The Learning Channel | Shaindel Beers

I've always believed the name of a thing should fit its nature. When I was three and my sister was born, I was thrilled when my parents bestowed upon her the moniker Adria, which means "a girl with black hair and blue eyes." When I was four and her hair had faded to light yellow and her eyes had changed to green, I was ready to take her back to the hospital to exchange her for a baby who fit the name. It seemed the logical move.

Now that I'm older and I've accepted having a sister who no longer fits her name, I've turned my dismay to a particular channel whose name should be changed -- or whose programming should be changed to fit the name -- The (so-called) Learning Channel, or TLC. Perhaps people are learning something from TLC, but are they learning anything worthwhile? Or, even more disturbing, are they learning gender stereotypes, purposely taught, that should have gone out the door with those 1950s home economics textbooks we've all heard about? The ones that told women:

Take 15 minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work-wary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.       ("The Good Wife's Guide")

If you don't believe me, look at all of those "Story" programs on TLC's daytime programming, when the viewership is primarily female. First, we have "A Makeover Story." Yes, it is true that occassionally men are made over on "A Makeover Story," and in general there may be nothing wrong with a makeover show now and then. But does it belong on a "learning" channel? And how does it fit into the channel's agenda?

Next we have "A Dating Story." True, this one beats a lot of the voyeuristic dating shows on other channels. In TLC's version, singles are paired up by mutual friends who have always thought they would be "right" for each other. We don't visit any hot tubs, strip clubs or S&M lounges. This one may be relatively harmless. But does it belong on The Learning Channel?

After "A Dating Story" it only seems logical that we should have "A Wedding Story" -- in which we "learn" how the couple met, how the bride picked out her wedding dress, her flower arrangements, her cake. We even get a glimpse of the "bachelor" and "bachelorette" parties -- although these, like the dates, get "cleaned up" for The Learning Channel. The men golf or do equally harmless "guy stuff," while the women have a "spa day" with massages and manicures. I'm not suggesting that TLC slide down the slippery slope to strippers and whipped cream, but TLC's wedding world doesn't seem any more real than the one on Fox. The parents always beam over the new addition to their family, the religious leader officiating the ceremony always offers a soundbite that praises the couple as an ideal for young people today.

In true 1950s style, after "A Wedding Story" comes "A Baby Story." In this series, we meet the young couple, hear about the adventure of becoming pregnant, discover why they decided they needed to have a baby. Then we follow them through the process from decorating the nursery to breathing through pain in the delivery room. It all culminates with the smiling family gathered around the bundle of joy. Good or bad, this is the series in the quadrology that pulls no punches -- we see the mother screaming in labor, begging for ice chips, crushing the expectant father's hand. Perhaps we get the most realism in this series. It undoubtedly seems the least scrubbed, since not every scene is a Kodak moment.

What, then, is The Learning Channel's agenda? If I have to point it out to you, you need your remote control taken away. Here's their message to women: First, your job is to look good; hence, "A Makeover Story." Once that task is achieved, the next phase of said plan is to "find a man" -- "A Dating Story." If that goes well, we have "A Wedding Story," and then, final phase, "A Baby Story." Welcome to The Babymaking Channel.

(And if you watch carefully you'll notice a vicious cycle: "A Makeover Story" also features couples "sprucing up" for twentieth anniversary parties -- a must to keep that man you've trapped when, in the wake of all that babymaking, you no longer look like the vixen created by your first makeover.)

Of course, these aren't the only shows that should be booted off of a channel that has the word learning in its name. And they aren't the only ones that reinforce gender stereotypes. Take, for instance, "Junkyard Mega-Wars" (since the original "Junkyard Wars" did not sound testosterone-infused enough) in which (mostly) men get to live out their fantasy of not only building big stuff with power tools, but building big stuff made out of junk with power tools, and then pitting it against other big stuff made by another team of, again, (mostly) men. I could discuss the female hosts of the show, both past and present, who are intelligent women, but who have been packaged and marketed as another stereotypical male fantasy -- one that doesn't include power tools (for the most part). But I won't. I refuse to pick on anyone named Bobbie Sue; and I hope Karen Bryant left the show to move on to better and brighter things.

I used to think The Learning Channel's programming was fairly harmless. After all, we live in a world in which Playboy and Maxim vye for the title of top-selling men's magazine while Better Homes and Gardens and Cosmopolitan compete for the top spot in women's periodicals. Compared to that reflection on the sexes, TLC seems not so bad. But when we consider that this is a channel to which we're steered for "learning," maybe it's a scarier conspiracy than we've considered.

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