There was a time when you could tune into The Learning Channel (TLC) and fill your head with knowledge about a range of subjects, like health, history and even archaeology. Nowadays, you can tune in to find sexualized children and self-proclaimed fashion gurus. So what happened?

Twenty years ago, TLC was bought by Discovery Communications and there began a gradual change in their programming. They began to seriously compete for mass consumption, making their shows more attractive to the general population instead of the intellectual niche it had targeted before. TLC progressed from airing shows like Great Battles of the Civil War and Captain’s Log with Captain Mark Gray to I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.

Let’s take a look at what The Learning Channel is teaching us today, in 2012.

 

Toddlers in Tiaras

Lesson Learned: If my child wants to feel beautiful, I shouldn’t tell her she already is. I should dress her up in makeup, false eyelashes, spray tans and fake hair and then parade her around on stage and in front of cameras.

A contestant on Toddlers and Tiaras – yes, that is a child striking that pose.

Toddlers and Tiaras showcases the world of child beauty pageants. I know what you’re thinking, “aren’t all children beautiful?” Not according to the stage parents that push their children into competing. According to them, their child is the most beautiful, and they will stop at nothing to prove that to the world.

Most of the children’s stories are depressing, such as contestant Daisey Mae who said, “I like doing pageants because I get a lot of attention and I don’t get a lot of attention at home.” Or consider Vivi-Anne, who is “just here because [her] mom said she would buy [her] tacos.”

In the process of competing in these pageants, the young contests are dressed in glamorous, often very sexually suggestive outfits, and covered in makeup. While it is undeniable that each of them wants to feel pretty, the viewer is left to wonder why they need all the extras to feel that way.

 

What Not to Wear

Lesson Learned: If I don’t like the way people dress, it is my duty to publicly humiliate them and then bribe them into being completely made over to suit my tastes.

What Not to Wearfeatures Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, fashion stylists who adamantly believe in their ability to dress people for a living. Viewers can secretly nominate their poorly-dressed friends for a very public mocking and makeover.

Stylists Stacy and Clinton will throw out your wardrobe and replace it with theirs.

Contestants can refuse the opportunity, but the fact that the makeover comes with a $5000 dollar bribe makes it hard to say no. Although there’s a catch, the $5000 is to be spent at stores that Stacy and Clinton pick, on a small amount of quality clothes.

The show operates on the idea that anyone, even on-the-go mothers can afford to wear expensive, flattering clothing. One could argue that this idea is not based in reality. Most mothers are concerned with stretching a dollar and not ruining every outfit they buy with the inevitable spills and stains that parenthood brings. Very few people will ever get the chance to buy their entire wardrobe at the What Not to Wear-approved stores.

 

Tattoo School

Lesson Learned: I can effectively learn a difficult trade, like tattooing people and permanently decorating their body, with a two-week intensive course.

In TLC’s new show Tattoo School, novice artists sign up for a two-week intensive course where they learn how to professionally tattoo someone.

Tattoo School’s expert, Bill Pogue.

The Tattoo Industry, which has long-been targeted by TLC with shows like LA Ink and Miami Ink, is largely outraged at the implication that their job could be learned in just two weeks. Angry tattoo artists have flooded TLC’s discussion boards with comments like, “I am disgusted that TLC continues to try to ‘tap into’ the tattoo industry – and now by insulting our industry with a tattoo school – you want to know why it hasn’t been done before – because there isn’t a tattoo school! You idiots… you just lost a viewer.”

While TLC may not be teaching us anything with this show, let’s hope that those students at least learn something before they go out and start inking people.

 

It doesn’t end there. All of these shows come with a bonus lesson: Those people are crazy.

Few people tune into the Learning Channel to learn, but rather to mock the ridiculous behaviour it showcases. Their documentaries are long-gone, having turned into train wrecks that you just can’t look away from. It seems that today, we are learning less about subjects and more about our supposed superiority in being normal. What does this say about the viewership it caters to?

Perhaps TLC: The Learning Channel should be renamed TCC: The Concerning Channel.

I am Hamilton-born and raised, and proud of it. I have had a passion for writing since I was a small child, when my father and I would rewrite Stephen King novels as bedtime stories. I spent my awkward adolescence writing fan fiction about Conan O'Brien; I have since graduated on to writing stand up comedy, still about Conan O'Brien. In the fall, I will be going to McMaster University for Communication Studies, where I plan on applying my hopefully entertaining voice to every imaginable medium.

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