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TV telling kids what's funny? It's laughable


Lenore Skenaky

NY Daily News
Wednesday, August 24th, 2005

Don't touch that dial! Not unless you want your children to grow up to be clueless, sad-sack 40-year-old virgins.

That's pretty much the message Cartoon Network is sending parents as it launches its new block of programming, "Tickle U," as in University: two hours of cartoons on weekday mornings that will ostensibly help preschoolers develop a sense of humor, without which they will lead a sad and lonely life.

"We did a lot of research on the fact that you're not born basically funny. So humor is a learned skill," says Cartoon Network's spokeswoman Katie Morgan. "This is an actual block centered around the importance of developing a child's sense of humor."

"A significant body of research has to do with the fact that humor is a sign of intelligence" adds Alice Cahn, the network's director of programming. Moreover, Cahn says, humor lubricates most social situations. So, if you connect the network's dots: Humor is something that needs to be learned and the kids who learn it become geniuses. So all parents who want to give their children a head start should turn on Cartoon Network immediately!

What a crock of Bullwinkle.

Since when have kids had a hard time developing a sense of humor on their own? "Children develop humor by interacting with the world," says Josh Golin, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. "They don't need TV to learn humor."

As kids start to order the world - this is a dog, this is a cat - what really cracks them up is pointing to the dog and saying, "Kitty!" They don't need TV for that, they need someone willing to hang out with them, laughing over and over at that really lame joke. With the TV on, who's going to be playing with them? Who's even going to be in the same room with them?

Worse, says Diane Levin - author of "Remote Control Childhood?" - the more time kids spend watching TV, the less they are able to entertain themselves. "The more they watch TV, the more they need to watch it, because everything else seems so boring," says Levin, a professor of child development. The fact that Cartoon Network is trying to convince parents that this 10-hour lineup will help kids have fun galls Levin, because a steady diet of TV does just the opposite: "[TV kids] don't learn how to be active agents in making things happen. I call it 'problem-solving deficit disorder.'" Adults with this disorder are called couch potatoes.

Now, no one is saying that cartoons aren't funny or that kids should never watch them. Where would any of us be without Bugs Bunny gnawing in our subconscious? But there was a time when Saturday morning was IT for cartoons. They weren't on every morning, complete with commercials, enticing kids to vegetate.

"We hope that every show gives children an idea of what to play when the TV is off," says Cartoon Network's Cahn, adding that her own children love a cardboard box more than any other toy.

But kids glued to the idiot box are not going to use the cardboard box to make a ship or a shop or a puppet show. They are going to prop their legs on it and watch more cartoons. Telling parents otherwise is a joke. It's so funny, I forgot to laugh.



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More on Tickle U

TV telling kids what's funny? It's laughable (NY Daily News, 8/24/05)

CCFC Attacks Cartoon Network (AdAge.com, 8/23/05)

CCFC's Susan Linn Discusses Tickle U on NPR's Marketplace (8/23/05)

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