“Me being Uncle Ray, very smart indeed.”

 So Bob Elliott, currently one-half of the reason I have a deal to provide liner notes, turned 87 the other day; his partner would’ve turned 88 a day or so before that. Asked in an interview awhile back what getting older felt like, Bob said: "It feels like getting older." The interviewer characterized this as a ‘wry’ response, and, well, good for the interviewer.

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It should come as no surprise that television programming is derivative; the whole thing was in the first place lifted from the radio. Thus you had your radio dramas, your mysteries, soap operas, sitcoms, talk shows (then usually called ‘women’s programs’), news & sports… and, of course, children’s shows. (That it’s become progressively harder, as years have passed, to tell the programs intended for kids from the ones for adults is a charming side-effect, but not really germane to the issue at hand.)

The children’s genre Bob & Ray’s listeners would’ve been most familiar with was the Random Station Employee The Programmers Dubbed ‘Uncle’ and Then Had Read Stories and Such. The best-loved host of this kind was ‘Uncle Don’ Carney, from New York’s WOR, whose show had just concluded a 19-year run in 1947. He it was who initiated the ‘go look in the closet, Jimmy, and you’ll find a surprise from Mommy!’ schtick. (He also initiated the ‘That oughta hold the little bastards!’ urban legend, although not by actually saying anything of the kind. See link.)

This all might explain why ‘Uncle Ray’ Goulding had a pronounced Brooklyn accent, along with a distinctly surreal frame of mind. In typically gentle fashion, Bob & Ray’s satire of a kiddy host didn’t hate children; he was just entirely bemused by the requirements of entertaining them. A typical attempt, circa about 1948, is below.

Life, the universe and the morality of bean-blowers…

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In which I find fresh snark bait in the most unexpected places.

So life hasn’t been all shopping drama and NYTimes. Actually, I’ve spent most of this weekend half-asleep from some random sinus infection, which is even less exciting than it sounds, trust me.

I do not remember where in the morass I found the community, but I have been reading it ever since.

The BSC, for those of you who weren’t young and stupid in the late 80’s-early 90’s, is the Baby-Sitters Club book series. It may be a bit tricky to believe, but at the time the multi-zillion-volume saga of four/six/whatever middle-school BFFs and their babysitting adventures in a Connecticut suburb were as big as Hannah Montana. Movie, ‘Mysteries’ spinoff, special charm bracelet included with the 100th book, everything. Except maybe no sparkly theme lipgloss, although I could be wrong. But definitely no Billy Ray Cyrus.

No, the BSC’s special charm came from its deadly-sincere attempt at realism. These girls were just like you! Well, assuming you lived in upper-middle-class suburbia. And were prone to thinking of Gone With the Wind as a hot date movie, and using words like ‘dibbly!’ and ‘distant!’ to express excitement. And, oh yes, were unquestioning slaves of a pint-sized control freak who was obviously going to grow up to be the gym teacher in a bad British boarding-school comic. Lord, but I did hate Kristy Thomas.

Or more accurately, I hated that I was supposed to love love love her. Plus her ‘imaginative’ little stepsister Karen, who’s surpassed as a Child I’d Like to Clock With a Clue-By-Four only by DW of the Arthur series. The mental CBF was also often brandished at Claudia, who was fun! and funky! in that Very Special 80’s way (think Blossom), thus I was supposed to hold regular pity-parties for her because the world insisted she occasionally face personal responsibility. Because ‘individuality’ is so cute it just excuses itself, yo!

Uh-huh. Over in actual reality, this series could not have been more obviously written as wish-fulfilment for a middle-aged New Jersey woman if it had depicted the BSC leading all the neighborhood kids in a performance of the Fiddler on the Roof songbook…

…oh, wait.

At any rate, good to know I’m not alone – either in disdain for the series itself or ragging on childhood favourites. As it happens, I maintain a little bookshelf of said favourites, and although most of the series have disappeared by now (you can only go so far in life passing Sweet Valley High off as hilariously ironic) I’ve kept one Baby-Sitters book around, just for the nostalgia value…

The Seven Days meme: Day One

As gacked from . I like the occasional post-a-day challenge as much as the next lazy blogger, so…

Day 01 | a song
day 02 | a picture
day 03 | a book/ebook/fanfic
day 04 | a site
day 05 | a youtube clip
day 06 | a quote
day 07 | whatever tickles your fancy

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Besides, boy-oh-boy, have I got a song to share. This song is so good I am going to risk announcing that I used to watch the PBS geography game show Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? on a very regular basis. Hey, it was cute and funny and I really like Lynne Thigpen.

Also, it had a kickass theme song by Rockapella.

I love this theme with an ‘e’, because it is excellent, and because it remains the only song that has ever driven me to an encyclopedia… what? [sigh] No, kiddies, Wikipedia didn’t exist yet. (Now that it does: Bonaire.)

The link below even provides the lyrics, just so you don’t miss a second of the awesomeness. You’re welcome.

If you wanna have fun, it doesn’t matter at all…

Happiness week @ Shoe Central continues with a theme of universal love, hope and brotherhood…

…well, OK, not exactly. We haven’t reached the ‘bang the tambourine at airports’ stage of happiness yet, and frankly, we hope we never will. We have fond memories of encountering George Carlin in a book of advice to young people: "Question everything. Question – and resist!"

Of course, we also recall a painfully apt line from the Barenaked Ladies: "I’m so sane/it’s driving me crazy…"

Somewhere in-between lies our enduring fascination with children’s media.

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So, can I drop the royal ‘we’ now? Oh, I already have? Great.

Ahem. Not to worry, I’ve already rambled on at some general length on this subject… no, not the third person majestic plural, children’s TV. And faithful readers will recall that the outlook at that point was pretty grim.

Well, guess what: this post is about the tiny little ray of sunshine that’s burst through since then. Big & Small. Airing on TreehouseTV, here in its native Canada. (Although I am linking to the CBBC version because it includes much more introductory goodness). Various points on the schedule. Fifteen minutes a pop. 100% pure, unadulterated happiness. Go on, try a clip. See if you’re not grinning like an idiot within seconds.

OK…so the Canadian version doesn’t have Lenny Henry’s voice. Everything else – the charm, the wit, the riotous imagination – is blissfully intact. Big is still a gentle giant who invents good luck machines and dreams of counting the stars. Small still has a pet sock named Fang and dreams of being the Best Camper Guy Ever and…looks like a cross between a bunny and a goldfish.

As it turns out, he and Big are actually Grogs. This recent discovery clicked everything into place for me, because it means they’re from the same creature shop that has been making me very happy indeed since ‘way back when their ancestors used to show up between YTV programs in the early ’90’s.
These are good people to have in your corner when you’re stuck babysitting on a rainy afternoon. They have the same understanding Henson & co. (the original generation at least) did – that using felt critters means that you can actually get away with a whole lot of good stuff. Because nobody would ever dream of questioning the motives of cute fuzzy puppets, would they now?

No, really. Despite decades of warning, you can still get away with a surprising lot. You can, for instance, create a realistically hyper, egomaniac little kid, pair him off with a realistically capable but imperfect guardian, give them a common fascination with all the world has to offer…and somehow sneak it onto the international kidvid slate without a single parental complaint (that I can find, anyhow). It is the last best hope for resistance against the perfection of the average: the human personality, in all its chaotic glory.

As it happens, that’s also the foundation of the finest comedy humanity has to offer, so it’s no huge surprise that the average Big & Small episode is a mini-screwball masterpiece. Pocoyo does something similar with childish attitudes, but it’s hampered more by its peculiarly British sense of mission. B&S on the other hand are purely North American, over-the-top parodies of the spoiled brat and ineffectual parent archetypes that’ve been pervading our ether since Dr. Spock.

In recognising them, you laugh at them; in laughing at them, you learn from them; in learning from them, you understand them…and hey presto, expanded horizons. I have never, ever understood why more kids’ series haven’t picked up on this very simple formula. Probably saves a metric buttload in Child Development consultants. Not to mention songwriters.

Right, enough gushing, more sleep. It’s impossible anyway to really convey the funnie of this series in print; the fun comes from watching the expressions and voices and reactions. So…go watch it, OK? Seriously.

Ooh, this hurts.

Topless Robot recently did a ’10 Most Ridiculous Things About the Original GI Joe Movie’ list, and lo, I was gleeful. Because I loved the original GI Joe series with all my little mindless-pop-culture-consuming heart, and that damn Cobra-La trifled with that heart like Aztecs looking for fun on Saturday night.

And then I read the opening paragraph, about the live-action movie remake. I had not known there was to be a live-action remake, possibly because my brain shut down and started going ‘nuh-uh! nuh-uh-uh!‘ whenever I tried to take it in. I mean, we can all agree there are inherent issues in recreating the Joeverse in living colour, yes? For one thing, just try casting Cobra Commander. "Er…yes, you do wear a totally face-concealing mask for the entire picture. But it’s shiny!"

Apparently, though, there are depths to which my inner child’s heart can still sink:

"In just a few weeks, the majority of us will be exiting theaters on the opening night of the live-action G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, either laughing till we puke or pummeling each other out of sheer, unadulterated rage. Between Schumacher-esque Joe body armor, Storm Shadow’s sneakers and Duke’s childhood buddy Cobra Commander, we all know we’re in for something painful–but whether it’s Troll 2 painful (hilariously bad!) or Love Guru painful (assisted suicide) remains to be seen."

Sneakers? SNEAKERS?

…’scuse me, I’ll be over in this corner weeping for a little bit…

Et cetera et cetera/Ad infinitum/Ad astra, forever…or not

So yes, in the course of rambling on about Feminism in Watership Down, below, I got a little carried away. Especially does this bug in terms of children’s media (which Watership really isn’t, but we’ll ignore that for now). It’s something I’ve been personally confronting lately, as I rummage around in my Sesame Street-intensive past. Do you realise, fellow Gen-Xers, that the newest DVD sets of the show carry a disclaimer to the effect that "These early episodes of Sesame Street are intended for grown-ups, and may not meet the needs of today’s preschoolers"?

Sad, and a little strange – not least because accurate. On the one hand the belief is that children are more sophisticated than ever before; on the other, that they’re fragile flowers whose every input needs monitoring for fear it’ll corrupt the mechanism.You see it reflected in the pages and pages of ‘what behaviours is The Mole Sisters teaching my child’-type posts to the TreehouseTV forums, complete with just-saw-it-on-Oprah-so-I-know-it’s-scientific vocabularies. In the Fat Albert movie, which disavows the crude-but-funny ‘snaps’ that made the show famous in favour of hauling in a little (white) girl to teach the gang proper English. In the attitude of my nephew’s pre-K teacher, who reacts to the news that this four-year-old has taught himself to read with ‘Well, we need to think about how much he actually comprehends…’

Yes. She really said that. I swear, you just want to grab these people by their PTA-attending pencil necks and hiss, "Look, I spent an entire ruddy childhood watching a trenchcoated Muppet sidling up to innocent kids and asking if they wanted to buy an ‘O’ – that’s when he wasn’t off stealing the Golden An just for kicks – and somehow I managed to become a fully functional member of society…" [shaking them violently] "DO – YOU – UNDERSTAND?"

…Heh. [ahem]. Well, maybe there is something to be said for social conditioning. I’m not advocating wholesale exposure to disturbing imagery, either; children’s mechanisms can certainly suffer from neglect, and on the whole it’s a Very Good Thing that those closest to them realise that. But you can get carried away with it, is all I am saying. This obsession with socialization, with carefully categorizing every possible influence in the here and now, actively works to stifle any imaginative possibilities for the future. Worse, it gives kids the impression that intelligence, thinking about the answers, is much less important than getting the answers right. If you’re going to ensure the world is laid out exactly as it should be, then where’s the inspiration to think about what could be?

More rantiness under the cut…

Yip-yip-yip-yip…happy now…uh-huh, uh-huh…yip-yip-yip…

I just spent an entire evening rampaging through the Sesame Street clips on YouTube and favourited all my best ones. All the Yip-Yips, all the Bert & Ernie, all the Grover the Waiter (plus ‘Near and Far’ – love you, little blue dude!) Kermit and his Muppet News Flashes. Mr. Hooper’s death, for when I want a good cry (actually, closer to sobbing hysterically…)

Even the most obscure ones, like the ‘Capital I’ (“We all live in a capital ‘I’/in the middle of the desert, in the centre of the sky…”) and that one bit with Wanda the Witch where I used to twirl around the living room declaiming “A wild wind whipped the wig from her hand, and blew it away! Forever!”. They even have the Marmoset Song, quite possibly the most under-rated Joe Raposo composition ever (“And are there things to share, when you’re a marmoset/But do you really care, when you’re a marmoset?”)

And the guest stars! Lena Horne! Madeline Kahn! Patrick Stewart doing “B…or not a B?” Paul Simon doing improv with a preschool Macy Grey wannabe on Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard! R.E.M. singing Shiny Happy Monsters! Stevie- frelling-Wonder performing Superstition live!

Ooh, and did I mention all the Typewriter Guy bits? “Noo-nee-noo-ne-noo-noo…”

So basically I now have my very very own Sesame Street episode to play whenever I want. And my poor cranky inner child of a couple days ago is now curled up cozily, humming softly to herself:

But if green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why
But…why wonder…why wonder?
I’m green, and it’ll do fine
It’s beautiful
And I think it’s what I want to be.

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