TV: What's Wrong with the World Today

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in TV

There is something seriously wrong with the world today. I’m not talking about global warming, the recession, Twilight, Cafe Rio, or any of the other serious problems the world faces. I’m talking about a crisis that is much more serious than that — and it all starts with iCarly.

Yes, that’s right, iCarly: this popular, Emmy-nominated television series holds the keys to unlocking what’s wrong with the world today.

Now, it shouldn’t shock you to find out that I came to this realization at the Provo Denny’s around 2:30 a.m. (because, as you know, most good epiphanies happen at the Provo Denny’s at 2:30 a.m.) This revelation came after a long nostalgic discussion about the ’90s and the television series my friends and I grew up on. Great shows of Nickelodeon’s past like Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Hey Dude and a lot of things involving slime. There were the classic cartoons like Rugrats, Hey Arnold! and Doug. There was TGIF and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

And then there was the defining show of our generation, Boy Meets World. If Saved By the Bell represented the neon pink early ’90s, Boy Meets World represented the decade’s post-In Utero grunge era. The show featured ’90s staples, including (but not limited to) a long-haired delinquent best friend and an English teacher who liked the X-Men and rode a Harley.

Most episodes of Boy Meets World had a fairly simple premise, not unlike most shows of the era — a middle-class kid in suburban Philadelphia gets himself into trouble, gets himself caught, feels repentant, and eventually learns a valuable life lesson at the hands of his parents or the wise teacher next door. Sufficeth to say, I learned a lot of life lessons at the hands of Mr. Feeny. Boy Meets World was undoubtedly the most popular television show for my demographic during our formative years.

Now, take a look at one of the most popular television series among that same 9-15 demographic today. iCarly is a television series on Nickelodeon featuring the antics of, you guessed it, Carly (young star Miranda Cosgrove), whose parents are absent and remains in the custody of her inept older brother. In the vein of most children’s television series in recent years, Carly is precocious and far more competent and savvy than 98 percent of the adult characters in the show, especially her brother/legal guardian.

This dynamic perfectly exemplifies the kind of television heroes and heroines being presented to the children of America today. The child protagonists are smart and constantly outfox the dimwits that surround them, allowing them to get away with a wide range of trouble-making activities.

Not only do they tend to get away with whatever they want, but oftentimes the protagonists have problems or life goals that are highly unrealistic — and they deal with them in equally ridiculous ways. Carly’s week-to-week problems revolve around her online web show that she produces with her friends. On the other hand, one memorable episode of Boy Meets World involved a principle character blowing up a mailbox with a cherry bomb, hiding out under his best friends bed, getting caught, and paying the price for having done something wrong.

How many 13-year-old girls do you know that have their own popular web show? Now, how many 13-year-old boys do you know that like blowing things up with cherry bombs? That’s what I thought.

My generation was presented with shows that showed us kid problems that kids handled like kids. Today’s kids are presented with children that face unrealistic problems that they handle like adults. I can’t help but feel this kind of storytelling does nothing but talk down to children, telling them the very real problems they might face are irrelevant and that they are incapable of handling storytelling that presents realistic problems seen through the eyes of a child.

Politicians and psychologists like to present video games, rap music and the Internet as the face of “what’s wrong with the youth of America.” But in reality, is there any tangible difference between boys playing war outside with toy guns or playing Halo with their friends? And middle school kids will always find swearing and innuendos funny, whether it comes from Jay-Z or not. Has anyone ever stopped to consider that, if there is something wrong with the youth of America, it’s that they are taught by every television series they see that they are a) smarter then their parents, b) able to get away with whatever they want because their parents are too stupid to notice, and c) unable to solve any real problems — and that those real-life problems are irrelevant in the face of iCarly’s zany Web show antics.

Now, you may be thinking that I’ve taken this to an extreme; after all, iCarly is just one show. But this is bigger than Miranda Cosgrove. I challenge you to turn on one popular children’s television show and show me a protagonist that isn’t overly precocious, portrayed as smarter than the adults around him/her and who doesn’t face absolutely ridiculous “problems.” Hannah Montana is somehow able to outsmart everyone with a blond wig and balance her celebrity life with her “real life;” Zach and Cody hang out in a hotel/cruise ship staffed by complete buffoons; and is it possible to find a wizard with a brain at Waverly Place?

Sure, these shows produce their laughs, but I miss the days when Mr. Feeny taught me it was wrong to blow up mailboxes with cherry bombs.

Ben Wagner used to be a somewhat regular correspondent for Rhombus. Apparently he spent so much time watching Disney Channel shows that he didn’t write a substantive article for approximately nine years. You can follow him on Twitter @ben_wagner.

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