Tag Archives: science

Saturday Theme Songs: Bill Nye and The Magic School Bus

Sorry about last weekend’s lack of a theme song, but this should more than make up for it: a double feature! It’s like chocolate plus vanilla. Or in this case, Bill Nye the Science Guy plus The Magic School Bus. They’re both über-educational PBS shows that got me into science at an early age. Both shows’ main tactic was to prove to kids that, as Nye would say, “science rules!” I’m so grateful to have grown up in an era when educational initiatives were filling the airwaves. Every time I turn on PBS now, it’s nothing but Caillou and Clifford. I have nothing against those shows, but they’re indisputably missing the je ne sais awesome that defined my pre-preschool weekday mornings.

Just look at Bill Nye, for example. The show ran from 1993-98, with a total of 100 episodes, but no amount of Bill Nye could be enough. The man was a born TV personality – wise, trustworthy, and believable – as well as an honest-to-goodness scientist with a BA in engineering from Cornell. He could poke fun at himself, make science-themed song parodies, and point out all of science’s cool everyday applications, but still retain a veneer of serious authority. He coupled funny sound effects with real, repeatable scientific experiments like no one else ever has. The intro, with a theme song by Mike Greene, showed kids all the trappings of science – from telescopes to dinosaurs – before any of them had a chance to change the channel.

The Magic School Bus had a similar mission, to teach kids fun science and real science at the same time. But instead of doing it directly through flashy tutorials and montages, its technique was somewhat more… immersive. I.e., it made its cast of third-graders participate in whatever scientific phenomenon was being discussed. They turned into bats, lizards, and salmon; they traveled across the solar system; they delved quite literally into the specifics of the human digestive system. Basically, MSB was the narrative counterpart to Bill Nye’s didacticism. But the show wasn’t just about learning through magic-enabled experience; it too had an authority figure in the form of Mrs. Frizzle, or “The Frizz,” voiced by the wonderful Lily Tomlin. Eccentric and lovable, she was without a doubt the teacher every kid wanted to have.

I should also mention an awesome recurring feature of The Magic School Bus, in which “The Producer” (voiced by Malcolm Jamal Warner) would field phone calls and admit which parts of the episode were scientifically inaccurate. Not only was the show a fantastic blend of fun and education, but it also pointed out its own inconsistencies! And I could listen to that theme song, performed by the great Little Richard, until I wear out the YouTube video. Both of these shows were perfect introductions to the world of science, using quirky characters to teach kids that science does, in fact, rule. Did you know that? Well, now you know.

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Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

I fucking love Mary Roach. Seriously, I love her. You know all those scientific things that you were always curious about but then, when you actually got to that subject in science you were so fucking bored that you couldn’t even follow what was going on? Mary Roach approaches science in fun way. She is just as clueless as the rest of us when first approaching her subjects and asking her questions. And ask she does.  The summer after I graduated, my former drama/modern fiction teacher handed me a copy of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers along with a bunch of other stuff she was getting rid of in preparation for her move to England. And it sat on my shelf for near a year until one night, bored with nothing else to read, I picked it up and read the back of it. Holy fuck, why had I not read this yet? So, after that and then Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (which I read this past summer), it really was only logical that the next subject Mary would tackle was sex. Sex and death go hand in hand after all.

I was very eager to finally get my hands on this book; I love learning about sex and the human body. And with Mary Roach as my guide I knew that not only would I learn but it’d be funny as hell. The main question at hand is why? Why do our sex drives work the way they do? Why do women’s clits and vaginas and men’s penises and sperm work the way they do? What of female ejaculate and all the other things we don’t understand? What exactly is an orgasm and why do we have them? How the hell can studying animal sex help humans? And so on. We know surprisingly little about these things despite the fact that sex is a huge part of most humans’ lives.

The book dives satisfyingly into the history of the scientific study of sex (albeit not very chronologically) and shows just how fucking hard it was and still is to try and study sex in a strangely sex-phobic society. And by looking at the studies and experiments conducted by forerunners like Alfred Kinsey and Masters & Johnson you can make connections between the impact their ideas had on the public and trends (past and current) in thought about sex; especially ideas and thoughts that have led to so many women thinking that there is something altogether wrong with their body and the way it works.

But there is not just an emphasis on female genitalia and sexuality; this is a very well-rounded book. If you’ve ever wondered what exactly causes erectile dysfunction, you’ll find the answers here. Sort of. And you’ll also learn that in Middle Ages impotence was blamed on witchcraft (like everything else) and then later on masturbation (…like everything else) and that in late-sixteenth and seventeenth century France it was a downright crime to be impotent (literally).

At the core of the book is this: it is very, very difficult to study human beings sexually in a scientific setting. Science and sex are both delicate things and no normal human being is going to act the way they normally do while doing the down and dirty if they’re being watched, probed, evaluated, hooked to machines, and so on. The progress of sex research has been a long, colorful, arduous one and it’s history and current state are, as the title suggests, a curious thing indeed.

If you are interested in sex and the human body and how it works sexually and the strange history of sex scientifically, read this book. Sex toy lovers will see familiar names pop up here and there; like mentions of Cal Exotics and the Eroscillator 2 Plus. Overall, it’s a great read, informative without boring you to tears. Get it.

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