I’ve a clock that won’t work and an old telephone
A broken umbrella, a rusty trombone
But I am delighted to call them my own
I love them because they’re TRASH!
— Oscar the Grouch, “I Love Trash,” Sesame Street (1969)
They drive really fast though the town
And oh my goodness their sirens are so loud
Can’t you see their red and blue lights
Letting everybody know to let them by
— Blippi, “Police Car Song” (2016)
I hated Blippi the first moment I saw him, and I know I am not the only one. The “educational” children’s YouTube host has inspired reddit threads like “Does Anyone Else Have An Irrational Hatred of Blippi?” and blog posts like “Are You There, Blippi, It’s Me, I Hate You.” I initially encountered him when my colleague Lyta Gold awarded him one of the 2019 Current Affairs “Griftie” Awards—Blippi had made parents angry by sending an actor touring the country pretending to be the “real Blippi.” (Discerning children can tell the difference.) Before interviewing Lyta about her article, I watched some Blippi videos to understand him for myself. This was a mistake, because not only did I hate Blippi, I also couldn’t get him out of my head. This was not just because he was annoying, which he is. No, something about him was also disturbing. He felt wrong, off-kilter, like something had gone haywire in the culture. And I was fairly sure it had something to do with Donald Trump, though I wasn’t sure exactly what it was.
I believe I have figured it out: Blippi is from Death World.
Let me explain.
First, for those fortunate enough to have escaped him up to this point in their lives: Blippi is a character played by Air Force veteran Stevin John in dozens of YouTube videos targeted at toddlers. Blippi’s signature colors are blue and orange, and he wears a bowtie, suspenders, big goofy glasses, and a puffy cap. He is a clear derivative of Pee Wee Herman, though his “Hey Kids!” forced goofiness actually reminds me more of “Uncle Nutzy,” the failed children’s TV character played by Weird Al Yankovic in 1989’s UHF.
Blippi, however, is not a failed children’s character but an astonishingly successful one. He has racked up billions of views. Moms.com calls him the “millennial answer to Mr. Rogers,” an “icon in the kiddie sphere” who anyone with a toddler has probably heard of. The Daily Mail calls him the “self-made viral superstar [who] is a hero among two to six-year-olds.”
Blippi teaches children colors and counting, he tells them what an elephant is, he points out the parts of cars, boats, planes, and trucks, he shows them how to operate a lemonade stand, he tosses things in a pool to see if they sink or float, and he visits places like playgrounds and apple orchards and chocolate factories. It is all clean, colorful, and perfectly wholesome.
It’s so innocuous, in fact, that plenty of people—especially parents whose children are easily distracted by Blippi taking them on a digital trip to the zoo—can’t see anything wrong with him. Some responders to the “I hate Blippi” reddit post pushed back, noting that Blippi has taught their kids to identify different colors, as well as the parts of backhoes and garbage trucks:
- “I don’t hate him at all. My daughter only watches Blippi and has learned so much from his videos… Considering what else is out there, I’m happy to have his high pitched voice around the house!”
- “Dude is obnoxious, but it’s really the best of the YouTube kids stuff.”
Even the post by the person who supposedly hates Blippi is fairly half-hearted, and she ultimately concedes that Blippi is probably fine:
“I’ve watched every single video my child has watched and so far I can’t find a single real complaint. … The problem is that there is actually no real problem here. … His videos are educational, my kid loves them, they’re well done and safe to watch. So whyyyy do I still have such mixed feelings about him? I don’t know man.”
Oh, but there is a real problem here. To see what it is, we need to go below the surface a bit, and think about what is in Blippi videos, and more importantly, what isn’t in them.
After watching an unhealthy amount of Blippi content—I am fascinated by children’s entertainment, since it has such an outsized impact on shaping people’s developing understandings of the world—I made a few observations. First, the world of Blippi is oddly lonely. Children themselves appear only occasionally, even though Blippi goes to places like parks, play places, and children’s museums. For instance, in one video Blippi visits the Kinderland Indoor Playground, which is located in a Las Vegas strip mall. Blippi’s visit occurs at night, and he is alone except for a silent employee at the admission desk. The “playground” consists of a single room full of cheap plastic toys, and to me the beige carpet and fluorescent lights make it look depressing—though parents on Yelp reliably praise it as a good place to distract a child. Blippi wanders through perfunctorily, playing with each of the toys—making a vroom sound with the police car, climbing into a little house and saying “I’m in a little house!”; jumping in the ball pit, etc. But the whole thing feels desolate—watching it, I kept getting the feeling that it takes place in a world where every other child has died in some apocalyptic disaster, and the man-child Blippi has been left to wander the ghostly playgrounds of the world, convincing himself he’s capable of having fun without anyone else around.
Blippi’s world—the Blippiverse, if you will—is dead and sterile. First, it’s astonishing how many of the videos are about machines. There are videos about tractors, monster trucks, helicopters, garbage trucks, boats, trains, fire trucks, airplanes, wheel loaders, backhoes, buses, ice cream trucks, bulldozers, bucket trucks, excavators, lawn mowers, motorcycles, jet skis, snow groomers, zambonis, and police cars. Importantly, they are mostly focused on the machines themselves and not the people who build and operate them. Now, when I was a kid I was obsessed with cars myself, but by the time Blippi got to videos about private jets and the LAPD helicopter (a second helicopter video), something felt amiss. At one point, Blippi goes all the way to India and does not introduce his viewers to a single Indian person, instead focusing on how nifty rickshaws are.
The vehicle obsession looks weirder when we realize that there isn’t a single Blippi video about, say, trees or lakes or waterfalls. Blippi takes place in an artificial world, where nature has been subdued and transformed. Blippi’s video about apples is not pitched as a visit to an apple orchard, but an “apple factory,” much like his visit to the raspberry factory. Even when Blippi talks about animals, they are always on farms or in zoos, and he even discusses them as if they are machines. When Blippi introduces kids to elephants, all we learn is how much they weigh—as much as eight cars!—and how their trunk functions and that they can’t jump; an elephant is just another giant contraption like a wheel loader. We do not learn anything about elephants’ emotions or social lives, how an elephant mom treats her elephant babies, or how elephants play, or how they cooperate or compete. We certainly do not learn that thanks to human beings massacring them, the entire number of Asian elephants in the world is about half the size of the number of people who live in Beaverton, Oregon.
There is a certain lifelessness in Blippi’s videos. Nature is non-present, having been ground up to make machines and plastic toys. There are a few sad animals left in aquariums and zoos for us to go look at and measure and weigh. The world is made of commodities, not people or wild animals, and not only does Blippi not seem very interested in playing with or talking to children, but the people who make all the stuff that Blippi is interested in are all but invisible. In the “apple factory” episode, we see a worker picking apples and putting them in buckets, but Blippi doesn’t think to talk to the man about his life and work. Blippi is more interested in the buckets, and the truck they go on. Karl Marx’s concept of commodity fetishism—relationships between people being seen as relationships between things—is highly useful in understanding how the world looks through Blippi’s eyes.
In fact, I think of Marx continuously when I’m watching Blippi videos, because Marx was especially interested in the difference between the world of appearances and the world of essences—how capitalism appears at first glance, versus what is actually going on under the hood to create that appearance. Blippi’s approach to teaching kids about the world is incredibly superficial: his idea of an “educational science experiment” is to toss different objects into the pool and see if they sink or float. He doesn’t explain what makes them sink or float, meaning that children aren’t coming away with any idea of why things are as they are. There is something incredibly dumb about these “educational” videos; when Blippi describes a strawberry, he says it is comprised of two parts: a “red area” and a “green area.” But what are those areas? And why are they there? What makes a strawberry red? What are the seeds for? What are the leaves for? Why does it exist? These are the questions that kids have, and they’re interesting questions that have actual answers, but Blippi’s world is one in which things simply are, and all we can do is count them and say what color they are.
I can’t help but feel, watching these videos, that Blippi is in many ways the direct opposite of Mr. Rogers, because Blippi treats kids as if they are stupid and unimaginative. An impressive thing about children is that when they go to play in a little house, they do not simply say, as Blippi does, “I’m in a house! Tee hee! Hello!” They say things like “The house is for aliens, I am an alien, you are a dog, so you can’t come.” Kids are weird, and while Blippi performs a kind of contrived weirdness, giggling and writhing and going “WHOAH!” he isn’t a surrealist the way real children (and Pee Wee Herman) are. Everything in the Blippiverse is what it is. The garbage truck still just collects the garbage, even when Blippi is supposedly playing rather than teaching. It doesn’t eat unicorns, or spit out pasta, or whatever imaginative nonsense an actual child would think of.
The oppressive literalness of Blippi offends the imagination, which is a sacred and precious thing. Consider this excerpt of Blippi-speak, from a scene about a banana:
“Who-ho-hoah, weeee! Did you see I just went down the blue slide? Oh! What’s this? Look! It’s a yellow banana. I love bananas. You know who else loves bananas? Monkeys. Would you act like a monkey with me? Oo ooh, ah ah.”
Now, again, I think it may be difficult at first to notice what the problem is. Blippi is being goofy. Kids are learning colors. They see what a banana is. What’s the problem? But then I went back to an old 1960s episode of Sesame Street, and the difference in sophistication was immediately obvious. The Sesame Street episode also happens to contain a “banana identification” exercise, but it works slightly differently. At the start of the show, Gordon (if it’s been a while since you’ve seen Sesame Street, Gordon is a regularly-occurring adult human character) shows up with an actual child (Sally), and says they’re having a treasure hunt for things that begin with the letter “B.” Gordon says that Sally has found a ball, and he has a box.
“I’ve got a box, that’s one B for me, right?”
“Wrong,” Sally replies. It’s a blue box, meaning it’s two Bs. We then see that Mr. Hooper, the cranky corner-store owner, is also searching for B items, and thinks he hasn’t found any, even though he has a banana in his hand the whole time. Mr. Hooper runs into Big Bird, and realizes that “Big Bird” begins with a B, and is the perfect item to help him win the treasure hunt. But Big Bird is offended, and replies:
“Never refer to me as an item. I’m a bird!”
Mr. Hooper has to apologize for objectifying Big Bird, and Big Bird points out that Mr. Hooper’s banana begins with a B. Mr. Hooper is thrilled, and says he “won’t be needing” Big Bird after all. Big Bird is crestfallen.
“But I thought you needed me.”
“Well, you see, I just discovered the banana.”
“Oh, I see. [I’m] ‘wonderful.’ But not as wonderful as a banana…Marvelous, beautiful, wonderful, but not as important as a banana. [begins to cry]”
Mr. Hooper, backtracking, tells Big Bird he needs him after all.
“You mean I’m better than a banana?” replies Big Bird.
“You’re BIGGER than a banana.”
I’m relaying this in detail because I want to note a few things that Sesame Street does in order to actually make children think. First, they provide two opportunities for the child-viewer to notice something that the on-screen character doesn’t: Gordon doesn’t notice that his box is blue as well as a box, and Mr. Hooper does not notice he has a B-thing in his hand. Kids are given an opportunity to outsmart adults (you can imagine them yelling at the screen “THE BANANA!”) The “blue box” being a “double B” encourages kids to look for things that they may have missed at first, honing their ability to observe beyond their initial perceptions.
But look, too, at how the scene is also funny and emotional and has wordplay. Sesame Street does not just hold up a banana and say “Look, a yellow banana.” Sure, the banana is identified, and we learn what letter it begins with, but we also have a scene in which Mr. Hooper hurts Big Bird’s feelings by caring so much about the treasure hunt that he thinks of his friend as an “item” and tries to use him as a means to an end. We feel bad for Big Bird as he realizes that when Mr. Hooper was calling him wonderful, he was just trying to win the contest, because apparently Big Bird isn’t as wonderful as a banana. Mr. Hooper learns something here in this 60-second scene, and it’s not just about whether a banana begins with a B, but it’s also about what matters in life, and making amends.
It still ends with a silly joke, though, one I love: “You mean I’m better than a banana?”/“You’re bigger than a banana.” What does that mean? Is bigger better? This is just playing around with B-words, and it’s fun.
If you watch this entire Sesame Street episode closely, you’ll be impressed with how much thought has been put into it. We see a stream-of-consciousness sequence in which children do word-association with the letter B as they paint B-things on a sheet of glass. To the tune of “Three Blind Mice,” kids sing a round about bubblegum as they blow bubbles that pop on their faces:
B is a bubble in bubblegum
And b is your brother who brought you some
And b is better than any letter
The “viewer seeing something the characters don’t” trick occurs over and over, from clowns Buddy and Jim trying and failing to make a peanut butter sandwich to Mr. Hooper building things that have one small thing missing to Ernie forgetting what an X looks like even as he draws many Xs for different reasons. 60s Sesame Street is not high-budget stuff (boom mikes are often dropping into frame) but it’s immensely creative: Ernie takes an eraser and erases Cookie Monster, a psychedelic animated numbers-song features the four-of-diamonds turning into four goldfish, a Black boy named Mark uses a pair of “magic glasses” to turn noises into sights, the Muppets sing “5 Is Such A Pretty Number,” there are relaxing montages of gorgeous flowers, Ernie tries to fit balls into boxes, everyone learns how to sing “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” Gordon and little boy Steven take a cross-country trip by bus and train while sitting on their stoop—using only their imaginations and some hats!—and a group of kids meet and get to know an adorable baby lamb. This is all in a single episode of the very first season!
Look, Sesame Street is a classic, and I’m not saying Blippi has to be as good as the greatest children’s show of all time. But since many parents say the supposedly innocuous Blippi is among the “best of the YouTube kids’ stuff,” I want to pinpoint exactly what’s missing and why he’s producing such inferior, brain-rotting content. The Sesame Street team didn’t have more money—what they had was more imagination and more dedication to the craft of educational television. They put a lot of work into the writing, instead of just showing up at a playground and running around it giggling and saying “This ball is BLUE!”
One of the most unsettling voids in the Blippi videos is the emotional one. Perhaps the first thing I noticed about Blippi was how obviously insincere he was. Much like Weird Al as Uncle Nutzy, Stevin John’s wackiness feels contrived and fake. He seems like the prototypical example of the kids’ show host who, the moment the camera stops rolling, grabs a cigarette, lapses into a foul-mouthed rasp, and goes “that ought to hold the little bastards.” I don’t know if he actually does that, but he seems like he does it. I don’t feel like I have any idea what Stevin John is actually like, because Blippi is so obviously a put-on.
Now, Pee Wee Herman was like that, somewhat, but Mr. Rogers certainly wasn’t, and nor was Gordon or the rest of the Sesame Street cast. Heck, even Barney the Dinosaur was made to seem earnest, and said words like “I love you” with sincerity and conviction. Fred Rogers understood that even very young children are intelligent and emotional creatures and that their lives can be difficult and complicated. Rogers dealt with things like: how to solve problems, how to get through hard times, what to do when someone you know is sick. Rogers’ song “What Do You Do With The Mad That You Feel?” is about the way that when you’re a child, it can be difficult to know what to do with your feelings of frustration and rage. A Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood episode can even touch on divorce and death. Even though it’s for elementary schoolers! At the heart of it are people, not objects. Look at the classic, tear-jerking scene in which Mr. Rogers and wheelchair-bound quadriplegic Jeff Erlanger sing “It’s You I Like.” This is purely about two people getting to know each other, and enjoying a special moment together. It’s not highly-produced; it’s just moving and sweet and human. And it’s a lesson in empathy: a non-disabled child who watches and gets to know Jeff will, the hope is, be somewhat less likely to grow up as a bully. Plus, as is usual with Mr. Rogers, we are encouraged to express our feelings sincerely and openly, and everyone is taught to feel proud of the qualities that make them special.
There is no feeling whatsoever in Blippi. There is just sugar-high manic bouncing around. These videos are supposedly “educational,” but they don’t teach you anything about being a curious person, or being kind, or thinking about things in new and unexpected ways. I don’t think it’s irrelevant that Stevin John is a military man: before I even knew this fact, I thought the Blippi videos seemed like good training for a Spartan society of idiot-warriors, who can count and pick out colors but have no depth of thought or emotion.
In fact, the more I watch Blippi (and boy, have I watched Blippi), the more horrified I am by how thin and dull the Blippiverse is. Blippi does not seem to read books. He does not play make-believe, except to pretend he is doing the thing that the toy or playground object has been built for him to do with it. “Science” means dropping a piece of fruit in the pool and seeing if it floats. The interesting thing about an elephant is that it’s heavy. What about music? Art? History? Theater? The natural world? The wonders of outer space? Mr. Rogers had episodes about grandparents, about not wasting things, about being brave at the emergency room. On any given week he might introduce you to Yo-Yo Ma or Eric Carle of Very Hungry Caterpillar fame. Sesame Street met all the people in your neighborhood and talked about what they do and why it matters, rather than focusing on the trucks they drive.
What about inventing things? Writing songs? Oh God, the songs on Blippi are particularly low-effort. They all seem to come from the “default rock beat” setting on a synthesizer, are almost all about vehicles, and have the most mindless lyrics imaginable. From the Excavator Song:
I’m an excavator
I’m an excavator
Hey dirt see you later
I’m an excavator
From the Monster Truck Song:
Monster trucks are big
Monster trucks are loud
Monster trucks jump high in the sky
And they make such a monster sound
Notice that nobody has even attempted to rhyme anything:
Monster trucks have great big tires
That crush the cars they land on
Monster trucks can jump so high
I wonder if they can jump over the moon
I think it’s easy to forgive Blippi for this stuff because it’s “just for kids.” I’m disinclined to do this myself, because I think that reflects an assumption that “it’s okay to give children garbage, because they’re dumb.” I don’t think kids are dumb, and I think depriving them of intelligent things is a crime against their rich and spongy minds. Even a silly song from Sesame Street like “Rubber Duckie” has some actual pathos to it, some clever rhymes, and a memorable tune:
Rubber ducky, joy of joys
When I squeeze you, you make noise *quack quack*
Rubber duckie you’re my very best friend it’s true
Oh, every day when I make my way to the tubbie
I find a little fellow who’s cute and yellow and chubby
Rubber ducky you’re so fine
And I’m so lucky that you’re mine
Rubber duckie I’m awfully fond of you
Ernie’s relationship with Rubber Duckie is sweet, and the musical style recalls 1920s jazz with its “vo-vo-vo-de-oh.” Sesame Street drew on the richness of American musical culture, showcasing blues, country, folk, and Motown—remember James Taylor and Howard Johnson’s charming “Jellyman Kelly,” Smokey Robinson’s goofy rendition of “U Really Got A Hold On Me,” or Johnny Cash’s serenade to Oscar the Grouch, “Nasty Dan”?
I am not saying Blippi has to get the ghost of Cab Calloway to cameo on his show to sing a nursery rhyme, but I don’t think John and his writers actually have any awareness of the depth and variety of American and world culture. Just because you’re writing a show for four-year-olds doesn’t mean the only thing you can tell them about India is that they have rickshaws there. Blippi is extremely white, which I mean in a literal sense—look at the races of the characters in his happy little song about cops—but also in his worldview, which shows itself in everything from his obliviousness to the inner lives of Indians to the giddy exuberance with which he shows us around a police cruiser.
In fact, I cannot help but think of Donald Trump when I see Blippi. Trump, too, is a person who is totally uninterested in books, art, and music. (Does Trump even have a favorite band? Has he ever listened to music for pleasure?) Trump doesn’t give a shit about nature—the Trump family’s approach to revamping the White House Rose Garden, as we found out, is ripping out the trees and draining it of color. Trump is impressed by things being big and impressive, and just about the only facts he knows about the world is what color things are and how much they cost. I do not think it is snobbery to say that Trump is dumb, but it’s important to note what’s dumb about him: the problem is not that he doesn’t go to the opera, it’s that he is totally uninterested in other people or in anything beyond the most boring superficial material objects in front of his nose.
Blippi takes kids on a long tour of a private jet but doesn’t tell them anything about values or encourage them to think for themselves. In this, he is very like Trump, and the long-term impacts of Blippi on the minds of children, as of Trump on our entire culture, will be profound. Children raised solely on Blippi, and on other videos like his, will be deeply fucked up. They will not be given access to the treasures of human imagination: stories, poems, songs. They won’t care about the absolutely incredible natural world around us. They won’t see all of the extraordinary sights that exist beyond the fluorescent lights of Las Vegas strip mall play places.
Donald Trump’s brand of American capitalism troubles me so much in part because it’s so ignorant of what it destroys. It doesn’t care about the beautiful beloved places it demolishes to put up luxury condos, or the diverse species and cultures it wipes out in the pursuit of “efficiency.” Having no knowledge of what is in a library or a university, it doesn’t care what it shuts down or sells off. Having no appreciation for what wild animals and plants are like or why they matter, it obliterates them. Having only the faintest awareness that the Global South exists and contains actual human beings, it thinks nothing of imposing catastrophic climate change on billions of people in other countries. Taking the world of surface appearances as its reality, it destroys life and creates a soulless dystopia of cops and commodities, without any awareness that it is doing so. A whole country of Trumps would create what I think of as “Death World,” where everything heartfelt and fragile and lovely is crushed in the pursuit of raw material gain for its own sake.
“There’s so many things to know and wonder about in this world. And there’s so many people who want to show and tell you all they can. People who want to help you to learn and to be brave and strong and interesting and loving. That’s the best part of living—loving. And I love being with you.” — Mr. Rogers
It’s easy to criticize, and there are millions of parents and children who like Blippi, so let me say something positive about him and then give constructive advice for what good educational videos could be like. Blippi is not wholly valueless. He’s quite good at identifying the different parts of heavy industrial machinery, and if Blippi were, say, the Big Machines guy on a children’s show that mostly focused on the other 99 percent of the world, I would have no objection to him at all except that he seems phony. Unfortunately, Blippi’s “educational” show is missing all of the elements that make children actually think and help them grow into creative and emotionally sophisticated people.
So here are a few things children’s shows need. First, feelings. We are not just hyperactive playful goofballs, even when we’re young. We are emotional. We love, we hate, we get mad and sad and confused. From a very young age, kids’ shows need to be helping us to understand those feelings and figure out what to do about them. They need to be teaching us that we’re not alone and that the things that are scary and bewildering about our world are scary and bewildering to others, too. It’s okay to talk about pain, even with very young kids, because they aren’t actually “innocents.” They do not live in a world of Fisher-Price toys and candy. They live in the real world and, while they like to have fun, they see many of the same dark things we do, and need comfort and explanations. Mr. Rogers understood this, and he did not care who made fun of him when he talked about the importance of love. Love is important, and if you think that’s corny or cringe, you can fuck right off. (I am describing Mr. Rogers’ attitude, not directly quoting him.)
Second, diversity. Sesame Street was innovative partly because it showed real kids, Black, white, and Hispanic, in a working-class neighborhood. I don’t just mean having kids of different colors, though. I mean a diversity of perspectives and cultures. Kids need to learn what it’s like to be each other, how their lives differ from those of other people, so that they grow up to be compassionate and humane. Speak and sing in many languages. Show them the whole world and everyone in it. Introduce them to other kids, not just some insincere know-nothing man-child.
Third, work. Sometimes, as with the apple-picker, Blippi simply ignores the workers. Other times, he has brief conversations in which they describe how the factory operates. But kids need to learn that workers are people. We should see their lives, not just their interactions with their machinery. Otherwise, they’re taught to see real live human beings as mere appendages to a machine with no existence outside of it. Kids need to understand what it actually takes to make all the commodities that they play with and enjoy. Where does stuff come from? Who makes it? What are those people like? What do they feel? What can we learn from them? What do we owe to them?
Fourth, nature. Machines are cool, but a leaf is just as fascinating as a tractor-trailer, and it’s alarming how appreciation of the wonders of nature seems to be disappearing. Too many spaces these days are barren of life, and I think that’s in part because Trumpian/Blippian thinking regards a plastic palm tree as indistinguishable from an actual palm tree. (It’s telling to me that instead of meeting an elephant in his elephant video—which he clearly has the budget to do—Blippi chooses to hold up a plastic model of an elephant.)
Fifth, inventiveness. If you watched The Electric Company in the 70s, you’d have gotten to hear kids’ songs about words by Tom Lehrer, one of the 20th century’s greatest comic songwriters. Imagine that: a formidably talented lyricist putting his effort toward teaching kids about Silent E and the LY suffix. Electric Company songs, like Sesame Street songs (and unlike Blippi songs), were clever even when they were about something simple, like this one about pain, sung by a doctor and nurse as they wrap a wounded football player in bandages:
Every boat has a chain
Every bib has a stain
Every globe has a Spain
And everyone has a pain
So what do you really gain
It makes no sense to complain
From purple mountain to the fruited plain
Everyone has pain
The Electric Company drew from Motown, show tunes, and Laugh-In, and featured genuinely talented people like Morgan Freeman. Its philosophy, like that of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, could have been summarized as children deserve the best. Sets, puppetry, costume, music, animation, stories, sketches, props: whatever we can give kids, we should give them. Pee Wee’s Playhouse had monster talents like Phil Hartman and Laurence Fishburne, Sesame Street has had some of the greatest musicians of the past century. Don’t patronize kids with “Oooh, a BALL.” They’re not puppies.
Next, mess and junk. It’s okay to show life’s “rough edges.” Not everything needs to be in a sparkling clean Las Vegas mall-world. Oscar the Grouch, with his “rusty trombones” and old telephones, found delight in the scrappy and the forlorn. Blippi always plays with perfect clean toys in perfect neat spaces, which is part of why something feels so false about him. Nature is dirty and messy. If Blippi showed more real kids, more real-seeming places, it would be a less “polished” show, but a better one.
Finally, be weird. A dance number with singing bats? Why not! A jealous cat that says “meow” every other word? Yes. A song about horrible things to put in soups and salads? That’s exactly the right sort of thing. Anyone who has not studied the paintings of Dali, Magritte, Leonora Carrington, and Remedios Varo is not fit to produce a children’s show. Kids love the absurd, and the absurd does not just consist of putting on a big bowtie.
I will not raise Blippi children. The Blippi child will know that a banana is yellow, but that is all it will know. When they look in a mirror, all they see will be themselves. They will know how to pretend to have fun (“Tee hee! Wee!!”) but it won’t be clear if they’re really “happy and they know it.” They won’t be in touch with their feelings. They might know some basic facts about what the world is but won’t ask why the world is the way it is. They won’t be curious about the people around them, because they’ll live in a world of happy commodities, where nobody is ever confused and nothing is ever mysterious. They won’t be able to rhyme or invent. They will be nothing but good capitalist foot soldiers, ready to swallow whatever ideology they are fed. Worst of all, they will be boring, because nobody will have ever taught them what being interesting is.
We can break children out of Blippi’s static world, where children exist to play with the objects they are given and admire the machines that have been built. We can raise kids who think and dream and build. They will be sincere and intelligent, but no less energetic or wacky. But to help develop kids into thinking beings, we have to understand why Blippi is stupid and what he’s missing out on. We need to have a strong sense of what every child deserves and the commitment to avoiding low-effort, dumbed-down, pseudo-educational content. Let us do better than Blippi.