I watch a lot of children’s television. This is because my children watch too much children’s television (for example, see Law & Disorder). In the heady days of my first pregnancy when I had time to rub my belly with cocoa butter, read books on fetal development and contemplate (delude myself about) the kind of mother I was going to be, I told myself I would not be one of those mummies that allowed her children to be zombified by the television. I wasn’t going to be a fundamentalist about it, television in moderation would be allowed, but only educational programmes. My cousins duly sent me DVDs of Baby Einstein and David Attenborough documentaries. I invested in every flash card on the market and I was convinced that between the gene pool, the selective television programming and the pre-school home schooling, we would raise a genius.
The regulatory framework around television watching was radically redrafted within days of my return from hospital with a newly born Prima. Desperate, depressed, unable to understand, feed or pacify my child, I turned to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy is great in a crisis. Prima and I watched all 7 seasons from start to finish together. My husband blames Prima’s tightly wound, slightly hysterical personality on this early exposure. I blame my side of the gene pool.
Arguably, Buffy is an educational programme:
- Prima has been introduced to a pop culture icon and cult classic (beginning a lifetime of good taste);
- Prima has a heightened sense of stranger danger and is particularly suspicious of deathly pale people (which was a little problematic when we lived in London); and
- she knows more ways to slay a vampire and close the Hell Mouth than any other first grader.
Beyond Buffy, the children watch too much children’s television, and therefore so do I. I find myself looking for subtext of racial tension in Handy Manny’s town (where are all the hispanic gangs, hasn’t Manny seen The Wire?); and more importantly, how does he make a living when he never seems to invoice any one for his fix-it jobs? I debate in the privacy of my own mind, who is better looking, Zac Ephron or Corbin Bleu from High School Musical, and then I quietly question the legality (if not the morality) of such thoughts. I am sure the teen heart throbs of my era (Kirk Cameron, Michael J Fox) were not quite as um… athletic.
Most recently I have been trying to work out what is going on between Max and Milly, two life-sized puppets who live on a farm in outback Australia. The exact nature of their relationship is ambiguous, they might be just good friends, siblings or a couple.
The writers are clearly bored at the moment and thought today’s episode would be an exploration of gender stereotypes and relationships, the veracity and complexity of which was completely lost on the target audience of 2 year olds (including my Tercero) but not on the co-viewing mummies of Australia.
Today, Max, the hapless, disorganised but kind-hearted male puppet developed the “Max System” of organising his chores. He explained to Milly, the organised and efficient female puppet, that he was going to write down a list of his chores, prioritise them and then only do them in that order. Max set out Time Management 101 as though he had just received wisdom from a burning bush, and Milly had the forbearance not to explain that all women already know this. She just smiled affectionately, bless her.
As the need for other chores arose, Milly suggested that they complete these tasks immediately (I hear you Milly), but Max continued to stick to his system dogmatically, refusing to do other tasks until the written and prioritised tasks were completed. The problem was that on this puppet farm, Max spent so much time wandering about preparing, prioritising and pondering his list that he did not even get the important tasks done on time, let alone those other tasks he considered less important.
By the end of the day he had achieved nothing, Milly had to help Max with all of his chores as well as her own and I thought, they are definitely a married couple. Of course, this is children’s television, so instead of rolling her puppet eyes at Max and behaving in that slightly smug, self-righteous and self-martyred way some wives (certainly not me…) do when we have to manage our husband’s time and to-do list, Milly helped Max happily and constructively, encouraging and empowering him to do better next time.
Then in an uncanny turn of events, Max apologised for not doing his chores, he vowed to do better next time and thereby create more relaxation time for him and Milly to enjoy together. I was sure the writers were speaking to me through the television. That is exactly the kind of thing my husband would say and do (yes, he’s lovely isn’t he).
And then they both danced a country jig together with the puppet cow and the puppet pig.
Watching Max and Milly reminded me that (a) I could learn something from Milly and be nicer to my Max as he tries to get through his to do list; and (b) I watch way, way too much children’s television.