Friday, October 22, 2010

Postmodernism and the Kids' Show 'Super Why!'

Ever since my children started watching the PBS show Super Why! I have felt nebulous misgivings. Essentially, the show revolves around a main character, Whyatt, who lives in Storybook Village. Each episode centers around Whyatt or one of his friends who find themselves involved in some sort of minor altercation with another person. Usually, it's as simple as Whyatt missing his brother, who's away at school. Whyatt and his friends' philosophy for answering these difficult 'problems' is to "look... in a book!" My sister told me that she hates the show because of what always happens next on the show.

The main characters will go into the story and practice reading and spelling with kids while they explore the story. They use their 'spelling power' to change the story and find the solution to their real world problem. The way this looks, as one example, is, changing the frog prince back into a frog, because it turns out the princess likes him better as a frog. Inevitably, the characters will draw a somewhat specious conclusion from the story to apply to their real world experience.

This show is a mirror for our postmodern times in which we live. A few observations backing this up:

1) On the show, problems are never issues of objective right or wrong. A problem is always defined in interpersonal terms. It's never "I saw so-and-so steal candy. What's the right thing to do?" It's always something like, "I messed up my brother's bedroom. How can he stop being mad at me?" So in some ways, the problems on the show are pragmatic, rather than idealistic.

2) Literature is never in a 'set' form. Everything is up for interpretation and change for the sake of solving problems to the satisfaction of the Super Readers. This approach is a specific aping, in my opinion, of the philosophy of literary deconstructionism as championed by Derrida in the 70s.

3) It teaches children that even if there are legitimate books to get our answers from, those books only mean what we want them to mean. In a way, it innoculates children against learning anything legitimate from books by teaching them that they can find anything they want in them.

Incidentally, one should consider that these two problems are core aspects of the show. There are other problems with the show, I'm sure. I don't really have high expectations for kids' shows on PBS championing objective morality, right/wrong, etc. but it's nice to be able to put your finger on the problem every now and then.

1 comment:

  1. Great observations! I've been troubled by this show as well. I try to either steer the kids away from it or at least talk about the issues - namely that this is not how you should treat authors, ignoring their intent and twisting the story to suit your own desires. Kevin Vanhoozer speaks to this in his book, Is There a Meaning in this Text. He speaks of the "morality of literary knowledge."


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