learn. I care that I’m watching puppet skeletons and their lidless, staring eyes.
We also saw Pinky Dinky Doo, in which a seven-year-old uses her imagination to think her way out of trouble. I’m all for thinking, but when Pinky thinks big, her head swells to the point that it is larger than her body. Do we really want an encephalitic child instructing the youth of today?
It is possible that I’ve seen too many children’s shows lately. We were watching the Oobi credits when I shouted out, “Hey, there’s Stephanie D’Abruzzo! From Sesame Street!” The other thing I’ve noticed from watching the credits is that children’s shows are the only ones where you’re required to have a Ph.D. on staff. This isn’t a good idea. The “P” in Ph.D. does not stand for “practical”. We’re good for coming up with grand theories and grant proposals. You don’t want us planning your dinner, let alone planning how to educate your child.
Of late Congress has been looking to cut funding to PBS. Among the arguments for doing so are that shows like Sesame Street won’t go away, and besides, the market is providing plenty of Sesame Street replacements. Those who argue this position often point to channels like Noggin as proof. As far as educational shows goes, that argument ignores the true damage of cutting government funding of PBS: the poor will lose access to these educational shows. Sesame Street and other popular kids’ shows won’t go away, but the stations that carry them in poor and rural parts of America likely will. PBS stations in poor states are chronically short of funds, and a portion of the federal funding helps them keep their doors open. If that funding is removed, those stations will fold. Right now I can see Sesame Street by buying a cheap TV at a pawn shop and putting up an aerial, for a cost of around $40. To get Noggin, I have to sign up for digital cable or DirecTV at some $50 a month, excluding installation costs. The market’s alternatives to PBS stations for educational programs are not free, and certainly not cheap. Thankfully these funding cuts aren’t getting a lot of traction.