Thursday, June 10, 2004
It's often difficult to tell how significant an issue is from another country is (my sister, who used to live in the US, likes to remind us that those freaky American law suits you hear about are generally either lost or overturned by a higher court). But this seems to have politicians in government and opposition rushing to scold the ABC. On Monday Channel 9's Today show interviewed opposition leader Mark Latham about Peter Garrett's candidacy, Iraq, environmental policy, and Play School. Someone has since drawn attention to another sequence which featured a child visiting the father then going to see her mother and her mother's new boyfriend.
The main issue seems to be that it's raised questions for children that a lot of parents don't particularly want to answer. Oh, and having the "homosexual agenda" forced down our children's throats (as it were). But my impression is that it's gotten so much coverage because same-sex marriage and adoption are live issues for the government (as something to be prevented). Not that these children are going to be voting anytime soon.
Now to my mind (warning: postmodernism), supporting the dominant paradigm is just as political as subverting it. It's just that people notice the latter. And if you were constantly wondering what effect your every action had on the formation of impressionable young minds, I imagine you would turn into an activist pretty quickly.
I want to leave aside discussion of whether they should be encouraged to make television only for the children with one mummy and one daddy. Also whether parliament has any business interfering in the content of a state-owned TV channel. I just want to say that people who think that Play School is a natural haven of conservative social values are wrong.
New Zealand Play School, like the other local kids shows from my childhood, was made in Dunedin. Hanging out with the theatre crowd, one hears stories. For example, I'm told that to relieve the tension caused by being relentlessly cheerful and safe the presenters would often make the dolls perform unspeakable acts on each other between takes. Then someone had the idea of giving little kids tours through the studio, which meant presenters had to be on their best behaviour the whole time. I don't recall if it came to the threat of industrial action, but the tour thing got dropped pretty quickly.
Another bit of information, more relevant to the present discussion, is to do with the programme having an agenda. They had an agenda and they were proud! The example cited was that, whenever there was any heavy lifting work to be done, the girl dolls would do it, while Humpty and the Teds (Major and Minor) would sit around and watch. Which seems to me an elegant combination of 'girls can do anything' activism (which was big around then) and telling it like it is, and I was assured that it was utterly deliberate.
On the other hand, as a male, I feel I should wonder whether such things may have damaged the development of my own sense of self-worth. But I can't bring myself to get too worked up about it. If I was bullied at school, I don't think it was because my generation lacked positive inanimate role models.
In closing, the least relevant Play School story: A friend of mine told me about a radio interview with a onetime presenter (I think it was Tim Bartlett) who explained the downside of being a celebrity with the under-five set. He would often be placed in an awkward situation when a child, seeing him outside of a TV set, would point at this man their parents didn't recognise and burst into tears. That's another one for all the postmodernists.