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Jentzen Michael Shea

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Why I Feel Sad For Kids Watching TV Today

Posted: 03/12/2014 1:05 pm

With recent news of Toronto writer Emily Keeler getting trapped in a Hudson's Bay location and taking to social media to get out, many quickly took to their twitter accounts (Keeler included) with replies including comparisons and jokes about the classic Canadian children's show Today's Special. Like any child of the 80s, I tweeted about it and shared the story on Facebook -- but not because I thought it was overly newsworthy. Yes the story got picked up by almost every major Canadian news outlet, but more so, I suspect, for its oddness, humour and proverbial "trip down memory lane."

When I think about the comments and likes I received by sharing the story, the outpouring of nostalgia by several handfuls of Facebook friends made me realize one thing. Television in the 80s kicked ass.

We may not have had all the computer generated imaging like in shows kids watch today, and looking back the quality of the filming was, rightly so, decades away from HD. But what the shows I (and so many of us) grew up on have that trump anything kids are watching today is heart and imagination.

Now, I may not have children yet, but I have enough friends with kids to know the basic extent of children's programming. I also have two adorable twin nephews, who in 5 years will likely argue to the end of the earth with me that what they watch on TV is a thousand times better than what their parents and I watched as kids. But let's face it, a whole generation who would try to argue that point, including my nephews, would simply be wrong.

Today, it seems that TV shows for children only use the formula of song, bright colours and outlandish looking characters to retain their audience. While many of those methods were used in TV shows of yesteryear, it seems like nowadays it is the only leg they have to stand on. Take for instance Yo Gabba Gabba. A show often compared to as a nightmare or LSD flashback, by wait for it- "mommy blogs." A show so often criticized for its ridiculous cast of characters that even South Park decided to use it as the punch line of an episode-long joke.

I think back to some of my favourite shows growing up like M.A.S.K, Today's Special, The Elephant Show, Dear Aunt Agnes, Inspector Gadget, Harriet's Magic Hats, G.I. Joe, Zoobilie Zoo, Fraggle Rock, The Edison Twins, BraveStarr.

TV back then wasn't just about learning to count, the colours and the alphabet. It wasn't about adults in leotards clapping ridiculous patterns at children or household items that live under the sea. TV shows of the 80s taught us manners, etiquette and moral lessons. They taught us to read. A set of fraternal twins taught us to solve problems with science -- and it was cool. A young girl transported us through history and the working world, educating us along the way by simply wearing different hats belonging to her eccentric Aunt. These shows taught us make believe and took us to worlds unknown. They taught us that an underground task force can fight crime or that an intergalactic cowboy can provide moral lessons by fighting off villains in the 23rd Century. The point is, they always taught us.

Shows that lasted sometimes only one or two seasons were still epic franchises with movie spinoffs, board games and toy lines or action figures. BraveStarr and M.A.S.K come to mind; my brothers and I had tons of action figures from each show yet one lasted a season and the other, only two. Kids today, while getting targeted by the same Hasbro-style marketing campaigns for their respective cartoons and live action programming, are missing out on so many of the life lessons we learned through what was children's entertainment at its best.

I think an exchange I had with a friend regarding Emily Keeler's story pretty much sums things up when it comes to comparing TV today to what we had growing up. She mentioned that my post regarding the Today's Special-style lock in and the nostalgic feelings for the past it induced made her feel so sad to see we are getting old(er). But I don't feel sad that I am aging. Like most of us, I quite enjoy all the new challenges and experiences it brings and the occasional trips down memory lane.

What actually makes me sad is that kids today just don't know quality TV programming like we did.

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