#2. What's Wrong With This Picture?
Lesson: Your Sense of Wrong Is Probably Wrong
Much like Where's Waldo? Highlights offers a scene of absurdity in What's Wrong? and then asks the reader to identify all the out-of-place objects, which, it turns out, is pretty much everything. But identifying the problems in the game is a slippery slope, since it's all pandemonium to begin with. Here's an example from the website:
Sure, that picture is littered with crazy: Rainstorms only happen under umbrellas, penguins go to birthday parties alone and people still own boomboxes. But there are also just as many elements that are unintentionally crazy and no one seems to care. Why does everyone only have three fingers? Who would put uncovered food next to a live chicken? Why, with all these kids in capes, is no one shoving them to the ground?!
Yes, thank you.
As an 8-year-old, I was bewildered that these weren't acceptable answers, and then privately embarrassed that I didn't actually know what qualified as strange. Given that there's zero context for normalcy in the game, the tacit lesson of What's Wrong? seems to be that "wrong" doesn't mean the same thing across the board. Wrong as a concept is nebulous, with varying degrees, and according to Highlights, some of them do and don't count. That's a dangerous lesson to offer kids, particularly kids who have access to uncovered food and a chicken and are feeling reckless about maintaining a healthy distance between the two.
#1. Word Searches/Highlights Jokes
Lesson: It's Always More Fun to Laugh at Someone's Mistakes Than With Their Jokes
Granted, word searches aren't specific to Highlights magazine, but they're important to this list because each one is like a tiny dose of schizophrenia for children; in addition to all the intentional words buried in the matrix of letters, there's also several words that just happen together by accident, like tiny messages hidden in the errors of some randomizing computer. And if a child is very lucky, it's a dirty message. As a boy, the first thing I did with any word search was ignore all the words in the key, and instead I hunted for accidental swear words. Here is a list of my crowning achievements:
The last two don't technically qualify as words, but they were such incredible finds that I still remember them to this day. Also, because my sense of humor hasn't changed a bit. As a kid, I relished in the thought that somehow these mistakes slipped past everyone in charge of Highlights but not me. The word searches made me laugh harder in each issue of Highlights than any other section of the magazine, which is a shame, because Highlights had an entire Jokes section.
And therein lies the sobering lesson.
The jokes in the magazine have always been abysmal, even for their target demographic. The poor authors of Highlights are forced to be as broad and as clean as possible, pumping out crippled, milquetoast punch lines that are more likely to make children furious than to make them laugh. Here's an example from the most recent Highlights magazine:
"Who, who, who, who ..."
Meanwhile, the word search a few pages away is bringing down the house. The inadvertent lesson there is that sometimes it can be a lot funnier to laugh at someone than with them. It's understandably a tough realization, given that everyone will end up on the wrong end of that scenario. Still, as a child, it all seemed kind of worth it, with accidental nuggets like "BUTASS" cropping up every few issues.
For more from Soren, check out 5 Mediocre Movies Made Awesome by Real Events and 4 Flawed Life Lessons Movies Accidentally Taught Us.