From Marlin Perkins to Adam Savage

5 Jan

ome of my very earliest memories are from the days when my mom worked the night shift at the hospital, and my dad had to pick me up from daycare after work. He would bring me home and the two of us would have bachelor night – which ultimately meant Van Camp’s pork and beans (with hotdogs) for dinner on the ottoman, in the living room while watching “Mutual Of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” hosted by Marlin Perkins. This was priceless father/son time because I knew there was no way Mom would approve of us eating Van Camp’s on the ottoman if she were home. Dad and I were having our buddy time.

Marlin Perkins - everybody's cool grandpa in the 70's

I can’t say if it was the “buddy time” association with “Wild Kingdom”, or just my natural aptitude for science, but that show stuck with me. I remember Marlin Perkins very vividly – sort of a Walt Disney-esque with a genuine love of nature which, perhaps, shifted him enough away from the mainstream to qualify as mildly dorky. For whatever reason his enthusiasm resonated with me, and to this day I love watching those nature shows.

I’ve mentioned before what a high value I put on science, particularly with respect to passing on a love of it to my children. For my part, before I was a dentist I was a middle school science teacher, and I took that role as seriously as I do parenting. I believe in my heart that to spark a love (rather than fear) of science, the teacher has to be a little bit quirky, incredibly enthusiastic and quite frankly, dorky. I tried to be that person for my students, and even more so for my children. But I can’t be the only influence. My efforts have to be supported in countless other ways, by my children’s teachers and by the science “celebrities” that they are exposed to via other mediums.

Slim Goodbody - would you let your kid spend time around a dude dressed like that? I don't think so.

Looking back at my life I can remember a string of science “celebrities” that stoked and fanned the flames of my love of science. Marlin Perkins was the first. I remember him as fondly as you would remember your own grandfather, and I am incredibly grateful for those evenings he shared with me and my Dad. There was also Slim Goodbody who regularly inhabited the space between Saturday morning cartoons, and the occasional after school special. He wore a borderline inappropriate body suit which illustrated the major organs of the body, and talked about how the body worked, and what we needed to keep ourselves healthy. Between his bad 70’s whiteman afro, and the cornball songs and dances he performed, he ranked a 10.0 on the dorky richter scale, and I loved him for it.

"Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill Nye The Science Guy!"

Later there was Bill Nye The Science Guy who was originally a professional comedian, but found his stride making a science for kids TV show playing the quirky, dorky, bow tied, mad scientist, and then later advocating for all things science as a public speaker. He was dorky in the extreme, and I ate it up.

Then there was Bob Shalit, my high school chemistry teacher. He was certifiably crazy, but brilliant. You never knew what was going to blow up in his classroom, and he had

Steve "Croc Hunter" Irwin. I never knew you, but I loved you.

that glint in his eye that said “I’m not sure how big this boom is going to be. It could be pretty big. But how cool would that be?” I credit him with giving me my first taste of academic science, and for making it fun. Later in adulthood came Jeff Corwin, the more academic, nerdy animal lover, and the indomitable, completely batsh*t-crazy, totally lovable Steve “Crock Hunter” Irwin.

So there it is, my path to science nerd/dorkdom. As my kids grow I have kept an eye out for what science “celebrities” are going to play the same role in their lives, and the picture is beginning to take shape.

Chris and Martin Kratt... the animated versions.

On sleepy weekend mornings my kids crawl in our bed, and while we are all snuggled together they like to watch “Wild Kratts”, an animated show where real-life brothers Chris and Martin Kratt explore the animal-world with super powered suits that give them the characteristics and abilities of the animals they’re studying. It’s super cheesy. It’s super dorky, and my kids love it. They’ve learned more about honey badgers, tazmanian devils, beavers and fireflies from “Wild Kratts” than I could ever teach them. Chris and Martin Kratt are clearly the next link in the evolutionary chain of science/nature show hosts – and I can say with authority that their dork-credentials are of the highest caliber.

Recently though another routine has emerged in our family with echoes of me and my father eating Van Camps with Marlin Perkins. I’m lucky enough to be able to go home for lunch every day, and while my kindergartener daughter is at still at school, my pre-schooler son us usually home. My lunch time is my down time. I need to wall myself off from the world and decompress before going back out there, so I usually wind up shutting myself in my bedroom with a bowl of cold cereal, sitting up on the bed and watching whatever TiVo has waiting for me… typically the stuff that my wife doesn’t like to watch.

That means “Mythbusters”.

These people have my dream job.

If the Kratt brothers are the next link in the evolutionary chain of science show hosts, Adam, Jamie and the rest of the “Mythbusters” crew are evolution’s crowning achievement and pinnacles of perfection. These folks let their nerd-flags fly high. And the brilliance of the show is that they take that slightly crazy Bob Shalit, crazy high school science teacher eye glint and amp it up to catastrophic proportions – all while using the scientific method as the framework for a scientifically sound, totally entertaining narrative. It’s crazy. It’s genius. It’s real science. For my money it’s one of the most intelligent shows on television; and quite by accident it’s hooked my son.

I don’t quite remember how it started, but a few months ago while I was holed up in my bedroom at lunchtime eating cold cereal and watching “Mythbusters”, my son quietly came in, crawled up on the bed, snuggled down, and started to watch with me. This has gone on for some time now (Can I watch Mythbusters with you, Daddy?) enough that it has become a regular thing, something I look forward to and miss when it doesn’t happen. I don’t know if he does it just to be with me, or if he genuinely likes the show, or if it’s some combination of the two. But yesterday as I sat there with him I was struck by two thoughts:

1)      When my son has his own kids and blogs about the very first influences that sparked his interest in science he will likely talk about Martin and Chris Kratt, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman.

2)      He will also likely blog about how these afternoons, alone together in my bedroom with a bowl of cereal in front of “Mythbusters”, was priceless father/son time, knowing full well that there was no way his Mom, under any other circumstances, would approve of us eating cold cereal on the bed and watching science TV during the day.

If it were Van Camp’s and “Wild Kindgom” it could almost be the 70’s, with me and my own father.

Marlin Perkins would be proud. I know my dad is.

-Dork Dad

12 Responses to “From Marlin Perkins to Adam Savage”

  1. Nikita January 5, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    I grew up on the Kratts too, but their original show, Kratt’s Creatures, was not animated. Over thanksgiving I watched some Wild Kratts just to relive childhood. I have to say, it wasn’t as good. Maybe it’s aimed for a younger audience. If you can, try to get a hold of some old Kratt’s Creatures episode!

    • dorkdad January 5, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

      Yeah… I thought about mentioning “Zaboomafu”, the kids show they did with a puppet lemur. But as that really didn’t have anything to do with me or my kids, I left it out.

      -Dork Dad

      • Nikita January 5, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

        Ah yeah that show was kind of a fail too! Kratt’s Creatures cut out all the sprinkles and got straight to the ecology. I preferred it that way, but then again I was a little older than your kids when I started watching it.

  2. Megan Elizabeth Johnson January 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    While I didn’t have you as a science teacher your social studies class was always SO much fun and I will always remember that you were the first to get my interested in theatre which became an ongoing passion of mine throughout high school!! you rock!! and mythbusters is awesome! 🙂

  3. Julian January 5, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    Nova? Mr. Wizard?

    Nova has been running, uninterrupted, on PBS since 1974. It has been, and continues to be, a powerful vehicle for science education aimed at the masses.

    And, who can forget Mr. Wizard’s barely-restrained loathing of children? 😀

    • dorkdad January 5, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

      Oh there were a dozen other science shows I could mention. This wasn’t meant to be a definitive list… just the ones that happened to relate most to me and my relationship with my kids. If someone was to write the definitive science TV timeline, he/she would have to include Mr. Wizard and Carl Sagan, just for starters.

  4. Stacy A January 5, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    I’m so sorry your wife doesn’t like Mythbusters. I can’t imagine ANYONE not liking Mythbusters … but sadly, you and I are sort-of mirror images here. I absolutely adore the show, while my husband — who ordinarily is quite the geek (the über-intellectual kind) — doesn’t like it. He sits and pokes holes in everything they do, which drives me crazy because I LOVE everything they do. So he’s been disinvited from watching with me and my now-college-age son.
    But Mythbusters is definitely still a connecting point with me and the college boy. We record Mythbusters on Wednesdays so we can watch it together on the weekends when he comes home from college. I just think it’s the coolest thing that he doesn’t get together with his friends to watch it, but saves that time for me. So, see, just because they grow up and leave home doesn’t mean those moments have to end!
    Mythbusters RULE!!!
    Stay geeky,
    Stacy A

    • dorkdad January 5, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

      I don’t think it’s “Mythbusters” per se that my wife has a problem with. I think it’s just the dork-overload. After all, she is married to me, and the guys on that show certainly let their dork flags fly high and proud. For a girl who grew up in the epicenter of superficiality (southern California), she’s doing pretty well.

  5. Kjysten January 6, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    Myth Busters rule. When Josh was little, I visited them in Virginia shortly after the big Mentos caper. I think Josh was about 9. He wanted to do the geyser stuff so I set him up with, “You set up a lab and we’ll test it scientifically. Then you can tell me WHY it works.”

    He and his sister set up a table (outside) with sugar, artificial sweetener, and Mentos; coke, 7UP, and lemonade…and went at it.

    The conclusion, from my genius G-son. It’s cavitation! He had to explain it to me, but I got some great pictures. Go for it, SAM. LUV :>

  6. Morgan Mayo January 7, 2012 at 6:10 am #

    Hello Dorkdaddy,
    Thanks for your thoughts, My family never missed it. At the time, it didn’t occur to us that it was strange that Jim was always wrestling the rhino while Marlin Perkins stayed in the steel cage or whatever and just said, “It looks like a big one, Jim.”

    Would you rather have been Jim or Marlin? 🙂
    Kindest Regards

  7. Mr. Shalit October 13, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    nice website – no idea who you are, but glad you enjoyed my class! -Bob Shalit


  1. Virality | - April 16, 2013

    […] January last year when Adam Savage retweeted a tweet I sent him about a post I wrote talking about science programs on TV. 1,700 hits on the blog that day. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Then, earlier this year, […]

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