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Tuesday, February 25, 2003


From the Cradle to the Tube Section

TV influences infants, study says

A Baby Deconstructs Some of Your Favorite Television Shows

A recent study at Tufts University revealed that after about 12 months of age, babies are actually learning about the world when they watch television. Realizing that today's televised offerings of debased reality shows, nearly-pornographic depictions of sex, and nonstop consumerist bombardments could potentially harm an infant viewer, I borrowed a friend's baby boy, sat him in front of recordings of a recent episode of "Joe Millionaire," a "Real World" marathon, and one episode of "Sesame Street." Surprisingly verbal for his 14 months on this planet, Baby Boy Steve (not his real name) was forthcoming and introspective about his television-watching experience.

WFOoBH: Let's get this out of the way right now: people are going to find it hard to believe that you can talk at 14 months, much less buy into claims that babies are really understanding what they see on television at an early age.

Baby Boy Steve: My parents were very progressive. My mother played Vivaldi concertos through headphones placed against her womb after the first trimester. When I was born, she would put Nabokov audiobooks in my Teddy Ruxpin. There was something very sweet yet despoiling about "Lolita" delivered through the mouth of my fuzzy teddy bear as I drifted off to sleep in my basinette. My father would tell me that I was going to be the smartest baby in the world. I don't know if that's the case, but this talking thing is a pretty good start, wouldn't you say?

WFOoBH: Indeed. What about the television comprehension alleged in the Tufts study?

BBS: It's all true. I can give you a plot summary of this season of "24." [Baby Boy's Steve's face twists into a grimace, he issues a gentle belch, and a sticky stream of drool rolls down his chin. I wipe it up for him.] I'm sorry. That's so embarassing.

WFOoBH: It's quite all right. Let's talk "Joe Millionaire." You can follow the premise of this show?

BBS: There's something complicated about baiting attention-starved actress wannabes with a hunky, dim, supposed-multimillionaire? This ain't "The Sound and the Fury," bub.

WFOoBH: What did you think of how it ended?

BBS: The American people were jobbed. They replaced the bloodlust that originally drew in an audience with a happy ending that wouldn't have been out of place in a Disney straight-to-video sequel where they cut out all the good voice actors.

WFOoBH: True enough. Did you know who was going to win?

BBS: I knew from the beginning that the winners were the people who sell advertising at FOX. It put up Super Bowl numbers. That show's a demographic world-beater.

WFOoBH: Wow. That's slightly cyncial and sophisticated.

BBS: Thank you. [Baby Boy Steve begins to cry. I pick him up from his high-chair and gently pat his back. The crying doesn't stop. I sniff him -- he doesn't need a changing. I give him a sip from his bottle, and the crying abates.] I have to apologize again. I'm really not at a stage of development where I can effectively communicate my needs. I glad I didn't do a poopy diaper. That would have been awkward for both of us.

WFOoBH: Well, ease up a little on the bottle until we're through. [Nervous laughter.] Let's talk "The Real World: Las Vegas." What are your thoughts about it?

BBS: My mother and father seem to think that I'm going to be a theoretical mathematician, but I think I'd be happier working in a casino. I want to play with the colorful chips and dice. They remind me of my alphabet blocks, which I often rearrange into the first lines of famous novels.

WFOoBH: Chips and dice have numbers on them, though.

BBS: Let's not split hairs. I can arrange them into the first fifty places of Pi instead.

WFOoBH: Do you think you'd want television cameras following you around all the time, documenting your every move?

BBS: I guess it's a trade-off. There seems to be a severe loss of privacy that makes these people under scrutiny act out. But I'd have four more pairs of breasts around for mealtime, so maybe it would be OK.

WFOoBH: You're smiling. Do you like that idea?

BBS: You know how when babies smile everyone says that it's just gas?

WFOoBH: I've heard that.

BBS: It's just gas.

WFOoBH: Lastly, I had you view "Sesame Street," which is more traditional children's programming. Did you find that it was a better fit for you as a viewer?

BBS: I know there's supposed to be a certain suspension of disbelief with any kind of entertainment, but come on. A talking, huge, yellow bird?

WFOoBH: Kids usually like Big Bird.

BBS: Please. And I'm not sure that I like what the show says about the plight of the homeless. Oscar lives in a garbage can and his best friend is a worm. That's troubling. Why don't they just have him wetting himself and biting his shoe?

WFOoBH: I'm not sure he's supposed to represent the homeless.

BBS: And I bet that you think that Ernie and Bert aren't lovers. At least the show's displaying a little social progressivism by portraying a same-sex parent dynamic. Although I don't know how I feel about the rubber ducky as a stand-in for a child. Why not just give them a kid? It's a stable home, they've been together for over thirty years! My rubber ducky's just for my baths in the sink. Mommy says I'm not big enough for the tub yet.

WFOoBH: Thank you, "Steve." You've given me a lot to think about.

BBS: You should watch your television with a more critical eye. It shouldn't be left up to babies to understand what's going on in their entertainment. [Grimaces.] Oops. Poopy diaper.

[Style note: Close readers of WFOoBH may notice that the preceding feature contains a shift in punctuation style. Instead of the usual italics used to denote a television show, movie, or book title, we've switched to simple quotes. It's less showy, perhaps a touch classier. And if there's one thing that we stand behind as an institution that has been at the vanguard of Internet opinion, it's class.]

[Content note: The preceding contains what is probably the final mention of "Joe Millionaire" on WFOoBH. The series finally took its bow tonight with its superfluous "Aftermath" show, which was little more than a "East Riverside Falls News at 10: What's Going on with Evan and Zora?" feature with three soundbites and immediately followed by the Channel 55 Person Who Gets Angry For You! exposing the bags of garbage accumulating behind your favorite diner. Goodnight, Joe. I reserve the right to revive you if you do something stupid or interesting. Here's to hoping it's something stupid, because there's nothing quite like poking fun at a dumb guy.]

About this site

This is the internet home of Mark Lisanti, a Los Angeles writer sometimes known as Bunsen. He is the founding editor of Defamer, a weblog about Hollywood, where he now serves in the nebulous capacity of "editor-at-large."
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