Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thoughts On Super Why

So. PBS. Gift of the gods of public broadcasting to the children of America, right? Fun! Educational! Full of marketing potential! What's not to love?

Super Why. Super Why is what not to love.

Super Why is Sarah's best beloved. I'm not kidding. The kid is frigging INSANE for the show. I'm pretty certain she'd sell us if it would give her a chance to meet Super Why and Princess Presto and the others. Well, maybe not us, but she'd sell the dog without thinking twice.

And I loathe it. In its mission to educate the kiddies, it destroys the entire canon of traditional Western children's tales. For reals!

So, here's the deal for those who haven't been subjected to this little delight. Wyatt (the alter ego of Super Why) and his friends get into various little scrapes and misunderstandings (ALL characterized as "a SUPER big problem!") in their town of Storybook Village. They become Super Readers and use their powers of reading and stuff to find solutions to their problems "in a BOOK!"

I've hardly begun to explain this show and we've already hit my first issue. All problems are SUPER BIG. Friends not talking is just as bad as a kid trashing his brother's room is just as bad as accidentally scaring someone. Except they're not equally problematic out here away from teevee land.

Then, they go into a story that has a similar problem to the one they've encountered in, as it were, real life. And then they CHANGE THE STORY to make everything all better and take the lesson back to Storybook Village to solve the problem that started the adventure.

They what? Oh, you heard me right. They change fairy tales and nursery rhymes so that the revised plot shows a resolution they can apply in real life. But this isn't the egregious treatment. The real problem is that the show's writers change the tales to begin with so they better fit the episodes.

Um, no. Not okay.

For example, let's take the episode based on The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Wyatt hears his baby sister speak for the first time, but no one else hears her and furthermore, no one believes it happened. So the Super Readers suit up and fly into the fable. This, ahem, version is about a little boy who makes friends with a wolf. But every time he calls his family over to meet him, the wolf hides. But then they all learn to trust one another and the family meets the wolf and everyone is happy and blah blah blah fairy tale ending.

People, this is so totally NOT the point of the ACTUAL fable. The POINT is that the kid LIES. Repeatedly. Finally no one believes him because of his tricks, so that when the wolf does finally come he gets eaten. The end.

But in this bowdlerized PBS telling, it's all about distrust of a truthful child. Now, I understand that this show is meant for children and therefore should address their concerns. But surely there's a better way to do it than to warp children's stories to serve an arguably greater good (kids do learn prereading skills, so it's not totally Teh Evil).

(Oh my god, Sarah is totally singing the theme song EVEN AS I TYPE THIS.)

So, my frustration stems from what I am sure is a well-intended attempt to find dilemmas kids can relate to in formats that are familiar, but which in fact completely subverts the original intent of the stories. The Three Little Pigs isn't about excluding the poor, friendless, misunderstood Big Bad. It's about doing a job right so that when the Big Bad does show up at your doorstep, HE WON'T EAT YOU.

Plus the songs are too catchy and stick in my head all day.

I know Sarah will eventually outgrow the show, and in the meantime it's reinforcing prereading skills and teaching her the very important lesson that BOOKS ARE GOOD and full of useful information. I just wish PBS wouldn't strip the source material while their little anime fiends do their song and dance routines.

Also, Princess Presto is bossy and annoying. The end.


Me? A Mom? said...

...cue the sparkles!

(sorry, couldn't resist)

Cate said...

Super Why sucks. As does Franklin.

I do like WordGirl, though.

Grace said...

OMG, this show sounds like it would drive me ABSOLUTELY insane.

Signed, Daughter of a professional children's artist/writer/educator (and holder of a PhD in English from Yale) who inculcated in us a VIOLENT objection to the bowdlerization, moralization and bibliotherapeutification (now there's a word!) of fairy tales and similar folk culture (including scripture).

Rachel said...

You gotta be kidding me. BLECH.

Am hoping this little gem is not on the PBS menu when my future kid is plopping their butt down in front of the teevee. I can hear the repeated protests (and confusion?) when I break out the family's massive collection of classic childhood tales: "But that's not what happened in SuperWhy, mama!"

Meredith said...

I think what most of these show don't understand is that, while adults can subvert texts from the canon and whatnot, KIDS HAVE NEVER HEARD MOST OF THESE STORIES BEFORE.

Super Why is super annoying. It's a super big problem.

Beats the HELL out of the Doodlebops, though.

Grace said...

I think what most of these show don't understand is that, while adults can subvert texts from the canon and whatnot, KIDS HAVE NEVER HEARD MOST OF THESE STORIES BEFORE.

Right. This. They have to LEARN them before they can start taking them apart and turning them inside out (and when they DO do the latter, it would be nice for it to be on their OWN terms, which are much more interesting than the moralizing bosh of a TV show).

Not that I have an opinion about these things or anything.

AG Ambroult said...

I am with you on this one. it is dreadful and downright silly.