Kids are getting stupider and it's the fault of adults
I decided to peruse my YouTube recommendations one day and went down a rabbit hole revisiting shows I grew up with or that I watched with my younger sister. These included Disney Channel, Disney XD, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon. After re-watching way too many hours of those shows, I came to a general rhetorical question: What the heck has happened to family-oriented media?
Diclaimer: this is just me complaining about something yet again, but for once I know that I am not alone in this opinion because everyone I know actually agrees with me. Even the best studios for family-friendly and children’s media, like Pixar, are not as good as they used to be. Every Pixar movie prior to 2011 is incredibly renowned, even “Cars.” Pixar is well known for developed plots written by passionate storytellers who want their animated arcs to resonate with everyone. Pixar isn’t not that anymore, but more than half of the Pixar movies released since 2011 are inferior Disney-mandated sequels. The original animated films from the Disney corner don’t feel the same either. It seems like they’ve resorted to a middle-fantasy comfort zone with similar sorts of beats such as emotional moments guaranteed to make people cry, and very indistinct and flashy animation that looks good but is less touching than the older animation. Throw in a decent song from a famous and relevant musician, and that’s at least two guaranteed nominations for Disney in the animated category. There is nothing wrong with that and it’s not like a lot of those movies, like “Raya and the Last Dragon” or “Encanto,” are bad by any means. But if this is what the best is, you can’t imagine how bad the worst is now.
Because I can. I went down a second rabbit hole to catch up on modern children’s media. And good lord. If Jesus truly was resurrected after three days, he needs to die again for our sinfully terrible children’s media. Again, it’s not like a lot of the older stuff was high art. The “Suite Life” shows are both cringe. But they’re a fun cringe. The new shows aren’t trying, and I’ve identified the following seven deadly sins committed by children’s media:
1) Shows are way too zany and quirky without actually being zany and quirky
2) They’re too flashy and don’t touch on important subjects
3) If they do touch on important subjects, it’s not integrated into the story and feels super performative
4) The characters are not well defined or written, and the shows have a problem of making everyone a main character
5) The plots are bad; either they’re too slow and don’t go anywhere, are rushed and undeveloped, or they’re entirely nonsensical
6) Commodification (or how social media is ruining our media landscape)
7) The audience, particularly children, are treated like they’re too stupid to understand things
All the old shows I can think of range from really fun to genuinely incredible. “Courage the Cowardly Dog,” “Gravity Falls,” “That’s So Raven,” the first few seasons of “SpongeBob” (which is so insufferable now), “Good Luck Charlie,” freaking “Hannah Montana,” and so many more. I keep hearing people talk about how kids’ shows aren’t what they used to be. Each of these shows listed are really effective at eliciting strong emotional responses from the audience with fun writing and great characters. The old Disney Channel shows aren’t quality TV, but they’re effortlessly more entertaining than anything that is on now.
But there has been this trend of our media frying our brains driven by monopolization in the media landscape, extreme commodification, and social media. Be honest. Do any of you actually remember most of the TikToks you watch? How many of you just casually scroll through TikTok and suddenly three hours are gone? The equivalent of that is happening to the TV shows and movies being made because all of you dumb idiots want fast, brainless, flashy content that keeps your attention for minimal time and doesn’t have any depth to it. Now that’s exactly what the companies are delivering, especially for children’s media. Because adults already didn’t care about the edification of children in the first place. Now that these companies are so large and can mass produce and advertise toys all the time, the problem is even worse! Yay!
“But hold on, Sujay. A lot of the old shows have problematic elements and inappropriate themes, and we need to make sure our kids don’t learn that. We need to send them good messages and teach them the right things.”
Ok, sure. That’s fine. But inappropriate jokes are all over the place on the internet already. Kids see all kinds of disturbing stuff on the internet and end up screwed despite parents’ best efforts. Just look at me. Parents are so confused about how to prevent their kids from growing up too fast, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that parents are bad at their jobs and expect media to do it for them. Some parents want their kids to learn tolerance and acceptance. Some parents want their kids to be upstanding members of society who care about their family. Some parents don’t care at all about their kids and feed them brain rot instead of developing their minds with something challenging.
Are kids getting any actual value out of “Dog With A Blog,” a show about a dog who has a blog? I’m not kidding. That show is real. And it doesn’t even do anything with that premise! It’s just the same old “Oh wow I’m a talking animal and have to hide my identity haha hijinks ensue.” Stop it. Get some good writers and directors and make another “Wizards of Waverly Place,” where there’s an actual world and actual characters and actual conflicts. None of these current shows or movies have conflict or stakes, because god forbid we sully the feeble minds of children with imperfect characters who learn from mistakes. Like, what even happens in the “Despicable Me” movies? Can you tell me? I certainly don’t remember. There’s something about stealing a moon? Who cares? It’s a kids movie! Parents just need to keep the little turds distracted for a few hours while they work at their soul-sucking corporate job and then yell at the kid later when they inevitably mess up and make them afraid of making mistakes.
But okay, some of the shows are trying to have good messages. They want to teach kids acceptance. Fine. But why does it have to be the case that all these family-oriented movies always write minority characters as a cis-white straight character who just happens to be [insert underrepresented demographic] here? In most cases, they’re either not the main character, or they’re the main character who happens to be the least interesting person in the movie because either their identity is their only personality trait or they have no personality at all. The stories are just performative and don’t do much to increase representation on screen. It just gives Ben Shapiro and Steven Crowder more cannon fodder to continue releasing their garbage videos complaining about wokeness, even though the problem is the opposite of what those right-wing lunatics are saying.
Then there’s the craft of the media itself. It’s way too flashy with no substance, incredibly cheap sets, and have bad art direction with overreliance on CGI. That, or they look blandly professional and too pristine without any of the comfortable lighting that gives older shows a softer feel. Kids animation is suffering, especially since all the good animators are doing adult animation now. The jokes aren’t clever. They hinder the pacing and go on way too long, and it feels like they are trying so hard to be appealing and quirky. There is either no depth to any of the side characters, or the side characters take over the whole show, and there’s no in-between. Don’t even get me started on how none of the logic in the shows make sense. The later seasons of “Lab Rats” go so far off the deep end that it was embarrassing to sit through them. The spin-off shows were even worse, which is another plague that has hit the children’s media landscape like it has hit everything else.
I haven’t even gotten into my complaints with books yet, but the issues with books are the same with the issues in our visual medium. They also have to compete with the endless deluge of brainless content that doesn’t take any effort to consume. Because that’s all it is now. It’s consumption. We gave sugar and high-fructose corn syrup-heavy products to children to make them more lethargic and unhealthy, and the media they consume is the same. It is a shame, because there is so much potential to write material that can resonate with everyone. But that’s not what our entertainment companies are doing. This is the new sugar, we’re all hooked, and our brains are deteriorating for it.