How much TV should a baby be watching on a per-day average? If Benjamin Spock were alive, he’d probably tell you “none.” But Dr. Spock didn’t have a subscription TV empire to maintain, now did he? The brains behind the controversial new Baby First TV do, and their answer to the same question would be an enthusiastic, “Some!”
Is this high-tech indoctrination or just good early childhood development?
According to the propaganda pumped out by Baby First TV, the nation’s first 24/7 channel for the diaper set, “babies love and need repetition.” Hell, if they need it that bad, they can watch MTV2 like the rest of us. Obviously, parents need repetition as well, since the channel takes a break every few minutes to remind adults how important it is they force their babies to watch Baby First TV.
The network encourages what they call “co-viewing.” In other words: It isn’t considered neglect if you sit and watch it with your 1-year-old. However, based on the number of parents who prop their kids in front of the Idiot Box as a digital babysitter, I’m not entirely convinced many grown-ups will heed BFTV’s advice.
Programming consists mainly of brief, one- to two-minute cartoon segments in which things move and/or change colors. If you’re not a parent on some serious drugs, this is gonna be a hard slog. Small pop-up facts occasionally make an appearance for the parents’ benefit. For example, during a segment of “Rainbow Horse” (basically the bestial love child of “Rainbow Brite” and “My Little Pony”), parents might be treated to the tidbit, “At 18 months, children recognize colors.” During “Petey the Paintbrush” (a blatant knockoff of “Rainbow Horse,” but with more giggling), parents might be instructed to “encourage your child to pick out a crayon.” During “Puzzle Kid” (I’ll just leave that one up to your imagination), parents are told, “Encourage your child to repeat after and respond to ‘Puzzle Kid’”--which will come in real handy in the future when the Republican Party encourages your child to “repeat after and respond to the president.”
Other thrilling segments of Baby First TV include infants making faces, swirling lava-lamp colors and the kinetic but baffling series “Oh, Those Crocodiles!” Occasionally, the network drops in some real-life nature footage, accompanied by some riveting commentary like, “Snails like to travel in circles. How funny is that?”
Hey, I get it. Baby First TV is aimed at babies. But so is “Teletubbies.” Now that’s a show I can stare at for hours in a mixture of mute horror and amazement. BFTV just makes me want a nap. Which, I suppose, may be part of the allure. If your drooling potato of a kid wakes up at 4 a.m. and a quick fix of “Bobby’s Balloon House” is gonna knock him out, call your cable or satellite company today. Me, I’ll just continue to wonder how much more useful a cartoon of a mobile on your living room TV is than, say, an actual mobile hanging above your kid’s crib.