Dora the Workout Explorer

If I were a homebound parent I would probably use this space to complain about the drivel that passes for children’s programming. Brightly colored nonsense masquerading as toy commercials, talking sponges and educational characters with televisions embedded in their digestive tracts.

I do spend a lot of time a home, but not as a parent. I work at home, which makes it harder to stay in shape. I haven’t joined a gym because my travel schedule, and no commute means no driving past a karate school on he way home.

When I’m in a hotel, I resort to the fitness room. Sometimes this is fantastic, sometimes it’s like working out in a closet of disused equipment. At home I use workout videos. Workout videos are a mixed bag, but I have managed to find several good ones on Netflix. They vary in content and production quality, but they have one thing in common.

They’re produced by people raised on children’s programming.

Along with product marketing disguised as educational content, children’s programming always tries to raise the self esteem of the viewer. Mister Rogers kindly reassuring children with “I knew you could” after each request to repeat a phrase. Elmo cheering on the kids in the living room as they learn about sharing. Blue barking as clues pop up on the television.

But the tiny little queen of televised ego boosting is Dora the Explorer. And when Dora finally grows up she will need a new job. Workout video instructor is a perfect profession for a woman with Dora’s skills.

Dora is loathed by all of my friends with kids, mostly due to the annoying repetition of catch phrases and simplistic tropes. Dora lays on the praise pretty thick, no matter what the kids are doing. Did they see Swiper swiping? Is that new word part of their vocabulary?

It doesn’t matter. TV is a one-way medium, so the praise will happen regardless of the results. No kids programs knows if your child knows the difference between a square and a rhombus … just like that perfectly toned woman in the athletic apparel knows if I can do eight more hammer curls.

Repetitive content? Super cheerful hosts? Praise for unverified results? Dora the Explorer grew up, turned Caucasian and swapped the hat and khakis for a stretchy green yoga outfit.

(Yes, the same analogy would have worked with Mister Rogers or Elmo, but they don’t look as good in tight leggings. The blonde on my workout videos is definitely more my type.)

I know these videos have to stay positive, otherwise the audience would stop watching. I’m not sure if kids ever figure out the false motivations built into children’s programming until much later, but adults can see it very quickly in exercise videos. Big Bird needs to give kids that extra little push, but it’s insincere coming from a sweaty man showing you how to get a defined six pack.

So what happens when I’m alone in my living room, straining to get in eight more reps, knowing that I’ll get praised for them even if I skip out to grab a chocolate donut? I still do those damn reps. If I want unconditional love I’ll get a dog. My self esteem comes from doing things, so sitting on the couch watching TV doesn’t earn any paise from the cartoon characters in my head.

Yes random TV lady, I think I can do eight more. They won’t be pretty, but at least nobody is watching.

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