Children’s shows now put environmentalism ahead of entertainment
Henry Jeffreys, writing in The Spectator
[you might also want to read this piece: Why do most children’s books have a liberal bias? also in The Spectator]
I think I might be a bad parent; whenever my wife is out, I plonk our two-year-old daughter in front of the television. The other day we watched a rainbow nation of children marching around the British countryside singing ‘Let’s make sure we recycle every day’, and I realised that something has changed in children’s programming since I was little. These young recyclers are from a show called Green Balloon Club, which is ostensibly a wildlife programme, but the song had more in common with one of those Dear Leader dirges you see in North Korea. It wasn’t education, it was propaganda.
The purpose of children’s stories has always been to educate as well as entertain. I was brought up on the Railway Stories by Revd W. Awdry, which later became the TV series Thomas the Tank Engine. These stories have a strict moral code: when an engine misbehaves he is chastised and often punished by the Fat Controller. In a story that terrified me as a child, my namesake Henry the Green Engine refused to leave a tunnel because he didn’t want the rain to mark his new paint job. To teach him a lesson, the Fat Controller had him bricked up in the tunnel. The lesson was clear — don’t be vain about your shiny new paint job.
Compare this with a programme on CBeebies (the channel of choice for my daughter) called Mike the Knight. Mike is a knight in training and each episode consists of a ho-hum quest such as stopping the local Vikings stealing pies. He’s not a very like-able figure, Mike, arrogant and stupid, just the sort of character who might benefit from a bit of bricking up in a tunnel. Through over-confidence he initially fails in his quest and becomes disheartened. Rather than tell him where he’s going wrong, his companions — a couple of camp dragons and his sister — bolster his confidence and eventually, with a bit of luck and a lot of help from his friends, the quest is completed successfully. Everyone then tells Mike that he ‘has saved the day’.