Monthly Archives: September 2010

Paper Wads and Spongebob: When Is It Time To Grow Up?

The picture is a pile of paper wads from a single day. Paper wads. The custodian forgot to finish sweeping the floor and left this in the middle of the room. (Sweeping floors is difficult for a one armed man I guess. He’s not an amputee or anything. I have just never seen him working without a cell phone plastered to his ear.) I have actually watched a student who regularly comes to class with no paper get up, walk across the room and borrow a piece of paper just to wad it up to throw it at someone. Mind you…This particular student won’t use paper to turn in an assignment or anything like that. He just likes to throw paper at other boys.

It made me start to wonder something. Is throwing paper wads a childish activity? Does it rate up there with pulling pigtails and spitballs? Or do grown-ups throw paper wads as well? I know that, as an adult, I have never thrown a paper wad at a colleague. Well, maybe once in a newsroom back when we still used typewriters. And I was either frustrated or flirting. Or both. Probably both. So maybe it is not the paper wads themselves I am worried about. It might be the importance of the paper wads. They just aren’t that important to me but to my 15-18 year old students, paper wads rank up there with cell phones, iPods and girls. And way above education.

So I soul search a little. Was throwing paper at another boy or in the vicinity of a trashcan as important to me when I was in high school? I think I have to say, “No. It wasn’t” I think I was way too busy doing other stupid things but I really can’t remember what those things might have been. Girls were definitely on the list. So were cars and making money. Music? Perhaps but it was all on LP and AM radio. I worked a lot in the summer and after school too. Maybe I didn’t have enough time for paper wads. So I am going to go out on a limb and say that it is a pretty silly thing to do at school when learning is supposed to be taking place.

SpongeBob Is The Antichrist

A sixteen year-old boy or girl should not care about cartoons. Cartoons should not play a significant role in any teenager’s life. But is this as true as it once was? A decade or so ago, some broadcasting genius realized that there was a vast and relatively untapped market out there to exploit. A veritable Bakken Formation of potential ad sales. That market was, of course, tweens. Entire networks soon opened up and were marketing directly to the 8 – 12 year-old demographic. The market expanded as program directors ordered shows that appealed to a wider age group. Parents could chuckle at the Fairly Odd-Parents and the little side jokes their kids would never get. They were too busy laughing at fart jokes and animated spit takes. And then there was SpongeBob. I think that SpongeBob just might be the Antichrist. Or is he?

I read this quote in the Atlantic. The article was SpongeBob’s Golden Dream by James Parker.

“SpongeBob is one of the greatest believers in the American dream in all of children’s entertainment,” says Greg Rowland, whose consultancy, Greg Rowland Semiotics, has performed brand analyses for Unilever, KFC, and Coca-Cola. “He’s courageous, he’s optimistic, he’s representing everything that Mickey Mouse should have represented but never did. There’s even something Jesus-like about him—a 9-year-old Jesus after 15 packets of Junior Mints.”

SpongeBob. Not only has he surpassed Mickey Mouse in terms of potential, he is like young Jesus on a sugar rush. Of course this might just be the definition of Antichrist…That and a broad appeal. Certain cartoon characters work because they reach across age demographics. Instead of being for 8 – 12 year-old viewers or 13 – 16. Now we can market to 8 – 25 or 35 or 55 year-old audiences. And that way, we never have to grow up. And that is a problem.

I don’t remember my father watching cartoons with me. He may have watched Bugs Bunny with me but I am sure that if he had, I would remember. Dad was a very busy guy and he worked very hard. Please recall that years ago, if a kid wanted to watch a cartoThe Monkeeson, he or she had to wait until Saturday morning where the big three networks aired them for three or four hours. That was it. And my dad used his Saturdays to sleep in. He deserved it. And he knew that Mom would be up and that the cartoons we were watching were harmless. So we sat and watched cheaply animated cartoons like Space Ghost, the Herculoids and Jonny Quest. Some weirder shows like H. R. Pufnstuf and the Banana Splits. And the Monkees. I have to admit, I still love the Monkees. And Lancelot Link.


So anyway…these broad appeal cartoons that started popping up in the 1990s have helped stunt the emotional and intellectual growth of our teenagers. I can mention groundbreaking TV shows in my classroom like Seinfeld or 24 and it results in blank stares. If I mention SpongeBob, even in passing, I can lose control of the room. Everything from a rousing chorus of, “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?” to “SpongeBob? That’s my show, Boyeee!” Nobody gets that excited over Masterpiece Theater. But if we live in a perpetually stunted state of intellectual development, when will we willingly grow up? I once heard someone say that the definition of being an adult is developing the ability to listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of the Lone Ranger. I guess that doesn’t really apply anymore…




You Are Ruining My Country. Stop It.

This might actually count as a “Part One” but who knows? It’s an open letter to Terry Jones.

To: Terry Jones
FR: Teaching TV
RE: Please Stop Ruining America

Dear Mr. Jones,

The whole world is atwitter over your little publicity stunt concerning the Koran and some matches. Congratulations. You have finally made it to the big leagues and the entire world knows who you are. A backwoods, hick pastor who preaches intolerance and hatred. A sad, desperate, little man who is seeking attention no matter the cost. Again sir, my congratulations.

And what about those costs? As if the job isn’t dangerous enough, you have managed to put the lives of American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines in the Middle East at an even greater risk. You managed to make American Christians look like a bunch of xenophobic buffoons. You have managed to turn a day of remembrance into a pathetic publicity grab for yourself. And you have managed to turn the nation’s attention away from real issues and got it to focus on your personality disorder and your Chester A. Arthur mustache.

Sir, you profess to be a Man Of God. I am sorry but I have to question that. But as you read your bible, look for the words of Jesus and read what he had to say about our enemies. Here’s one of my favorites:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good…

Just a suggestion, I am sure. But a suggestion from God should probably carry more weight with a Pastor, don’t you think?

You see, I love everything that America is supposed to stand for. It is why I served in the Navy and it is why you have made me so angry. How dare you deal with intolerance by preaching intolerance. How dare you deal with with hatred by preaching hatred. How dare you do that in MY country. What gives Terry Jones the right to remember the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and the final sacrifice of thousands of fine young Americans by holding an old-fashioned book burning? Have you EVER read the Constitution? Have you ever been a student of history?

And when the entire weight of world opinion has turned against you, you come up with a proposal that involves the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” Some things might have slipped your mind, sir.

  • There is no Ground Zero Mosque. It is a Muslim Community Center.
  • We have a thing called the Constitution. Read it.
  • Extortion is illegal.
  • Threatening an entire group of people with a violent act unless your demands are met is called terrorism.

I don’t like the fact that we have to live in fear because some religious fanatics get their feelings hurt. But if we “hurt the feelings” of Islamic fanatics, it had best be for a good reason and we had best be prepared for a long, bloody war with many, many dead people on both sides. But to stir up the anger of a million or more primitive nutcases for some hick’s 15 minutes of fame is beyond insane. If one extra American, if one extra human being has to die because of your little stunt, then I hope you go to jail forever.


Teaching TV

Final Thoughts

The real tragedy here is that on some level, Terry Jones is correct. There should be no reason that America should cower in fear when it comes to dealing with these fanatics. Isn’t anyone left who has what it takes to say “Bring it on”? And all that talk about shock and awe? We can really do that you know. But instead, we look at the grizzly bear sleeping in the corner and tell people to tip toe past instead of shooting it in the head.

Someone has to be the grown-up here. I get that. But that doesn’t mean kowtowing to terrorists. 50 people say they want to burn a Koran and entire countries ignite? No sense of perspective, no sense of humanity and no sense of humor. All the hallmarks of a primitive society. But do we have to lower ourselves to their level every single time? “They did it first” is no argument for an adult. I didn’t let my 5 year old get away with it so why should Terry Jones and his ilk?

That one hate-filled person with a tiny following can disrupt the world is a testament to the fragility of the American Spirit, the power of stupid people in groups and the ability of the Internet to lend credence where it is neither due nor welcome.

Terry Jones? You are ruining my country. Stop it.

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