If you read my April 30th post “Archaeologists (Still) Don’t Dig Dinosaurs,” you already know that the conflation of archaeology and paleontology – and the popular misconception that people and dinosaurs coexisted – bothers me. It would bother me less if not for the constant reminders of this misconception in children’s programming.
I was watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse with my one-year-old son this morning. It’s a cute, wonderful, and generally educational show for preschoolers. Both of my kids have loved it (try getting the “hot dog” song out of your head after hundreds of viewings. It’s impossible).
In today’s episode, “Pluto’s Dinosaur Romp,” Professor Ludwig von Drake built a time machine in order to travel back to “dinosaur times.” When exactly were dinosaur times? “A long time ago,” explained the cartoon duck professor. Vague, but not inaccurate. Unfortunately, later in the show, “Caveman Pete” arrived from dinosaur times to retrieve his dinosaur pet. I hate it when prehistoric humans – or even anthropomorphic cats, like Pete – are portrayed alongside dinosaurs!
Picking apart cartoons for factual accuracy is all too easy. Maybe it’s not a big deal. After all, in an animated fantasy world populated by talking animals, what’s one more inaccuracy? Are Caveman Pete and dino pet any more worrisome than, say, “A Message from Mars,” an episode where Mickey and friends encounter little green-tinted versions of themselves on the red planet? If Mickey Mouse Clubhouse ends up being a primary source of scientific information for the next generation, then we’re in bigger trouble than I thought!
The storyline of “Pluto’s Dinosaur Romp” is one example of a minor pet peeve. In contrast, the recent Gallup poll, showing that 46% of Americans believe that humans were created sometime within the last 10,000 years, is a major concern. We Homo sapiens are much older than 10,000 years, but not so old that we extend back to “dinosaur times” over 65 million years ago.
I sometimes worry that all the little things (TV shows, toys, movies, etc.) depicting humans and dinosaurs together contribute in small ways to our embarrassing national misunderstanding of prehistoric time. They help take a knowable, and increasingly well-understood, past and turn it into a compressed, hazy “long time ago.” The history of life on Earth is pretty easy to comprehend if we just attach some numbers to guide us as signposts back into the past. A simple clarifying statement from Professor von Drake, like “dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, before people,” would help.
What do you think? Are Caveman Pete and his dinosaur pet a minor annoyance, indicative of a public education crisis, or something in between? Please share your thoughts below.