Between sexism and inclusion: CBBC

According to the online commissioning briefs of CBBC, the channel is “for everyone, everywhere”. Still, let’s not get carried away. The whole thing might sound diverse but apparently “children haven’t changed as much as we might think: girls are still girls and boys are still boys”. But what does that even mean?

If you’re hoping that “Our Guide to the CBBC Audience” might offer further details, you’re out of luck. That webpage is now blank, following complaints about sexist stereotyping earlier this year. Back then anyone hoping to pitch to CBBC would be informed that male viewers were “task focused” while female ones were “emotionally focused”:

Girls are more socially adept and motivated than boys. They will chat enthusiastically, try to support the people they care about and form profound friendships and relationships and develop an interest in boys from age 10. […] [Boys] enjoy achieving goals and completing physical challenges. There is a focus on doing, confrontation and physical strength, and for many their football team is a top priority. […] They often think girls of their age are annoying but like to talk about their body parts and sex.

Interesting, right? And handy, not just if you’re penning the latest white male hero plus ethnic minority male sidekick plus equal-but-not female helper cartoon series (hello, Mike the fucking Knight!). It’s almost as though CBBC commissioners were planning ahead, for a future in which today’s young girls end up passive, patient carers for today’s young boys, who will be out there having their own adventures and not giving a shit about anyone (because hey, supporting people you care about is girls’ stuff!). It’s such a shame that Mumsnet feminists caught wind of all this and forced them to cover their tracks! Continue reading


Proposal for a CBeebies show: The Chums of Normality Wood

CBeebies – they’re a bit sexist, aren’t they? By that, I don’t mean the cute  yellow blobby peeps; I rather like them. I mean the people behind them. Because the smiley blobs, they’re just a front. A front for the blind, unquestioning promotion of patriarchal and racial dominance. This has been made clear to me through years of being a shit mum who plonks her kids in front of the telly while she indulges in a bit of washing up. But hey, I don’t want to make a fuss. The only thing worse than being a mum who plonks her kids in front of the telly is being a feminist mum who then makes a massive fuss about it afterwards.

Rather than embark on another mad feminist rant, I’ve resolved to look at things from a different angle. Inspired by the CBeebies formula, I’ve decided to create my own TV series! Just call me Oliver Postgate (or rather, one of the many latter-day rubbish versions thereof):

The Chums of Normality Wood

A story of four friends finding their way through the moral maze that is life, here represented in the form of a wood, containing lots of twisty metaphortastic pathways on which to get lost.
Continue reading

The burning question: Which octonaut are YOU?

Whenever my children act out scenes from their favourite CBeebies shows, they’re keen to make sure I don’t feel excluded. It’s sweet of them. I mean, I’d really rather not hare about being Little Cook with the wooden spoon I’m meant to be cooking with rammed between my legs, but still. “Go, Small, go, whizz away!” they say. And okay, secretly I enjoy it.

At the moment Chuggington and Octonauts are the faves, and everyone has a role. With Chuggington, my sons are Wilson and Brewster, my partner is Koko and I get to be Dunbar. With Octonauts, the little ones are Kwazii and Peso, Daddy is Doctor Shellington and I’m Captain Barnacles. And yes, if I’m honest, I do feel a bit smug about all this. In both of these scenarios I’ve been allotted the role of official leader.

I don’t know how to interpret this, or what it says about how my sons understand Mummy and Daddy’s roles within the family. Is it good that I’m being seen as top dog? Does this suggest we have a non-traditional set-up? Does it mean I’m leader of the domestic sphere and hence in fact very traditional? Or do I just look like a cross between a diesel shunting engine and a polar bear?

I was thinking about this in Next today when I spotted a couple of T-shirts in the kids’ section. There were two of them, with the following captions:

  • I love Mummy, she makes me smile
  • I love Daddy, he’s my hero

Brilliant, bloody brilliant. So Daddy’s the one-off, the original, the person like no other who saves the day. And Mummy, meanwhile, is vaguely amusing, rather like a clown slipping on a banana skin. Well that’s just great. Thanks a million, Next.

Does Captain Barnacles make people smile? Does Dunbar inspire mild mirth in the trainee chuggers? I think you’ll find they don’t. These are authoritative, serious people / shunting engines / polar bears. When my children think “mummy”, that’s what they see. Someone who manages the Octopod with confidence and vision, so that all may explore, rescue and protect. Someone who keeps the trainee chuggers on the straight and narrow, always hooked up to the correct hopper cars. That’s what a mother is. Not someone who’s there for amusement, but someone who’s there to help sea creatures in trouble and ensure that Wilson and Brewster get to the quarry on time. Got that, Next? Mummies are complex creatures, and don’t you forget it.

Of course, I have now just discovered that Dunbar gets written out of Series 3 of Chuggington and replaced by someone I’ve never heard of called Skylar. What’s all that about? And when it comes to our family, who could the Skylar figure be? Am worried now. This wasn’t meant to happen. Think I’ll go back to just making people smile.

Confessions of a plonker

Years ago, soon-to-be-ex-Archbishop Rowan Williams made some snide comment about women who “plonked their children in front of the TV” (presumably so we could get on with some serious wimmin’s activities like thinking about shoes and chocolate). This comment probably annoyed me more than it should have. I mean, at least this was Rowan Williams saying something with a slight edge to it, as opposed to the usual fence-sitting bollocks he comes out with. But the fact is, I didn’t like what he was implying, and I particularly didn’t like his use of the verb “to plonk”. It implied that this was something we mothers did casually and briskly, and also that we then wandered off to bigger and better things. If only that were the case. The truth is, we don’t all live in houses the size of Lambeth Palace, and once a child is “plonked” before the telly, it’s not just the child who gets immersed in Cbeebies. It’s all of us, and believe me, it can get nasty.

In the spirit of this, I would like to present my personal Cbeebies Hate List. It’s constantly being updated (so you’re on borrowed time, Tree-Fu Tom), but this is where things currently stand.

  1. Balamory, aka the island from the original version of the Wickerman (my personal theory is that PC Plum was meant to replace Edward Woodward’s character as the new virgin-fool-whatever sacrifice person, but the islanders realised he was just too inane – way beyond your average “fool” – for it to have any impact on the gods, so he’s just stayed there, hanging around and occasionally doing the “different coloured houses” dance while Josie Jump and Archie the Inventor hatch alternative plots to save the next harvest). I have to say, even the opening credits of Balamory fill me with outrage. I mean, what’s this about rhyming “today” and “nursery” in the theme song (no, pronouncing it “nurseray” won’t cut it)? Having said that, my partner, for reasons best known to him, did manage to mishear one line of said song as “Edie McCredie’s a fucking machine”. And that still makes us giggle, although we’re not sure why.
  2. Come Outside. In which Auntie Mabel lives alone with her dog and no one else for miles around, and hence seeks spurious reasons to “come outside”. Such as the need to find out more about peas, wool, recycling and sewage. Interestingly, for the recycling episode, she flew to the recycling centre in her private jet. I mean, we’d all be more environmentally aware if we had private jets to take us to the bottle bank. To be honest, I think Auntie Mabel is just lonely and probably regrets turning down Ronnie Barker in Open All Hours. Now it’s just her and Pippin, although she’s always losing him, thereby providing him with the opportunity to get into scrapes. Altogether depressing viewing, rather like an extended charity infomercial for Help the Aged.
  3. Show me, Show me. A bit like Playschool from days of yore, only the presenters, Chris and Pui, are dead inside. You can see it in their eyes. They hate what they’re doing and what they’ve become. At least with Playschool you have outtakes of Fred Harris kicking Hamble and Humpty around, calling them “amateurs”. That man had spirit. Can you imagine Chris doing the same to Toddler Tom and Miss Mouse? No, you can’t, because for that he’d need some remaining spark. It’s all gone. Ten worms wriggling, waving goodbye…
  4. Third and Bird. In which most of the birds are fine, apart from Muffin, who is a whiney, pathetic, self-centred, utterly pointless ball of pink fluff who can die, die, die for all I care. I have NO IDEA why Samuel and Rudy put up with her. They’re bigger, they could surely take her out, given a push. Stepping outside the internal narrative, I once tuned in to BBC Breakfast and for the entertainment slot just before 9am they were interviewing the man who does the whistling for the Third and Bird characters. I’m sure it’s a very hard job, but well … I’ll just say I was surprised.
  5. Justin’s House. I first heard about Justin’s House last year, when Justin announced it to the crowds at the Wychwood Festival where he was performing for kids. We were in that crowd. See, we really believed in him. We loved Something Special, chortled away at Gigglebiz, felt that here was someone who was truly down with the kids. It wasn’t just a job to Justin. Man, he really lived it. Yet Justin’s House marks the beginning of the end. The whole feel of it is eighties, a bit like The Pink Windmill, but without anyone as cool as Grotbags. It most certainly is not “the place [I] want to play in”. Justin, I’m disappointed in you. But hey, come to me in your rakish Lord Tumble guise and all will be forgiven.
  6. Lazy Town. I am just baffled by it. Well and truly baffled. Eldest likes it. He wants to be like Sportacus when he grows up and work as an “exerciser”. I haven’t yet had the heart to tell him that chocolate pancakes do not count as “sports candy”.
  7. Mr Bloom’s Nursery. Actually, I don’t really mind this, but I resent the media expectation that I, as a mum, must fancy Mr Bloom. Look, I don’t. I really don’t. It’s just that bit right at the start when he addresses Joan the fennel with a pervy “‘ello my dear, ‘aven’t you grown” – I’ll admit that that bit gets me every time. But that’s all I’ll admit to.
  8. Waybuloo. In which children supposedly “learn more about emotions and friendships as the playful Piplings welcome us to the tranquil, happy land of Nara”. So Sturm und Drang it ain’t. Indeed, said emotions tend to be along the lines of “De Li sad. De Li not know where other Piplings are. De Li find other Piplings. De Li happy again”. A veritable rollercoaster ride. Interestingly, the BBC did experiment with getting the man who does the voiceover to Come Dine with Me to do a voiceover forWaybuloo. But alas the kids didn’t like it, so it was back to letting the Piplings talk about themselves in the third person, using rubbish grammar and displaying even more rubbish self-knowledge.
  9. Zingzillas. A show which seems to be based entirely around making use of some ropey old gorilla costumes lying around the BBC studios (I also suspect a similar drive towards reuse is linked to David Tennant taking on the role of Twig in Tree-Fu Tom. “So, David, you may have wangled your way out of being Dr Who, but now we’re sending you to Treetopolis. Forever”).
  10. Baby Jake. Jake is the tenth child in a family who live in a windmill. The parents never looked stressed and their somewhat narrow home never looks messy. This may however be down to the fact that their alphabetically-named brood each, conveniently, only have one distinguishing characteristic each. These include stuff like eating peas, writing on knees, having a psychotic delusion about being a tree etc. etc. Which, at first glance, might sound challenging, but think about it. If that’s all one particular child does – eat peas – then caring for him or her is probably a piece of piss. So don’t get all smug on me, Baby Jake’s mummy (who is a very minor character in the programme overall, which is mainly about Jake’s own adventures, but still. The whole set-up really gets to me).

Of course, it’s mean of me to single out Cbeebies when there are other channels full of offensive rubbish for kids. Channel 5 has Thomas the Tank Engine, for instance. Don’t get me started on that (yet). But it’s Cbeebies that we generally watch (once the kids are safely “plonked”).

But then, it’s not all bad. Cbeebies does have Andy the continuity announcer, who has now been given his own series, Andy’s Wild Adventures. I like Andy. My friends like Andy. Hell, even my partner likes Andy (his description: “you can tell he’d embarrass you by dancing badly at a wedding, but make up for it with really great sex afterwards”). Yes, Andy is just tops. He may even be responsible for keeping a bit of spice in the relationships of the perma-exhausted parent. That’s just the kind of thing Rowan Williams wouldn’t understand. The plonker.