Friday, 17 May 2013

Children's TV and my son's future in crime

I watched one of those programs last night. I think it was called 100 thingiest thingies. You know the sort. A random collection of celebs count down the most popular TV theme tunes/adverts/action movies/last episodes/comedy characters for our enjoyment and the chance to reminisce. This one was about children’s TV programs.
Normally I would have just enjoyed the clips from Hong Kong Phooee or Jamie and his magic torch and gone to bed content. Since having kids I can’t help but view children’s programming with a more critical eye. To put it bluntly I’m worried that children’s TV is influencing my son into a life of crime.
Let’s start with a very unfortunate character trait I have. I tend to over analyse things. This has been quite useful over the years when applied to work problems, academic study or buying nice coffee. But it’s also impossible to switch off.
As a child I would sit on the sofa at home watching Mr Ben. I’d try to focus on the exciting adventure of the day but the same question kept appearing in my head. Why does the shop keeper allow this idiot to come to his shop every day, hide in the changing room for half an hour and hire.........absolutely nothing?
Let me just clarify that. You own a fancy dress shop. A man comes to the shop every day, puts on a ‘costume’ , spends half an hour in the changing room and then goes home. What’s the first thing that springs to mind? Pervert!
Quite aside from the basic weirdness, you have a business to run. It would only need to happen a few times before you politely asked the man in question to hire something or leave the shop.

Mr Ben wasn’t my only source of confusion. Don’t get me started on why the villains in Batman wore masks but had their names printed on their jumpers. Or why their lairs were always on a slant. Or why Aunt Harriet had never noticed the massive red phone in the study. Or why the exit/entrance of the Bat cave had a false NO ENTRY barrier in front of it even though to all intents and purposes it was the side of a mountain and therefore had no feasible requirement for a NO ENTRY barrier in front of it.

Childhood was hard work for me. I had a lot of headaches.
Now I have two kids of my own. My daughter is barely aware of television, even though it runs continuously in our house from 6 am. My son is another matter all together. He would watch TV all day if allowed.  At one point he was watching so much we had to ban the Disney channel because he started to develop an American accent. If he calls my wife Mom again she’s likely to throw him out of an upstairs window.
My son’s TV addiction means I now have to worry about every single thing he watches. Luckily the majority of children’s programming today is well thought out with a good deal of educational content. The BBC is particularly adept at this kind of stuff.

Take Balamory for instance. Now, I’ve been to a remote Scottish fishing village. The one thing that sticks in my mind is that every single person I met seemed to share the same head. Not this one though. There is every shape, size, sex, colour, religious denomination, age, sexual orientation, physical infirmity and unfortunate hair style known to man. It’s like the BBC picked up two streets from the middle of Hackney and dropped them by accident on the Isle of Arran. Politically correct of course but possibly the only opportunity for many children to see people from such diverse backgrounds.

On the whole however children’s programming follows a number of key themes.
1.       Cool adult jobs done by kids – generally secret agents.
2.       Animal Super heros.
3.        Average jobs made glamorous such as Postman Pat, Bob the Builder, Handy Manny and the various train drivers, bus drivers, crane operators, delivery staff and shop workers featured on CBeebies.
4.       Children taking too long to do very simple things with over detailed commentary. Perfect examples would be Dora the Explorer and Little Einsteins.
5.       Pirates

The first four are pretty harmless and actually make sense. Being a secret agent is clearly fantastic. Exploring is exciting in any form and who in their right mind wouldn’t want a super dog? I can also understand the allure of a range of manual jobs. I mean, kids like to hit stuff with other stuff. They like to dig things. They like to carry things. They like tractors. Not only that but manual jobs are simple to understand and have a defined outcome. They do lack in ambition and material gain but I can’t see ‘Harry the Hedge Fund Manager’ or ‘Pedro the Plastic Surgeon’ taking off. My worry however is Pirates.
From a four year old boy’s perspective Pirates are fantastic. Let’s look at the facts:

1.       Great costume
2.       Big ship
3.       Treasure
4.       Sword fights
5.       Adventures involving maps

It doesn’t get much better from a four year old boy’s perspective. In fact the allure of the Pirate carry’s on into adulthood. Just look at Pirates of the Caribbean. Admittedly the chance of a fleeting glimpse of Kiera Knightly’s bottom is rather compelling but I reckon the Piratey aspect had a great deal to do with it. So what’s the problem?

Well I have thought about this a great deal. I have been through every single children’s TV program known to man and I can’t think of one other genre that is based on a criminal enterprise. From a kids perspective a bit of ‘yohoho’ and’ hahaaar me hearties where’s me gold dubloons’ is a slice of fried gold. However I suspect the sight of a pirate would have a slightly more sobering effect if you were just off the Somali coast.

So there you have it. My son’s favourite TV characters are a band of thieves and murders with a penchant for pushing their newly bloodied victims into shark infested water. A slight departure from the Care Bears that’s for sure! I have to assume that in time my children will be tutting away as their own kids sit glued to the TV enthralled by the comedy hi Jinx and wacky adventures of Darren the drug dealer and the ASBO crew.

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