Is Dora the Explorer Evil?

I’m shoe shopping with my daughter. She needs black dress shoes, but is fixated on a pair of sneakers with Dora the Explorer on the toes. I ask her to put them back. Usually she’ll comply, but not this time. She’s cuddling the shoes like a favorite doll. It’s the first time she’s expressed such a strong desire for anything in a store — and the first time she’s seen Dora — and so I do something really foolish. I buy the shoes. A week later, I do something even more foolish. I let her watch “Dora the Explorer” on TV.Is Dora the Explorer Evil?

Like other well-meaning parents, I figured Dora was the lesser of a lot of evils on television. Dora is outdoorsy and resourceful and bilingual. She’s always on an adventure. She figures things out. And who isn’t for a little diversity in the cartoon world?

The problem is that Dora is addictive. She’s like cocaine. And my daughter at two is like a junky.

She never even liked TV before. If I turned it on because I needed a break, she’d tell me to turn it off. That’s all changed. Nowadays she’s always clamouring for Dora. Even when she’s playing with her beloved father she’ll point upstairs and say “Dohwah, television.”

At first I thought it might be her age. TV is more appealing once kids turn two. But that’s not it. Other programs don’t turn her into a zombie who ignores everyone else in a room.Is Dora the Explorer Evil?

Then I thought Dora’s appeal had to do with her spunky nature or her unusually large eyes or her loud, conversation-stopping voice or the ingratiating video game beat in the background or the rich blue, violet and pink colors – until it dawned on me that it’s all of those things and children’s television isn’t what it used to be.

Since its debut in 2000, this cartoon about a problem-solving little Hispanic girl, her monkey pal Boots and other animal friends, has generated more than $11 billion in sales, according to the Telegraph of London. Global sales include 65 million Fisher Price Dora toys, 50 million books and 20 million DVDs. The show airs in 30 languages in more than 151 markets around the world. There’s even “Dora the Explorer Day” in more than 30 American cities and states.

Real TV Addict Team, a Web site that ranks Dora the Explorer among the “10 Dumbest Educational Programs on TV”, says so-called educational shows these days are just about making money. “Shows today don’t stop at the screen, but spill out into music, toys, concerts and video games. Shows that, basically, only exist to make money off clueless parents who place their children in front of televisions as though they were potted plants looking for sunlight.”

Beyond the predictable Dora books, videos, clothes, games and backpacks, this smiling cherub who my child throws tantrums over not being able to see, hawks digital photo frames, jewelry, goody bags (go figure), dinner plates, sippy cups and even Volkswagen minivans.

Marketing to kids has reached a whole new level of aggressiveness.

The bloggers at Punnybop, who recommend TV shows, music, videos, etc. for kids, said the 2009 release of a “tween” Dora doll was weird and had a “Bride of Chucky vibe.” The corresponding Web site where children can spend Dora currency and solve mysteries was to be “released with morphine-drip-like consistency”, they said, and the physical doll let Dora addicts know when new mysteries were available so that even when away from their computers they would be alerted to new spending opportunities.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s now Mothers Against Nickelodeon or M.A.N., an organization that accuses the “Dora the Explorer” network of undermining parents with predatory marketing practices. The group, founded by a California mom, says the network portrays parents as boring dolts with cash who should be tricked into spending it.

The other day when I denied my daughter Dora, she went face down on the floor and wailed for five minutes. I decided then and there: no more Dora.

For now, we’ve reduced television consumption to a sweet dreams-kind-of-show like Little Bear, which she can watch occasionally with milk before books and bed. When she asks for Dora, we say it’s not on. Of course sometimes she cries, but she’s only two and doesn’t suspect we’re lying to her. I’m not totally heartless. I let her keep the shoes.

Photos by Di the Huntress and Mike McCaffrey

Stephanie is a writer in London. She’s lived in Tbilisi, Georgia, where (until the Russians bombed in August 2008) she produced a radio show on politics, business, social issues and culture, and in Lu ...read more

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