hot dog fingers and learning to question

when adults today are skeptical of adolescents' ability to "learn from tv," i can't help but think back to my own experiences as a gawky adolescent who learned with and from the characters, plots, dilemmas, and dialogue on tv. perhaps that's exactly what the fear is about. of course i relished the evenings spent watching hunter and murder she wrote with my grandmother, and was confounded by my immigrant parents' disdain for the precociousness of the cosby kids and the offspring of elyse and steve keaton on family ties. but i most remember the lessons i learned while watching afternoon tv programming, lying on the carpet in the front of the glowing box. i was reminded of one particular lesson this past week when i read the numerous eulogizing accounts of don herbert, the mr. wizard of mr. wizard's world.

picture this: mr. wizard wearing goggles the overtook the top half of his nearly-completely-bald head, dressed in trademark collared shirt under a v-neck sweater, and wearing thick rubber gloves. in front of him a large bucket with smoke emerging from the top.

the lesson: direct contact with liquid nitrogen can cause frostbite and potential amputation of affected body part.

the demonstration: mr. wizard holds up a hot dog and asks us, his viewers, to imagine that the hot dog is a human finger. (we do) mr. wizard gingerly picks up the naked frank with long metal tongs and drops it into the bucket of liquid nitrogen. after several seconds (maybe 10? 15? 30? the details are a bit fuzzy - it was over twenty years ago...) mr. wizard retrieves the hot dog with the tongs. he reminds us that the hot dog is meant to simulate a human finger. (we remember) with his goggles still on he taps the dog on the edge of the counter top (or with a hammer or some other tool - again, time has passed...) and the hot dog shatters in two. (not sure if something can shatter in two, but that's what i see in my mind's eye).

the impact: i have never gone near liquid nitrogen without taking the proper precautionary measures.

but beyond that, thanks to the optimistic hokeyness of this show (and other shows that i watched in secret), i can't go very long without asking why or how. that's tv worth watching.

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