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December 05, 2005

I was counting on you, PBS.

Over Thanksgiving, my well-intentioned dad took Claire [2 and ½] to the local library. They came home with a bag of books and, here's where the train went off the rails, a Teletubbies video. When I sighed upon seeing it, he said, "It's from PBS. They won't steer you wrong, Lovey."

I love PBS. I love NPR. I use and support both every day. But Teletubbies? I mean really.

Now, I try not to be a stooge when my girls are at their grandparents, mostly because I want them to feel like they are on a fantastic vacation instead of squatting at a house where the heat is never high enough, the pack-n-play is 7 years old and every meal starts by opening the freezer. So, against my instincts, my girls and I got in my parents bed together one raining night, turned on the electric blanket and watched Teletubbies.

They all talk baby talk! Baby talk, from the mouth of anyone other than a baby, makes me cringe, which in turn makes my four year-old crank up the baby talk. Baby talk can't be helpful to hear, can it? It can't teach anything useful, can it?

And the Teletubbies, they have TVs on their bellies! I realize I am stating the obvious here, but it is in service of making the larger point: is television watching to be celebrated? Is it now a legitimate pastime for pre-verbal toddlers?

So I did a little research and here's what the co-creators have to say, as best as I can paraphrase it: babies and small children watch TV anyway, so why not give them something they can follow instead of Sesame Street et al, which just goes over their heads. PBS acknowledges that Teletubbies is primarily entertainment but points to endorsements by academics who say the show's use of technology (referring, I suppose, to Noo-Noo, the vacuum cleaner, that runs the operations inside their submarine-ish hovel) helps to prepare young minds for our increasingly technical world.

I'm not buying it, so we don't watch it.

But I am irritated that programming is being created specifically for the pre-verbal set. Just like I’m irritated by chocolate milk. But then I think, Oh God, this puts me in the same camp as the stubborn, irrelevant women who refuse to give teens contraceptive choices since they "shouldn't be having sex at their age anyway!"