Take A Look, It's In A Book, And On The Street, And In A Park...

Reading Rainbow

Butterfly in the sky, I can fly twice as high ...

You can't resist, can you? You just sang "take a look, it's in a book" in your head! I know because I too find it physically impossible not to hum the Reading Rainbow theme whenever I hear it ... and I hear it with surprising frequency. The theme to LeVar Burton's iconic PBS children's show is, for children of the '80s (or anyone who raised them), like a war cry; it breaks the ice at parties, brings strangers together. If you ever walk by a group of tipsy youths belting the theme song after midnight, you can bet that they will all believe themselves best friends afterwards. Reading Rainbow is our Cheers.

Though the kids today (insert wistful tone here) are still producing exciting new projects, what we seem to be true experts at is clinging to the past; appropriating and re-selling the ephemera of our youth as if it was currency. This trend came to an apex in the mid 2000s, when ironic T-shirts bearing '80s references (the face of Mr. T, a logo for Crystal Pepsi) were the height of kitsch fashion. Like a whole generation imploding on itself, or perhaps just refusing to age out of our comfortable childhoods into a harsher economic and professional time, we herald aging stars like LeVar Burton and Dustin Diamond (nee Screech) as high cultural princes, despite neither one having had steady work in years.

This Peter Pan worship can best be seen through Twitter, where Burton has amassed over 1.5 million followers, drawn from the same rabid fan base that would follow him into books every day after school. Burton on Twitter is a perfect marriage; the service is a de facto headquarters for bored twenty-somethings looking to muse about the past. Burton smartly chose the 140 character format to plot his comeback, and it has come in fits and spurts over the past year. In March of 2010, he announced via Twitter that he was working on "Reading Rainbow 2.0," an announcement so re-tweeted that it nearly broke the Internet.

Though that plan has yet to come to fruition, last week, Burton took another step toward resurgence by announcing a "Reading Rainbow Flash Mob" a mass-sing of the theme song to take place at some nebulous date in the future. Burton has been reaching out to stars for help and asking for volunteers to organize what he hopes will be the biggest crowd to ever chant "I can go anywhere!" in unison. Given the rabid nostalgic fervor surrounding the show and Burton's gung-ho attitude towards the event, I have no doubt it will be a huge success. We all sing the theme song about three times a year as it is, what's one more for old times' sake?

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So why is Reading Rainbow such an enduring presence in our lives? I certainly don't feel as attached to Ghost Writer or 3-2-1 Contact, and after polling several friends, I find that they feel the same way. I think it all boils down to the show's subject matter. There is something different about books that fascinates children, especially when those books are brought to life via live reading and animation. Even if a child takes in a ton of visual stimuli like television or film, books still hold a unique place in the diet of the early imagination. Unlike filmed media, books are incomplete packages, requiring the reader to imagine and project their own fantasies onto the narrative. Children's minds love to be stretched out, and books allow for that.

Where a brain and a book meet in mid-air is a magic space, and Reading Rainbow understood this. Burton never told you what to think about a book, telling children, "but you don't have to take my word for it" after each mini-review. The show encouraged independent thought and individual interpretations. Some may argue that this contributed to the current entitlement epidemic among my peers, and in ways, they may be right.

How about you? Do you feel as nostalgic about the show as I do? Will you be joining the flash mob? And tell us about the best time you sang the theme song.

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