By Jan Angelo Yvan Cabantog
The internet has been a very important tool for almost every person in the planet in so many aspects that one can think of. It can be considered as a powerful source of any kind and type of information a user needs or wants. More often than not, users seek the assistance of the internet in order to gain more information on a specific subject or topic. But there are also times wherein users make use of the internet as lifeblood of entertainment, a source of fun and laughs one may say. With this, internet can be considered a byproduct of popular culture wherein the delineation of purpose, by purpose meaning to inform and to entertain, is at its prime. Through which a blur can be observed. With this, internet users somewhat see that the primary purpose of internet and other forms or modes of new media is entertainment. Having this said, a lot of entertaining content can be seen once one access the World Wide Web. Just one click on search engines such as Google and Yahoo, one may find the latest trending content which one way or another is entertaining which is why it became a trending content in the first place. Sorting through the content on the internet, it is safe to say that majority of the entertaining content is funny, and at times funny at the expense of showing idiocy by concerned “performers”. These performers bank on the supposed and played out role of idiocy in order to entertain the audience and seek attention. This can be considered a two-way street in terms of benefiting the audience, and at the same time benefiting the one initially providing the benefit. With this it also raises the issue of the sub-purpose of the production of such content with elements of idiocy. This presents a subliminal and layered production of issues that elements of idiocy in new media content provides. What for others is a simple comedic act showcasing idiocy and state of being nonsense, can be seen in another dimension through which one can derive a labyrinth filled with issues on how new media is being utilized in a negative way. What one may see as fun and innocent can be seen by others, especially those who are can see through the surface, as a potentially problematic practice due to the issues that it presents not through the content but in the way and practice they present the content. One very good example of which media content with element of idiocy is presented in a negative way but is not seen given its innocent nature is how it is very much accessible to children or young aidiences. This is evident in a segment in popular children’s program Sasame Street called Elmo’s World. This specific program is being aired on television, but is also available online through the video streaming site YouTube from which many parents check video content for their children’s consumption. Aside from the parents, even young kids who are already adept in utilizing tools of new media are able to access and consume such content online on their own. Note that even though the concerned program is initially a product of traditional media, it is readily accessible through new media platform as well. It can also be considered new media already given that new media is the convergence of the old and new media.
Sesame Street is a well-known television program suited for children which aims to teach them certain values that accompanies parents in providing their young ones the right things to do especially during their early learning stage. Originally a television program, Sesame street became an available content online wherein the digital native children of this generation are able to access with just one click of a fingertip. With just one click, kids are able to watch the episodes of the show, cheering on well-loved characters such as Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, and Elmo. Being one of the more famous among the ensemble of characters, red-haired furry little monster named Elmo has his own segment. In his segment, Elmo interacts with the viewers, which is geared towards children, as the character teaches them what is right and proper. In the process, Elmo is able to show the children what is right by showing them what is wrong with the help of a certain character by the name of “Mr. Noodle” which is played by a real person. Mr. Noodle is a silent character who resides in a place of his own inside Elmo house, accessible from behind the house’s curtain. Elmo frequently asks Mr. Noodle to demonstrate how to perform a specific task or to answer a question. Mr. Noodle responds through pantomime wherein he gets the process wrong and fails to follow Elmo’s instructions. Through trial and error and repeated prompting with the help of the children watching the segment, the character manages to figure it out.
The character of Mr Noodle debuted in the children’s series in 1998 and since then has been known to the young viewers as they are able to watch the beloved series on TV and eventually online through video streaming sites. For the young audiences, Mr Noodle may be considered funny yet an adorable character. For parents, he may exude a dumb persona that is not greatly impacting to their children. Maybe, this is what the producers of Sesame Street is thinking as well. Not knowing that certain factors are questionable in terms of its delivery. The main factor is how they bank on the idiocy of Mr Noodle’s character in order to teach children what is right by showing mistakes and making it funny in the eyes of the viewers before arriving in a resolution by giving carefully stated instructions to the character. Maybe it is Sesame Street’s way in the aspiration to make it light in terms of approach given that the audience are children. But what can be marked and considered questionable here is how they expose children to something with elements of idiocy. Yes, it may be because of an end result that is of a possitive value. But it is at the upfront of something negative. At a very young age, children are already aware of idiocy. They may not know what specific word or what it necessarily mean, but it is the concept and reality of it that they know as they encounter the character in the show.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not against Sesame Street for any matter. In fact, I love Sesame Street and I grew up watching the beloved show. In fact, you may say that I am one of the kids who have known what the concept of Mr Noodle is about in my childhood years. It is just this one singular practice in their story that is worthy of being challenged.
This may not be an issue if the said segment is just available for access through televised braodcast. In the advent of the new media, anything can be retrieved in the internet. Given this, the Elmo’s World segment and the character of Mr Noodle is readily available for viewing anytime and anywhere. Children are now given the freewill to utilize the internet for their own use. Thus, content with idiotic element is very much accessible to them. This is not just applicable to Elmo’s world. This can also be considered with other content, especially those who trended due to the mere fact that they are funny in a shallow sense. Now let’s not go deeper into this concern. But it is alarming how people nowadays find shallow content entertaining. Maybe we can allude this to Jan Harris’ concept of Banality TV and how people prefer content that they will not actively perceive. But again, this is a different story and we can just give a nod to the concept and its applicabily to the concept of idiocy.
Going back to the main point, the funny way in delivering the content while being able to provide entertainment may be the reason for the sustainability and longevity of such content. Initial trends, being featured in different medium and being etched on people’s mind are factors as well. In addition to this, once published online, the digital footprint of such content can never be erased. One way or another, anyone can retrieve the content. In the case of Sesame Street’s Elmo’s World, this is applicable when then children who are now parents who grew up watching the show tries to retrieve the episodes online for their children’s consumption especially if they have no access to the content through their television (if they are not subscribed to cable television). While for other content presented with elements of idiocy, internet users can just retrieve them easily.
To give you an idea as to how idiocy is being showcased and presented in Sesame Street’s Elmo’s World segment, embedded is a sample video from YouTube wherein the episode was uploaded for the purpose of consumption of the children. Notice how even shows created and meant for children are already being uploaded online. This proves that online audience does cover specific or certain age bracket thus encompassing every person who has access to it. A handful of episodes of the segment is uploaded on the video streaming platform. In the episode, it seen how cute red Elmo asks Mr Noodle to do a certain activity. In the case of one the episodes, Mr Noodle was asked by Elmo and the kids that are voiced over to wash his hands. At first, Mr Noodle tried to wash his feet while wearing his leather shoes instead of washing his hands. Here, Mr Noodle can be seen as curious and innocent in term of worldly ideas. But in the simplest sense, he can be considered dumb and idiotic in terms of how he acts. As Mr Noodle acts in a silly manner, Elmo and the kids on voice over will try to teach him how to correctly do the activity. Through this, the young viewers are given the chance to help the foolish-looking man to correct himself, thus learning how to be proper and how to correct themselves. In the process, Mr Noodle is able to get what Elmo and the children on voice over are trying to teach him and eventually get the act together by himself.
Scholar Olga Goriunova argued that “it is, therefore, important not to confuse falsehood in idiocy with the base truth of stupidity. Idiocy is about gathering and crafting ‘rubbish’ that does not give answers or that has direct access to truth, but that enquires and stages encounters with the real through its force of insignificant, false and preposterous doings.” With these attributes, it is safe to say that Elmo’s World approach on the persona of Mr Noodle can be considered as a form of idiocy through the delviery of media. It is not considered falsehood given that there is a truism to the act given that it shows what is wrong. From that truism, the program is able to provide a possitive manner from which a lot can benefit, and in the case of the program’s demographic target, the young audience.
Having these factors presented, we can still look at its way of presenting children’s content the way the producers claim it to be. That it is really of innocent and positive nature in order to teach the young audience. According to Goriunova who studied and is an expert in new media idiocy, “rather than oscillating between the negative and the positive, new media idiocy can offer a route to understanding a multiplicity of effects grounded in the modes of individuation technology offers and takes part in.” With this argument by Goriunova, we can simply and safely say that it is not the intention of the producers of the program to promote idiocy to the young audience. With this, the idiocy being produced and presented can be considered as a byproduct of the real purpose of which occurs as a double-edged sword that is inavoidable in the process. Thus, one can consider it innocent idiocy.
With all these factors at hand and considered, it is undeniable that new media idiocy, as well as elements of idiocy present in traditional or old media, has its positive and negative effects to the audiences. It is also undeniable the idiocy itself brings a whole new level to media as it becomes considered as an element in production especially that it proves to be having an effect to the media consumers in whichever extreme end it affects them. In the case of Elmo’s World, the content and delivery carries a positive agenda of teaching and guiding children on how to teach and guide others, even adults, in order to do what is right or proper. On the other hand, the element of idiocy carries a negative note in such a way that it exposes children to a the concept of idiocy. In relation to this, children are being taught unconsciously that being wrong can be funny, or in another sense, can be made fun of. This can be considered as a quick escalation, but such effect can be considered a low level of bullying. It may just be a program, but children can carry the practice in the real world. Which takes me to the third negative effect of the presence of idiocy in the said program, the concern that children are provided with the right to make fun of adults. Yes, it may be a fact that not all the time adults are right with their principles and practices. But it does not give the right to children the entitlement to make of adults when they commit mistakes. This can be seen in the show with the way the children voice over show laugh at Mr Noodle. This can be considered a moral concern and still be argued upon based on moral preference, but still raises a dilemma.
There are countless effects that idiocy can give through new media. Factor in traditional media, then more effects are expected. The whole concept and practice of media itself provides a multitude of effects to people. Each person consuming is being affected by the content different from another. For one, a negative effect can be taken. For other, they are able to embrace positive effects. It will just depend on how the audience will see and consume the content. And I think this can be the key to have a harmonious consumption in terms of media content: that audience should learn how to filter them and only embrace the positive effects of the content. It is because it is already a fact that media entails both positive and negative effect. Even a content with a negative connotation such as the ones with elements of idiocy has its positive effects. The key is the responsibility of the audience in terms of the consumption of content. They must be able to know how to extract only the positive side of it.