I was heartened by the exceedingly successful Kickstarter campaign to resurrect Reading Rainbow, which will help bring a new version of the early-literacy television program back to solvency and into classrooms to foster a love of reading in today’s children.
But this article from Caitlin Dewey at the Washington Post gave me pause:
“Crowdfunding is theoretically supposed to bolster charities, start-ups, independent artists, small-business owners and other projects that actually need the financial support of the masses to succeed. It’s not supposed to be co-opted by companies with profit motives and private investors of their own … which, despite Burton’s charisma, is exactly what the Rainbow reboot is.
“But if you’re donating to Reading Rainbow because of the grandiose charity rhetoric Burton’s employing on Kickstarter, you might want to look elsewhere — maybe the nonprofit Children’s Literacy Initiative or the Washington, D.C.-based First Book, both of which get high grades from Charity Navigator. They might not have LeVar [Burton]’s nostalgia appeal, but there’s no doubt who those charities serve.”
Rainbow was cancelled in 2009 and had been existing as an app since then, so though its name already has a pedigree I think it still deserved a chance to ask its fans for money like any other cause, charitable or otherwise.
In this light, let’s also consider the impending arrival of Girl Meets World, the sort-of sequel to that ’90s TGIF mainstay (and personal TV favorite) Boy Meets World. The title character is the daughter of Cory and Topanga, adorkable teen sweethearts and stars of BMW. When word of the show’s development hit the internet in late 2012, I’ll admit I got excited. Boy Meets World was a seminal show in my adolescence. I saw in Cory and Topanga’s relationship a healthy model for friendship and romance: Cory was silly and Topanga was rational, but both were strong, self-sufficient people who loved the other despite their foibles and occasional conflicts. And the people around them were just as well-rounded: Shawn broody yet loyal, Feeny upright yet playful, Eric clownish yet sincere.
Like Reading Rainbow, the BMW brand—much-loved yet dated—has received new life thanks to the groundswell support of its fans. Though this new show will be its own story with a new protagonist and surrounding cast, but with Cory and Topanga back in the mix, and the original BMW producer at the helm, it might as well be considered a continuation of the story. But for whom?
It’s common, I know, for entertainment meant for kids to have something their parents can enjoy too. Whether it’s Sesame Street or the latest Pixar movie, the best filmmakers and producers find a way to appeal to many age groups. And perhaps that is why Girl Meets World is being made: to give Millennials with young kids something they already have an attachment to that they will (theoretically) be able to enjoy watching with their kids. But the Disney Channel audience of Girl Meets World either hasn’t seen the original series or hasn’t even heard of it. They will have as much emotional investment in the characters as they would for any new show they encounter. So why do we need Girl Meets World?
It’s not as if kids today lack any source of entertainment whatsoever; what BMW was to me and my Millennial ilk, they have today (I’m guessing here) in the variety of television shows, movies, apps, and YA novels being made specifically for them right now. Don’t they deserve to have their own Boy Meets World, a show or thing they discovered in their youth and will feel special kinship toward into adulthood? Boy Meets World was my generation’s thing; shouldn’t they have their own that didn’t descend from their parents’ cultural experience and sensibility?
Perhaps I’m just being possessive. Who am I to cling to a TV show that many, many others cherish as much as I do. I suppose this gets at another question relating to pop culture and our interaction with it: Do we own the culture we embrace or are we mere stewards of it? In our produce/reuse/recycle media culture, do we lose the right to claim something as our own? I don’t think so. Once a work of art is created and sent out into the world, it is the artist’s no longer. It becomes a public entity of which we can all buy shares and claim partial if ardent ownership, but we can never own it outright. My Green Bay Packers stock is tangible evidence of my intangible ownership and love of the team, but it’s not real stock. There will always be more Packers fans, and Boy Meets World fans, and Reading Rainbow students, no matter the form those things take.
So here’s to hoping that everybody wins: that Girl Meets World and the new iteration of Reading Rainbow will enchant young viewers and delight older ones, and that we’ll finally find out what happened to Mr. Turner.