Captain Kangaroo

Friday, January 23 2004

Captain Kangaroo passed away today at the age of 76. I can’t think of a single show from my childhood that I remember more fondly than Captain Kangaroo. There were a few years before Kindergarten where the show was my life. I’d make weekly treks to the public library with my mom and brother where I’d pick up a Captain Kangaroo kit that would coincide with the show. I’d complete every puzzle, every connect the dots, every science expirement, every letter writing challenge. I even had a bowl hair cut to match Captain Kangaroo’s. When Mr. Green Jeans would show up, I’d yell “MR GREEN JEANS!” in my impecable four year old way. I always knew when Mr. Moose was going to get buried in ping pong balls, and always wished Bunny Rabbit could get away with eating too many carrots.

Bill Cosby introduced me to reading, writing, and drawing with his Picture Pages segments on the Captain Kangaroo show.

“Picture pages, picture pages, time to get your picture pages, time to get your crayons and your pencils…”

He had a big fat permanent marker that would make the most satisfying permanent marker noise as he drew. If he messed up, the pen would squeal. I can still hear the pen, and when I equate creativity to that noise still. When I went to Art Center, I had a set of rendering markers that would squeak as a drew, and I remembered.

Most kids today probably couldn’t sit through ten minutes of Captain Kangaroo. Kids can choose from a near infinite amount of more exciting media than Captain Kangaroo, and when you’re a kid, you lack the wisdom to see the sublimity in shows that allow a child to construct profound new knowledge from simple and gentle concepts.

Bob Keeshan, the creator of the show, and Captain Kangaroo himself, knew something about kids that I think few people but marketing companies understand today – kids learn more in their first six years of life than the rest of their life combined. Fast food companies are keenly aware of this, and spend billions on children under the age of six, knowing that there is no better time to build brand loyalty then in the earliest years.

Bob thought that shows like Barney are fluff, and that nearly every other show made for kids these days is fluff. Today’s shows are developed in large part by adults who grew up on MTV, where a scene change is required nearly every 3 seconds. Compare any show made for kids today to Captain Kangaroo or Mr. Rogers, and you’ll notice the pace and the tempo is vastly different.

The pace that shows like Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers had seemed just perfect. No flashiness, moments of peace, where a child can digest something without being pummelled by frantic purple dinosaurs and kids who can’t stop running around lip syncing to studio compressed and polished voices. Funded not by advertisers, but by educators, charities, parents, grants, and companies who’s motives were pure.

Shows like Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers were never half hour infomercials for the latest Barney or Elmo doll. Name nearly any familiar kids show from today, and you’ll be able to find toys, clothing, toothbrushes, cereal bowls, bed sheets, pajamas, video games, bicycles, bubble bath, sunglasses, shoes, and underwear with characters from kids shows.

The motives of a kids show are difficult to view without skepticism when the creators control merchandising or licensing empires.

Bob Keeshan, and his wisdom on shows that strengthen and teach kids simple things, will be sorely missed. I can only hope that the show continues in reruns, or comes out on DVD so I can teach my children to become excited beyond compare to see a moose puppet get buried in ping pong balls on every single show.