Corrupted Youth

Is Dora the Explorer turning baby minds to crap?

People who say they don't let their children watch TV lie. Their pants are on fire. If they truly never turn on the tube, ever, how will their children talk about The Sopranos around the water cooler? Plus, they may deprive their little darlings of learning opportunities geared toward developing their cognitive abilities!And the smug dumbasses miss out on a tool to reinforce hours spent teaching ABCs and 123s and possibly a second language! You don't want to have to do that yourself, do you? And if so, are you willing to wear a rainbow wig while you do?

Ever since PBS revolutionized children's programming with Bert and Ernie and Big Bird, other networks have followed—with a nice shove from the FCC, since in 1990 Congress passed the Children's Television Act, requiring kids' programs to teach something. The success of such post-legislation programs as Barney & Friends spawned an entire new generation of touchy-feely educational programs and with it jobs for smarty-pants psychologists at Nickelodeon, Disney and PBS. Today's television programming for young children—like Nickelodeon's Dora the Explorer—is manipulated by myriad Ph.D.s driven by studies showing interaction with characters like the feisty little Latina helps improve problem-solving skills. The programs' writers, producers and researchers study bar graphs and endure rigorous sessions with preschool-age children to make sure the programs teach something.

They still have critics, of course. Unless parents work to "integrate" these shows into their "children's lives" in a "positive way," their kids may not be much better off than a coyote with a stick of dynamite in its ass. Many believe the allure of television—or "kid crack"—is so strong that moderation is impossible and stops children from participating in brain-enhancing free play.

In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics began discouraging television watching completely for children under two. Wha???

Without parents stepping in to switch off sets, they say, toddlers just may watch Dora until their eyes bleed and fall onto the floor. Kids love the stuff regardless of the fact they're learning valuable lessons. What do toddlers love even more? Opportunities to see the characters live onstage, like Dora's upcoming production, Dora the Explorer Live!—Search for the City of Lost Toysat the Orange County Performing Arts Center June 23-27! Dora comes to life played by actress Luzma Ortiz with puppets, marionettes and walk-abouts portraying her amigos.

Dora is a seven-year-old Latina girl who speaks Spanish and sets off on adventures with map in hand through an imaginative tropical world, presumably South America, navigating across beaches and through rainforests. According to a Newsweek interview with the show's research director, Dr. Christine Ricci, something as simple as a map helps children's spatial skills. The show encourages children to yell back at the screen and perform physical movements like rowing a boat or jumping up and down.

Dora is determined, optimistic, smart and ready to lend a hand. Her world has no contras, no United Fruit Co., and no Medellin drug cartel, just friendly bilingual animals who help teach Spanish words and phrases, characters ranging from Boots the Talking Monkey to Tico the Squirrel and a mischievous fox, Swiper, who cries, "Awwww, maaaan" when he is inevitably defeated.

Sometimes the characters make mistakes, but they always bounce back, like Boots who celebrates his rebound with triple flips. Triple flips! Boots follows Dora's instructions and calls out answers to her questions after the prolonged pause allowing young viewers to figure out their own.

My little moppet watches Dora and Blue and the Wiggles, too. I watch the programs with her, and we play along. We sing and dance and jump up and down, learn that jacket in Spanish is chaqueta, and solve more problems before breakfast than most people do all day. And I never plop her down by herself in front of the television, at least for more than four or six hours at a time. Then we go to the store! And sometimes we draw a map to get to the store!

The map's a lie.

We are going to turn the TV off, though, and head to the theater to see Dora live. She's already smiling.

Dora the Explorer Live!—Search for the Lost Toys at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 740-7878 or (213) 365-3500; www.ocpac.org. Starts Wed. Wed., 7 p.m.; Thurs., 10:30 a.m. & 7 p.m.; Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m., 2 & 5 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m. & 2 p.m. Through June 27. $17-$30; Dora also appears at the Santa Ana Zoo, 1801 E. Chestnut Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 836-4000. Wed., 1:30 p.m. $3-$5.
 
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