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Watch Alvin and the Chipmunks tear down the Berlin Wall with the power of rock

Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

The 25th anniversary of the beginning of the fall of the Berlin Wall was Sunday. But did you know Alvin and the Chipmunks (by then known as just The Chipmunks) actually predicted the fall of the Wall one year prior?

You can watch the video where the Chipmunks destroy the Wall, through the power of rockin' out, above. In so doing, they help a little girl reunite with the rest of her family. It turned out to just be a dream; what the producers of The Chipmunks could not have imagined was that the dream would become reality under a year later. (The episodeaired Dec. 17, 1988.)

The Chipmunks may have destroyed the Berlin Wall out of their hatred of family separation and/or Communism, but the writers had their own motivations. At the time, American kids' TV — especially Saturday morning shows like The Chipmunks — was embroiled in controversy over whether kids' lives were actually enriched by watching these programs, which often amounted to lengthy toy commercials.

Critics of kids' programming railed against what they saw as mindless pap that was rotting kids' brains. In retaliation, those who made shows for kids would occasionally toss out an episode like this one, where characters would confront some important issue or another. (Also in this vein was the infamous 1990 special Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue, wherein a bunch of Saturday morning cartoon characters tried to get kids to say no to drugs.) It would have felt jarring for Alvin to suddenly start explaining mathematical concepts to kids, but he could travel to Germany and learn about the Wall without breaking character too much.

Episodes like this ultimately proved ineffective at stemming the controversy. In 1990, the Federal Communications Commission instituted what are known as the E/I rules, with E/I standing for "educational and informational." They require local TV stations to broadcast three hours of programming that kids will find educational per week, and they've been instituted with a somewhat heavy hand since 1996. (Prior to that, stations tried to claim just about any kids' programming in their libraries — up to and including G.I. Joe — was E/I programming.)

The irony is that even as the FCC began regulating this, cable TV was coming to steal the broadcast networks' thunder in the realm of children's programming. Now, the only kids programs most local stations show are those mandated under E/I rules, while most kids are watching shows on Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and the Disney Channel — all networks that aren't regulated by the FCC and, thus, not bound by E/I restrictions.

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