Do you watch your kid’s shows with them? That Dora really freaks me out. Honestly, my girls only got in one or two episodes of Dora before we got rid of our TV service and relegated it to monitor status. Honestly, since getting rid of TV—at least in the conventional sense—we’ve never been happier. Heck, we even try talking to each other once in a while.
That freaky little girl Dora really gets under my skin. Some characters in kid’s shows are made out of a creative or artistic vision. But Dora and many of her compatriots are made by marketers for marketing reasons. She appeals to a very broad market because she is fashioned to reach across racial and ethnic barriers. Surely there’s nothing wrong with that by itself. What’s wrong with that picture is that under the guise of multiculturalism, she’s really preaching homogenization; her all-powerful ubiquity is bringing hours of common experience into millions of homes every day.
She’s nice. She’s sweet. But the girl doesn’t blink. Not at all. Not even once. Watch an episode and check it out. Her bright little eyes stare out at you unforgivingly. She begs your child’s attention not only through the use of hypnotic eyes, but by screaming every word she says. The pitch of her voice is specially designed to keep your kids attention. And that’s what we want when we sit our kids down in front of the TV, right? We want them to be absorbed.
Dora is one of the new characters of children’s TV. Forged by the sterile minds of marketing psychologists, she’s designed to be loved by children. Her brother, or cousin or whoever Diego is, is the same way, but with a slightly more, well, boy slant. Everything from how she looks to how she talks, to the colors used in the show are researched and computed. She’s not meant to just be a passing character during Saturday morning cartoons, she’s specially engineered to stay with your kids in their minds, to occupy space, like any good commercial jingle.
You may point out that there are no commercials during a Dora episode. This is true. Except that Dora is a 30-minute commercial for all things Dora. If you do a quick product search of Dora on Amazon, here are the places you’ll find Dora products: Toys and game; books; home and garden; apparel; sports and outdoors; baby; health and personal care; office products; VHS; DVD; electronics; home improvement; software; jewelry and watches; gourmet food; music; beauty; grocery; and, amazingly automotive. I don’t think that Amazon has any departments absent her presence.
Taking kids to the store is a tough job. We do our shopping on the weekends most of the time. And, usually, I try to take the kids by myself in order to give my wife—who is primarily a stay-at-home mom—a little bit of alone time. Wrestling the girls through the aisle can be a pleasure or a burden, depending on any number of a myriad of factors. But I have experienced the same things that many of you have—the power of nagging. Researchers have found that nagging is responsible for 40% of purchases related to children. And every single section of the stores that I frequent has something branded by Dora. I can’t imagine facing the already-hostile isles of Wal-Mart or Target (two stores we’re trying to cut back on) with my girls begging for Dora apples and Dora car mats. It’s hard enough when they want you to buy things that they actually want, without throwing in things that they’ve been told they want.
Last Spring, my wife clued me in to National Turn Off Your TV Week. I was skeptical at first, but we gave it a shot. Within a few days of not having the TV on, we got bored. It was raining outside. The urge to turn that thing on was amazing. But that afternoon, after painting, playing with clay, and introducing the toddlers to hide-and-seek, it was obvious that the boredom had done its job—it had forced us to become creative. The next day there was still rain, and we found an indoor bounce-house playground that is half-priced on Tuesdays. I’d never been in a bounce house before, but it was great. When the weather cleared up, we found hikes near our house and then made plans to go camping that weekend.
I called the satellite network and cancelled our subscription to their service the next week. The salesman tried to get a hold on what I was saying. “You mean, you’re getting rid of your TV?”
“Well,” I said. “Not physically. I mean, we will still watch movies once in a while, I suppose.”
“I can upgrade your package at no cost for three months.”
“No, thank you,” I said. “We don’t want your service.”
“You’ll have nine movie channels at no charge for three months.”
“I’d rather not have any channels at no charge. We’re getting rid of TV.”
Still, my students don’t believe me. It’s been 10 months since I’ve seen a commercial. It’s been 10 months since I’ve seen Fox News. It’s been 10 wonderfully quiet months. And we've found lots of alternatives.
There are other benefits, too. When Christmas rolled around, all the little girls in our neighborhood had elaborate plans for what they wanted. All 2-5 years old, they wanted Polly Pocket, Bratz, and Barbie. They knew how to ask for every single product by name. When I asked my daughters what they wanted for Christmas, Solstice looked up at me and said, “Umm, presents.” When I asked what kind of present, she answered, “A blue one. With a bow.”
There is a little more asked of a father who decides to give up TV. There are no games to watch, no late-night talk shows, no easy way out of parenting for the day. But what we gain by making the decision is the reward of creativity, fresh air, and the knowledge that your kid doesn’t have to compete with noise and hypnotic stares to make their own decisions.
Not Willing to Give Up TV? 10 Ways to Tame it.
10 Alternatives to Conventional TV
Marketing TV to Children