Sponging Off the System: Are Animation Writers Merchants of Stupidity?
Once again, animated television – the beloved medium which puts roofs over our heads, coffee in our cups, and digital cable programming into our PVRs – has come under attack.
Some researchers from the University of Virginia showed 20 4-year-old kids an episode of Spongebob Squarepants then had them do some tests to measure their “executive function.”
Executive function. Sounds like a cocktail party for a bunch of CEOs, but apparently it’s something happens in your frontal lobes. It comes in handy when you want to learn stuff, keep organized, control your impulses and learn from your mistakes. (If my lobes had better executive function, I probably would not have gone to see Green Lantern this summer.)
Anyway, the Spongbob kids reportedly performed more poorly than the 20 kids who watched an episode of Caillou or the 20 kids who drew pictures instead. This led to the researchers to conclude that fast-cutting quick-paced shows like Spongebob could impede the learning process.
Okay, lots of folks, including a spokesdude from Nickelodeon, have already pointed out the flaws in this study…including the small sample size and the fact that Caillou is a preschool show and Spongebob is aimed at older kids. Or that the study didn’t try leaving a gap between the watching of the programs and taking of the tests.
But what if the results aren’t bogus? What if a study with a larger sample of kids comes up with the same results? What if we, the animation writers, are contributing to the stupidity of children?
The solution to this particular problem seems pretty simple to me. PARENTS OF PRESCHOOLERS: DON’T LET YOUR KIDS WATCH SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS BEFORE THEY TAKE AN EXECUTIVE FUNCTION TEST!
Let’s say some kids shouldn’t watch TV before trying to learn something. (And let’s say I shouldn’t have watched two of episodes of Kick Buttowski on YouTube before writing this post. Think of how more coherent it could’ve been!)
Then let’s say parents should control what shows their kids watch and when they watch them and for how long. After all, raising and educating their children is their job.
Our job is to provide a product. Some might say a seductive, addictive product…
ARE WE BIG ANIMATION?
TV has often been blamed for producing a generation of obese, socially-misfit couch potatoes with attention deficit disorder and an inability to relate to real people…but enough about animation writers.
This is about the children and the money we make writing for them.
Is animation the Big Tobacco of television programming? The more eyes on screens and the more brand loyalty generated for spin-off merchandise, the higher the profits for networks and production companies. Which leads to more work for us, the animation writers and story editors.
By making our scripts as entertaining as we possibly can, are we part of a system designed to hook viewers at an early age, leading to a lifelong dependence on the medium? After all, they do call it viewing habits.
Well, whether the general public realizes it or not, writers, story editors, producers and network execs all work towards keeping their kids’ shows age-appropriate, with positive messages about friendship and cooperation, self-confidence and persistence, consequences for one’s actions and all that good stuff. And animation has had a long association with educational programming, teaching kids about the world around them and helping them with literacy and numeracy and problem-solving skills.
Lots of things in life are bad for you if consumed in large amounts…booze, Facebook, Chocolate Cheerios…and TV is no different. It’s up to parents, caregivers and teachers to help kids learn to moderate their consumption of, well, everything.
But I’m willing to do my part. So hey kids, turn off that TV and go run around outside for a while. Just not when my episode is on.