Wednesday, June 15, 2005


I've always believed that if handled properly, even the most banal of TV shows could serve as educational tools.
Take 'Mr. Ed', for instance. (Not that I consider that show banal; I like it a lot! It's just that it serves as a great example.)

Sure, 'Mr. Ed' could be dismissed as just one of the many off-beat gimmicky sitcoms from the Sixties - like 'Bewitched', 'My Favorite Martian', 'The Flying Nun', and 'My Mother The Car'. In this case, it was the "adventures" of an architect with a talking horse.

If you just let the show wash over you during the half hour of it's broadcast, if you just accept that a horse is a horse (of course, of course), then that's all you'll get out of it.

But for the true televisiologist, that's not good enough. How come Mr. Ed was able to speak? We know why the Crabtrees' 1928 Porter could talk - it was the reincarnation of Dave Crabtree's mother. But we were never given such a splainin for Mr. Ed.

So in looking for a reason for Ed's ability to talk, I found a doozy - Ed was a Houyhnhnm from "Gulliver's Travels" by Jonathan Swift. Choosing the appropriate episodes to illustrate that segment of the book, a teacher could ignite an interest in Swift's brilliant satire and perhaps in classic literature as well. (The mini-series starring Ted Danson would also be a great way to close out the lessons on the book.)

Hopefully, as was the case for me, looking at TV shows in such a way will open the minds of the students to look at other TV shows - and at everything else in Life as well, - with a questioning mind. And hopefully, it will then lead them to investigate further, and thus expand the boundaries of their knowledge.

As they used to say on a game show back in the Fifties, "Knowledge is king. And the reward for that knowledge is king-sized."

As a more recent example, we have the 3-hour finale for 'Lost', in which the survivors finally found out what the "Black Rock" was: a pirate ship beached in the jungle miles inland. (The theories as to how it ended up there so far from the ocean could help spark an interest in science - tsunamis, tectonic plates, etc.)

But in this case, it's an interest in history. Some fan, some "Lostaway" out there, wasn't satisfied to wait for the answers to be spoon-fed to him at the maddeningly slow pace favored by the Creators of the show. So he (she?) went searching for a few answers of their own........

*The story of The Black Rock is complicated by the fact that, although slavery itself existed well into the 1880s, the African slave trade was done by the 1850s. And, of course, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite in 1867.*

Add to this some other information we received - since the ship was found in the South Pacific with drilling equipment inside, it may have been used to transport slaves from Africa to Australia to be exploited in the mining trade.

And before he got blowed up real good, Leslie Arzt gave us a quick history lesson on Ascani Sobrero, the man who invented nitro-glycerine and got his face half-blown off for his troubles.

Hey kids! Science is fun!

Here's what I learned about Sobrero from the website:

Italian chemist who discovered nitroglycerine. Ascanio Sobrero worked as an assistant to Professor J. T. Pelouze in Paris and then became professor of chemistry in Turino, Italy. His face was badly scarred as a result of an explosion in the 1840s.

He considered nitroglycerine to be far too dangerous to be of any practical use. Sobrero is quoted to have said "When I think of all the victims killed during nitroglycerine explosions, and the terrible havoc that has been wreaked, which in all probability will continue to occur in the future, I am almost ashamed to admit to be its discoverer."

He was mortified when the Nobel family started the commercial exploitation of nitroglycerine and with the success of dynamite he felt he had been subject to an injustice. Alfred Nobel openly cited Sobrero as the inventor of nitroglycerine.

See? I never would have learned that had it not been for my interest in a TV show.

Such questions do lead to other investigations and another riddle: if we follow that timeline, then the ship sailed sometime after 1867, since it contained crates full of dy-NO-mite. And yet that style of sailing vessel surely must have been outdated by then, by at least half a century. Right?

Another excuse to go exploring the Internet and the Encyclopedia Galactica. It's a never-ending story!

The PSA was right. Reading really is fun-damental!

But don't go experimenting with that nitro, kids! You'll end up looking like one of the Slitheen Family after being doused with vinegar! (Give my American readers access to the new 'Doctor Who' series, you BBC yahoos! Oooh-ooh! Another reference to "Gulliver"!)

Uh-oh. Too late. We're gonna need a new Timmy!


I really do have to cut back on the medication while I'm writing these things........

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