Is Cookie Monster Morally Superior to SpongeBob?

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Is Cookie Monster morally superior to SpongeBob Squarepants?

Paula Kerger would say so. She's the president of the Public Broadcasting Service.

At a meeting of the Television Critics Association in Pasadena, Calif., last week, she told critics that commercial television is less concerned with educating and uplifting children than in selling stuff.

Hard to dispute.

When kids visit the official SpongeBob Web site, they are immediately invited to play a video game based on a cereal commercial. However, one of the first things you see on the official Sesame Street site is a link (labeled for "grown-ups") to an online store for DVDs, CDs, books and clothing.

The Washington Post reports one critic sniffed a bit of hypocrisy in all the Big Bird plush toys, Super Grover T-shirts and other PBS show merchandise stacked up against Kerger's assertion that "the lines between commerce and content are blurred beyond recognition" in commercial television.

PBS shows are not pure, the critic said. "All those programs are very heavily commodified for children, aren't they?" he asked.

"We're not selling that on our Web site," Kerger responded.

(Not true, actually. You can buy all sorts of merchandise directly from the official Sesame Street site.)

Kerger insists there is still a big difference.

At PBS, "the programs came first," the Post quotes her as saying. "And the products or the toys (many of which are educational toys) were developed as a way to extend the programs in other ways in other platforms, including toys. That's different from many commercial vendors, which actually start with the toys and then back into the programs."

Some critics charge that's too fine a distinction, especially after Kerger said earlier that "a great body of research demonstrates that children under the age of 6 or 8 years old really don't recognize the difference between advertisement and content."

Kerger's primary thesis was that commercial television falls woefully short of the mandates of the 1990 Children's Television Act. The law requires broadcasters to provide a minimal amount of educational and informational programming.

"Independent research shows how much of the educational children's programming on commercial TV fails to meet even the basic requirements," Kerger is quoted by the Post. "Our kids deserve better."

At PBS, she adds, "we remain firm in our conviction that media should be used to serve kids and not to sell to them."

Related: Best 'Sesame Street' TV Spoofs, By Genre

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.