So yesterday, I was involved in a conversation which led to the other person reciting a rather long winded explanation of the biological purpose for the padding on dogs’ feet (don’t ask me how we got to it, it just sort of happened). To which I responded in my usual sarcastic tone, “Gee, thanks Mr. Wizard.” It wasn’t a particularly good burn (in fact the person I was talking to was a woman and even pointed out that “shouldn’t it be Mrs. Wizard?”) but it cracked open something inside me.

It was a perfect Proustian moment. You know, when you see or smell something that reminds brings up a flood of memories. Suddenly, I was eight-years-old, sitting on the floor in front of the television with a bowl of cereal in my lap, watching “Mr. Wizard’s World” just before school.

If you’re  unfamiliar with it, the concept of show was simple—Don Herbert, that’s Mr. Wizard, would demonstrate basic scientific principles through cool experiments that you could do at home, very often with a young assistant ohhh-ing and ahhh-ing next to him. And although not too a lot of episodes were produced (all of them in the early 1980’s), Nickelodeon ran them ad nauseam for years afterwards. Here’s a promo to help you get an idea:

And as I was running the show through my head, I came to the realization that it was a bit inappropriate. To make the show seem, I assume, more personal or prove that the kids really could do the experiments on their own—it was set in what appears to be Mr. Wizard’s house. He would show Little Bobby, in his basement lab without any other adult supervision, how to light a match directly under a balloon without popping it. I try to imagine what my father would say if I’d come home one day and told him that a nice old man who lived down the block was showing me “science experiments” in his basement—I’m pretty sure that there would be an eyebrow or two raised, followed by a call to the police.

Now, I’m not saying that Mr. Wizard was a pedophile, by all accounts he was just a nice guy who liked teaching science to kids, but his method does seem odd. It’s probably why his successors, Beakman’s World and Bill Nye the Science Guy, did their shows in elaborate studios. You also have to wonder about the precedent that the show set in the minds of its viewers: how many children got into windowless vans because they actually wanted to learn how to get a hardboiled egg into a bottle without touching either one?

Maybe I’m just imagining it. It seems that we’re automatically suspicious of all males, specifically their sexual intentions, now. Maybe a by-product of an over-sexed culture is that we believe all men think about is sex, that even the nicest guy has the ulterior motive of “getting laid.” It’s a shame that we can’t give people the benefit of a doubt, but of course it’s in that doubt that real pedophiles hide. Maybe it’s a good thing that I we’re suspicious of men like Mr. Wizard—it keeps us vigilant for real child molesters. Now, that Mr. Rogers was a strange one too. What kind of grown man keeps a whole room filled with puppets and a train set that goes through the wall?

Advertisements