TLC, What Are We Supposed To Be Learning?

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Step right up, folks, step right up! Don't be shy. Step behind the curtain and see the world's largest family! Marvel at the tiniest married couple in all the Earth. Be amazed at the messages from beyond the dead, just for you! Recoil in terror from medical mishaps and cruel tricks of biology!

By now you may have conjured to mind an image of the carnival barker and the traveling freak show. And you wouldn't be too far wrong. But the circus and sawdust isn't set up in some field outside of town. You don't have to go any farther than your television, and you can find it all on one channel. Ironically, it's a network that dubs itself "The Learning Channel."

The Learning Channel was one of a family of networks that gave the expanding landscape of television an aura of respectability. You didn't have to watch mind-numbing sitcoms or senseless music videos. You could flip to the channel and find yourself learning something! The promise of the medium was about to be fulfilled! Praise be to Philo Farnsworth!

Alas, electronic entropy took hold, and the promise fell toward pandering to the lowest common denominator once more, making Newton Minow's prophecy of television as a vast wasteland all the more unsettling.

Anyone tuning in to The Learning Channel these days is unlikely to come away with having actually learned something, as the channel is jammed up with programming like Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, itself a redneck spinoff of the child exploitation series, Toddlers & Tiaras. James Randi has to be shaking his head in disgust every time the Long Island Medium delivers yet another ambiguous message from the Great Beyond, gaining respite only when the focus shifts toward spotlighting fringe religious groups and those trying to break away from them, a la the highly suspect Breaking Amish. And just to put the Barnum cherry on the Bailey sundae, the series has enjoyed great success with shows like The Little Couple, Little Chocolatiers, and Little People, Big World. That not being quite enough of a draw, TLC has now added a reality series about conjoined twins Abby & Brittany, two girls conjoined to the level of having the appearance of being a two-headed girl. Tune in at the right time, and you'll enjoy the schadenfreude of Giant Face Tumors.

Remember when the diversion from learning was extremely large families (18 Kids and Counting) and brides having nervous breakdowns (Say Yes to the Dress)?

At least sister network The History Channel remains relevant to its nomenclature. And it's educational, too.

It teaches us that when the economy finally collapses, we can make money by picking over other people's junk and cashing it in at pawn shops.