When I was growing up, the Bronx Zoo was just about my favorite place in the world. So it was painful to get this email from a CCFC supporter:
In case you haven't heard about this:
The Bronx Zoo now has a Dora exhibit. I am devastated. It was, until this, one of the last commercial-free places I could take my kids. Now, all they want to do is see Dora. So sad.
The exhibit? A video, of course. Sorry, I mean a multi-sensory experience:
Dora, Diego and Boots need your help to protect the animals of the rainforest from Swiper’s out-of-control Robot Butterfly! ¡Vámonos! The Robot Butterfly is swiping the water and plants that the animals need. Join your adventurous amigos on Nickelodeon’s high-speed, eye-popping chase from the tropical rainforest to the icy Arctic. Let’s catch that Robot Butterfly and protect the rainforest!
Dora and Diego’s 4-D Adventure combines a high-definition 3-D film with effects such as wind, mist, scents and dramatic lighting to take you on an immersive multi-sensory journey.
There’s so much wrong here. There is, as the emailer points out, the intrusion of Nickelodeon’s media empire into what was once wonderful, commercial-free space. There’s the fact that Dora seems to be taking over virtually every cultural institution for young kids; New York preschoolers can also catch the ubiquitous Explorer and her sidekick Diego at the Children’s Museum. There’s the disconcerting image of preschool children, who already average 32 hours a week with screen media, spending their zoo time watching movies instead of engaging with exhibits that feature living creatures. And there’s the disconnect between using Dora, Nick’s reigning queen of branded merchandising, to promote environmental stewardship.
But what gets me the most about the Bronx Zoo’s Dora exhibit is that it is so unnecessary. If the goal of the exhibit is to teach children about conservation, I’m guessing five minutes with an adorable endangered species will have more of a lasting impact than Nickelodeon’s cartoon preaching. And if the goal is to get kids excited about going to the zoo, isn’t the zoo exciting enough?
Kids love animals. And they love zoos. They especially love awesome zoos like the Bronx Zoo. They don’t need Dora as an enticement to get them in the door. They don’t need screen time to keep them entertained when there are real lions and tigers and bears roaming around. They don’t need to watch an animated monkey named Boots when they can see the real thing at the Monkey House. And if it’s a multi-dimensional, multisensory experience kids are after, the last time I checked that’s what zoos – and the world – already have to offer.