The Breakfast Table

The Fat Content of Malcolm in the Middle

Alex and Wesley,  

It sounds like we had similar Sunday afternoons, Alex. I planned on celebrating Earth Day by heading to the lakefront to finish Meghan Daum’s My Misspent Youth. (To read her “Breakfast Table,” click here.) Instead, I did some writing and spent the majority of the afternoon watching the Discovery Channel–learning, as usual, more than I think I did in 12 years of elementary and secondary school–and ended the day with VH1’s Bands on the Run.   

MTV’s ads have yet to hit Chicago, and given the Midwestern sensibility that occasionally manages to seep in through the city’s borders, they may not. From your description, Alex, the ads seem to be in line with MTV’s general approach, which is to target their audience with content that has a blisteringly acute sensibility. We, the target audience, are so aware of our Eggersesque self-consciousness and media saturation that we get the joke but don’t devalue the concept we’re laughing at as a result. MTV’s approach also simultaneously sends the rest of the world intoconvulsions, which gets them both media attention and street cred fromtheir target demographic.

But forget your daily dose of TRL this week and hurl your remote out your window, because it’s TV Turnoff Week. Reporting on TV Turnoff Week, the Chicago Sun-Times said this morning on its cover that the surgeon general “is urging families to fight obesity by turning of their televisions” for the week. The story also mentions a study in JAMA that said kids get bad food messages from TV and thus swell to the size Violet Beauregarde did in Willie Wonka’s factory.  

Were you guys aware that the caloric value and fat content of Malcolm in the Middle and reruns of The Golden Girls were among the severely underreported threats to public health? I certainly wasn’t. I’m not a doctor, but something tells me that if you started by examining the deep-fried school lunch program, and then moved on to look at what kids eat the rest of the day, you’d find more sources of obesity than you would during prime time. I don’t question the fact that more exercise is fundamentally good and will even reduce weight in kids, but do we have to blame TV and media for yet another of society’s problems? It’s just such a lazy, predictable response, and the surgeon general should be above that.     

Back to Earth Day for a second, I’m glad the Bush administration used the occasion to show how committed they are to the environment by backing off their support for drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Although I agree with the decision, it’s still infuriating on many levels: First, by their own admission, they’re only backing off because they don’t have the votes in the Senate–not because they have any concern for the environment. So the environment got lucky this time. Second, they don’t even believe in drilling enough to pursue it. While I don’t want the Porcupine Caribou and other wildlife to frolic in puddles of oil, I do admire a commitment to beliefs and consistency, neither of which they’re demonstrating right now. Essentially, they’re politically motivated cowards just like the previous administration. Big surprise.