There's not much viewing of the All Powerful Idiot Box going on the Casa Amos, in large part because we do not subscribe to The Cable. We also aren't one of those families where the television stays on constantly. Of the rooms in our house, only one, the den, has a television that picks up stations. No set in the bedroom or kitchen (nor will there every be if I have my way about it) either. Nonetheless, we are big believers in The TiVo and have quite a few shows in our Seasons Pass list. Currently, we are trying to slog our way through the entire second-half of this past season's Desperate Housewives.
Little A is only allowed to watch one show, Sesame Street. Now I am sure that by exposing him to a few hours of television a week at his tender age (combined with his Mattel-induced exposure to lead paint), I am somehow warping his brain into mush and probably giving him ADHD. Of all the shite on television aimed at kids, Sesame Street has a lot going for it and is probably the best choice with which to distract him for a brief period of time. Namely, by watching the show, Alastair is getting some great early exposure to the concepts of numbers and letters. I think this is part of the reason why he is already counting to ten and can identify when he has two of the same object. (However, he says "two" for any group of things numbering more than one, but hey, it's a start.) Little A also enjoys the Muppets (Big Bird and Cookie monster being his favorites.) and loves to groove to the fun songs.
The new season of the venerable workhorse of kiddie programming started Monday. I've got a few nits to pick with the changes. For example, I hate the new frenetic animated opening sequence. I much preferred the previous, more straightforward one because it prominently featured Big Bird and automatically brought a grin to my son's face. Also, the jazzy version of the opening song that is being used isn't winning any points with me. Why mess with a classic? But there are also a lot of great additions. There's the Word on the Street: a daily focus word to bring cohesion to the episode. Celebrity guests seemed to have also increased. Just today we had a visit from Robert DeNiro who transformed himself into a dog, a cabbage, and Elmo. I was tickled to watch Monday's episode where Tina Fey mugged with Elmo as a "Bookeneer".
Sesame Street gained a new human resident in the form of Chris, nephew to Gordon and Susan. This new cast member got me thinking about the diversity of the Sesame cast. Historically, Sesame Street has been lauded for its inclusive casting. Amongst the human and Muppet characters, various ethnic and age groups are represented, as well as religious affiliations and persons with disabilities. However, after seeing the new cast member yesterday, I couldn't help but notice one disparity; it appears that the female members of Sesame Street are in a noticeable minority.
Here's my informal breakdown of the major character (appearing at least once a week). Muppets in italic text; humans in normal:
Mr. Noodle and his brother, Mr. Noodle
Big Bird ( I list him here, but Big Bird's gender isn't clearly defined. If anyone can prove to me BB is a female, I will relent BB's position on this list.)
There are numerous secondary female characters that show up from time to time like Gaby, Maria's daughter; Susan, Gordon's wife; The Countess and Grungetta, The Count and Oscar's girlfriends respectively; and Ms. Noodle, the sister of Messrs. Noodle.T
If Sesame Street is such a purposely progressive show, what gives? Now, I am not going to start some passionate e-mail campaign to force a more female presence on Sesame Street. I left that girlie back in my college women's studies class. It's a kid's show for crying out loud, not Congress.
Maybe there is some underlying trend along gender lines in children's television. Off the top of my head, I came up with a list of a few popular programs for the pre-school and elementary school set and most of them had male protagonists: Bob the Builder, Curious George, Barney, The Wiggles, Roly Poly Oly, Jimmy Neutron, SpongeBob SquarePants. There's only one notable exception to my list and that's Dora the Explorer, but her brother Diego has been given his own show. If you then turn to shows geared towards the tween/pre-teen set, a large number of them are helmed by female characters: Kim Possible, Hannah Montana, That's So Raven, The Cheetah Girls, Lizzie McQuire, The Amanda Bynes Show. The ubiquitous High School Musical is clearly aimed at the Limited Too crowd.
Okay, enough of my completely unscientific analysis of children's programming. I am sure there are countless sociological papers floating about dissecting the options available in kid's television shows. My initial response to the completely anecdotal trend I uncovered is this:
As small children, boys are the primary audience for television, or perhaps it's that little girls are more neutral when it comes to identifying with the specific genders of television characters whereas little boys gravitate strongly towards male characters while at the same time have difficulty relating to female characters. Children's shows recognize this and create characters accordingly. Perhaps as these children get older, this tendency flip-flops to girls, hence the increase in female-centric shows for tweens. Again though, maybe in the pre-teen years, girls become the larger consumer of youth-oriented TV while their male counterparts depart the kiddie programming for watching or participating in sports or video games.
Holy cow; is it totally obvious that I need to put my college education to use?
I think I'll go watch So You Think You Can Dance now.