Things I’ve Learned From Children’s Television

Several years ago, in University, me and a good friend used to watch CBeebies, the BBC digital channel aimed at preschool children. I had discovered quite by accident that it worked as a hangover cure, and since I was crashingly hungover fairly frequently in university Cbeebies was an ideal viewing choice. Even today I don’t need Alka-Seltzer, bacon sandwiches or cannabis to come off an alcohol buzz. All I need is a hot shower, piping-hot coffee and the opportunity to sit in front of a children’s TV channel.
Maybe it’s because my brain is busy emitting dull squelching noises and blaming other parts of me for last night’s mistakes (feet, elbows, tongue), or maybe it’s the combination of bright colours and simple storylines, but I find Cbeebies weirdly compelling. For somebody who doesn’t a) like children or b) understand children or c) intend to have any, I must admit that children’s TV has a strange hold on me. I didn’t watch a lot of it as a kid, preferring instead TransWorldSport on Channel 4 (anybody?) or the Open University programming BBC2 used to pump out at 6am. I still remember me, sitting cross-legged and plump in front of the TV at 5:30 in the morning, flitting between a transfixing program about the stress fracturing of Iron at low temperatures (which might have something to do with The Titanic) and the Chicago Bulls playing the Denver Broncos (or whoever) on Channel 4. I was an odd kid.
So in a sense I’m discovering, rather than re-discovering it. And Children’s TV is awesome. For one things, the production values are much higher than regular TV. For another thing, I learn a lot more than I ever did from school. It’s useful stuff, too. Programs like Waybuloo, In The Night Garden, or Teletubbies or  teach you that stealing is bad, everybody is special, you shouldn’t judge other people for being different, and Everybody Can Get Along. This is vital stuff for me; as a mid-twenties sociopath, I feel I’ve missed out on a lot of moral fibre over the years. So I guess I’m learning more than I ever did at university, where all I learned was a) how to get into clubs for free and b) how to rewrite a Wikipedia entry to look like an original essay. Hey ho.
The other great aspect of Kid’s TV is that, as an adult, it’s open to a whole new field of interpretation. Years ago an email floated around the internet called “A Freudian Interpretation of The Cat In The Hat”. It was funny in a har-har sarcastic intellectual sort of way:
“The story opens with two youngsters, a brother and a sister, abandoned by their mother, staring mournfully through the window of their single-family dwelling. In the foreground, a large tree/phallic symbol dances wildly in the wind, taunting the children and encouraging them to succumb to the sexual yearnings they undoubtedly feel for each other. Even to the most unlearned reader, the blatant references to the incestuous relationship the two share set the tone for Seuss’ probing examination of the satisfaction of primitive needs. The Cat proceeds to charm the wary youths into engaging in what he so innocently refers to as “tricks.” At this point, the fish, an obvious Christ figure who represents the prevailing Christian morality, attempts to warn the children, and thus, in effect, warns all of humanity of the dangers associated with the unleashing of the primal urges. In response to this, the cat proceeds to balance the aquatic naysayer on the end of his umbrella, essentially saying, “Down with morality; down with God!”
It goes on-
“Later in the novel, Seuss introduces the proverbial Pandora’s box, a large red crate out of which the Id releases Thing One, or Freud’s concept of Ego, the division of the psyche that serves as the conscious mediator between the person and reality, and Thing Two, the Superego which functions to reward and punish through a system of moral attitudes, conscience, and guilt. Referring to this box, the Cat says, “Now look at this trick. Take a look!” In this, Dr. Seuss uses the children as a brilliant metaphor for the reader, and asks the reader to re-examine his own inner self.

The children, unable to control the Id, Ego, and Superego allow these creatures to run free and mess up the house, or more symbolically, control their lives. This rampage continues until the fish, or Christ symbol, warns that the mother is returning to reinstate the Oedipal triangle that existed before her abandonment of the children. At this point, Seuss introduces a many-armed cleaning device which represents the psychoanalytic couch, which proceeds to put the two youngsters’ lives back in order.”

Teletubbies afford similar pseudo-intellectual satisfaction. I have for years harboured the suspicion that the baby-faced sun, who laughs at the Teletubbies’ antics, is in fact an avatar of the Aztec sun god Huitzilopochtli, who must be appeased with constant ritualised sacrifice or tlaxcaltiliztli (“nourishment”).
The Teletubbies live in a constant state of oppression from their overlord, who issues commands via an army of intermediary metal foghorns and visits bizarre hallucinations of flooding and circuses on the Teletubbies if they stray too far from the chosen path. What else can explain the Teletubbies living in a seemingly infinite garden, yet conforming to the same behaviours every day? “Time for tubby bye-bye” indeed. Brr. Teletubbies portrays the very worst of our relationship with God: given infinite freedom, we instead supplicate before the lord out of fear of  retribution.
I have no idea how to feel about this.
On the other hand, Waybuloo offers a complete different life philosophy. The Piplings,four Mew-from-Pokemon clones, live a life of serene harmony with nature, emphasizing a Taoist “being with the world” approach. When faced with a problem ,the Piplings engage with it with a clear-minded pragmatism that, to me, harks back to Chuang-Tzu’s Book of Changes and other essentials of the Taoist library. When Lau Lau painstakingly makes cushions for the other Piplings, one goes missing, and they trace it to a bird’s nest. Rather than disturb the bird and its eggs, they instead accept with quiet calm the inevitability of one’s possessions returning to nature. Waybuloo shows us that contentment can be found through resolve, awareness of the world and right action, or Wu Wei.
In The Night Garden represents something truly bizarre – it’s about the essential necessities of life. Iggle Piggle, the main character, can only sleep when everything is taken care of. The subtext here is one of Confucian order. Watching In The Night Garden, I am reminded of a stanza from Confucius’ Analects: “If the mat was not straight, the master would not sit”. Likewise, Iggle Piggle cannot sleep until all is taken care of. If something is amiss he, like a true insomniac, cannot sleep until it is put right. He lives in a world populated by chaos and distractions, and finds it difficult to get a good night’s rest. In the same way, Confucius taught us that to maintain order in a chaotic, natural world requires ceaseless vigilance. In The Night Garden emphasizes the virtue of order and Good Action in a way not dissimilar to the practices used by Chinese Courts in the Five Kingdoms period.
That’s all for now. I’ve worn myself out. Tomorrow: some movie jokes and boobs. I promise.

3 responses to “Things I’ve Learned From Children’s Television

  1. Pingback: Things I’ve Learned From Children’s Television |·

  2. Dude, TransWorldSport was the bomb!! I learnt about so many sports from that. Also bro, I really like this article…it’s kind of the same reason I watch things like Fairly Odd Parents…and other kids cartoons. In the Night Garden totally fries my brain though, I don’t quite get that bad boy…

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