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television: The Slow Death of Cynicism

You're probably not looking for something enlightening to watch, but you might surprise yourself and actually enjoy "Almost a Woman."


Sweetness and light? It sounds like the kiss of death to me. The Associated Press reported last week that a conservative watchdog group had named "Doc" the best show on television because of its "uplifting and inspirational" story lines. "Doc," in case you clicked right past it as I did, airs on Pax-TV and stars Billy Ray Cyrus as a country doctor who moves to the Big Apple. Sorry, but I must have been watching "Dog Eat Dog" that day.

Then there was the Reuters report in the New York Times last month that focused on a study by a couple of universities and the National Institute on Media and the Family. TV violence and video games make children mean, it said. "Watching lots of violence on television and playing violent video games not only makes children more physically aggressive, it makes them meaner and more distrustful," according to the Reuters story on the study.

Postmodern Cynicism is dead? I don't think so.

All of this is by way of explaining why I don't expect a lot of viewers to rush to their TV calendars and circle Sept. 15 in red. I probably wouldn't have made it a point to watch "Almost a Woman," an episode of PBS-TV's American Collection series. But PBS sent me a tape and I had a little time on my hands on a rainy Saturday, and I watched it, albeit a bit reluctantly. It turned out to be a sweet and gentle story based on a memoir by Esmeralda Santiago. She was born into a life of hope-crushing poverty in Puerto Rico, but when she was 13, her mother packed her and her brothers and sisters off to Brooklyn, where Esmeralda wound up making a success of herself. It's a story of struggle, setbacks, aspiration and accomplishment. Hoping that more children will have a chance to watch it, PBS is moving the start of the episode up an hour, from its usual 9 p.m. airtime to 8 p.m. That way, the kids can have two hours of — you guessed it — sweetness and light before bedtime.

And even though the Postmodern Cynic in me cries out "No! No!," I was amazed at how quickly and thoroughly I got caught up in this story of a 13-year-old girl who grew up to be a respected American novelist.

So is Postmodern Cynicism dead? Perhaps not quite yet. Maybe it's just on life-support. And maybe I'll skip MTV's "Undressed" this week and check out this "Doc" thing. S

"Almost a Woman" airs Sunday, Sept. 15, at 8 p.m. on PBS-TV.

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