Monday, October 27, 2008
This past weekend I brought a friend to see Carole and Paula of the old children's TV series, "The Magic Garden" perform. For those of you who a) didn't grow up in the New York Tri-State area and b) weren't a child in the early 1970's, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. The Magic Garden was a children's show that aired on the independent local metro NY station WPIX-11 from 1972-1984, and hosted by two women (whom happened to be former NYC school teachers, as well as childhood friends) named Carole (Demas) and Paula (Janis).
From today's vantage point, it may seem like there was nothing spectacular about the show; the women sang little songs and played guitar, acted out stories from "the story box", told jokes from "the chuckle patch", and interacted with puppet characters like Sherlock the pink squirrel. However, the reaction of the 30- and 40- somethings who attended the show (both Carole and Paula are pushing 70, mind you) told a different story. In the ladies room, I overheard grown women talk of how they would cry when the shutters would close at the end of the show; while standing on a very long line to obtain autographs following the performance, a couple (who had driven from Connecticut for the show), gripping their new copies of the Carole & Paula DVD, commented to us that they were planning to see them again next month, not only because they always see them perform in the area, but that "Sherlock will be at that show". We then engaged in a discussion about what time slot the show aired in; a gentleman ahead of us insisted, "It was 2:30! 2:30 every day, except Friday, when that damn 'Time for Joya' was on!".
While standing on line so my friend could get her autograph, I wondered what it was about the show that had such a lasting effect on all of us. I consider myself very fortunate that I grew up during a time period when the producers of children's television shows really began to see their potential as a teaching tool, and sought to incorporate innovative ways to make learning fun (pardon that tired cliche) through the use of new media. I remember my mother adjusting the "rabbit ears" on a tiny black and white TV one day in 1969 so I could watch the very first episode of Sesame Street; to this very day, I still sing some of the songs from the series The Electric Company in my head when struggling to remember my times tables. Why do middle aged baby boomers like myself and my peers remember the joy we felt when the shutters opened to The Magic Garden, but can barely remember the facts we learned in school? What was the "magic"? Sure, some of it was the natural charisma of Carole and Paula, who, to me, seemed like those cool older sisters; but maybe it was the daring uniqueness of them, the resistance to condescend to children and indulge their creative spirit. It made me wonder: are we attempting to do the same thing today, with web 2.0? Maybe I'm just trying to fit and old square video peg into a round digital hole, but I see some connection. Maybe I just want to see it, because I miss that magic.