Friday, 26 June 2009

Won't somebody PLEASE think of the stay-at-home mums?

I'm used to seeing confusing arguments in the Mail, but even by their standards this seems a bit...weird. In Why does CBeebies hate stay-at-home mums?, Laura Kemp tackles the burning political question of the day. Already it's off to a bad start with the headline, since no-one actually hates stay-at-home mums, but we'll plough on anyway. It starts with a moving portrayal of an innocent family betrayed:

Next on CBeebies, a party political broadcast by the Labour Party. OK, I'm not being literal, but I never thought good old Auntie would betray me like this; that it would become the Government's ventriloquist's dummy by piping out Labour's send-mums-back-to-work mantra on its preschool channel.

When I considered what to allow my 21-month-old toddler to watch on television, I turned to the trusted corporation that gave me Blue Peter and Take Hart as I grew up.

Seems reasonable; you just want to be able to stick your child in front of a TV and let him get neutral, inoffensive entertainment. But what did the red bastards at the BBC give us? Balamory, Timmy Time and Me Too!, it seems. Not exactly the Triumph Of The Will, you might think, but then your brain has probably been turned to a soft, porridgey mush by years of BBC propaganda too. Allow Kemp to enlighten you about these three shows' heinous crimes:

All three shows feature ecstatically happy characters at nursery - there's lovely nursery worker Miss Hoolie on the Scottish island of Balamory, Timmy the lamb and his daycare pals in Timmy Time, and trustworthy Granny Murray the cuddly childminder in Me Too!.

The message is clear: nursery is normal, fun and nothing to be scared of. But as a stay-at-home mum, I feel undermined, undervalued and angry.
I'm not entirely sure why Kemp finds this weird. They're three very different shows; the nursery conceit of Balamory is fairly incidental and the kids themselves really just represent the audience. Me Too! is more explicitly about childcare, in that it's about six kids who are in childcare and follows them and their parents; the parents are two couples, a single mum and a single dad. Not much actually wrong with that. Timmy Time is a fucking ludicrous inclusion in this list; it's about a sheep on a farm and his various different animal friends, who are watched over by 'Harriet the Mother Stork and Osbourne the Father Owl'. You'd have to be hyper-sensitive to view it as subliminal advertising for sticking your kids in a nursery; the 'parent' figures aren't their real parents because when you make an animated series about animals it's generally easier to have one of every animal, as this show does, rather than trebling the cast with similar-looking parents. The adults in that show seem only to exist to provide authority figures, and if you really MUST try and project them into the real world, they represent normal parents just as much as they do childminders. They are authority figures and role models in the shows, and their exact relationship to the kids isn't as important as the universal themes that get covered.

Kemp goes on and on to whinge that various minorities are represented but she hasn't seen a character exactly like her and is thus horribly disenfranchised. Allow me to propose a reason for this; these shows are aimed at kids and are mostly about the interaction between kids. To do this you need to get these kids in one place, be it a nursery or a school or a, er, farm. A show about a stay-at-home mum would be fucking boring, because they're generally looking after kids too young to leave the house and interact with kids on their own, making it hard to find excuses for getting young characters together. There are shows which feature stay-at-home mums on normal television, but they're usually in shows that are about adults or families. If you want to make shows all kids can relate to, it's easier to make a show in a school and have shitloads of different kids in it than it is to make a show about a family. Kemp is furious though:

Gone are the days when Mum gets a mention - the (male) chefs in cookery show Big Cook, Little Cook tell tots following the recipe to 'ask your grown-up helper' to turn on the oven.

Just imagine what Listen With Mother would be called today. Listen With Childminder perhaps?
Even when I was growing up in the 80s they would say 'ask an adult'. It's fine. What would be the point in saying anything else? "Ask your mum, kids! Unless she's dead of course!".

The odd thing is, Kemp's article keeps sneering at inclusiveness like this, while demanding she be included. Imagine for a second that all the shows on CBeebies were about stay-at-home mums and nuclear families. Now picture the derision that someone like Richard Littlejohn would show if you wailed and campaigned for a show featuring gay parents or black parents so you could be included. Kemp seems to be having her cake and eating it here. I like the part where she contrasts 'minorities' (everyone else) with 'the traditional family' (hers), and then goes on to cite statistics saying that two-thirds of kids do actually go to nursery, which in fact puts her in the minority.

The most interesting bit is this, where Kemp bravely takes on the propaganda apparently inherent in the descriptions of these shows from the BBC:

Meanwhile, Timmy Time 'is an engaging exploration of nursery life which every pre-school aged boy and girl can relate to'. Errrrm, not every child - what about my son?

'In this bright, colourful, safe environment,' it continues, 'Timmy and his animal chums learn how to make friends, create new things, paint, draw and generally learn those very important life lessons from their nursery teachers.'

Of course, silly me: only a nursery can turn a toddler with the terrible twos into a rounded human being.

And as for daycare being safe, that's taken a nasty knock in many people's minds after a female worker at Little Ted's nursery in Plymouth was charged with child sex abuse.
There's nothing in that description that suggests kids can ONLY learn these lessons from their nursery teachers, it's just that in this particular show that's who they're learning from. The last sentence about child abuse though is absolutely fucking vile.

There is an obvious solution which I'm sure would please Kemp in her mad desire to have shows about plasticine farm animals unerringly reflect reality, and so I'm about to pitch to CBeebies that their next episode should see Timmy and the gang brutally sexually assaulted by Mother Stork and Father Owl in an extended rape scene, only for the police to find graphic images of the abuse on their computers. I bet somehow Kemp would find something to complain about in that, too. It's political correctness gone barking mad!

Kemp seems to think this is a post-97 New labour phenoment, but I wonder what Kemp would make of the shows I watched as a kid. In The Raccoons, the mother Raccoon worked at the paper along with her husband, a shocking endorsement of both nepotism and working mums. SuperTed didn't even have real parents; he was made in a factory in what seems to be a be a blatant analogy suggestive of sinister genetic engineering. Can anyone say for sure that the creators of SuperTed didn't envision a dystopic future in which there are no such thing as families and all creatures are created in labs? Sooty was a tedious bit of PC nonsense which tried to suggest that it was normal for mute bears to apparently live with a man and a woollen dog. And can the human mind imagine a more sickening piece of multicultural propaganda than the baffling domestic set-up of Rainbow? You've got a bear, a hippo and a man living together with some weird freakshow thing with a rugby-ball-shaped head and a zip for a mouth, and the naive PC idiots who made it expect us to believe this is how things work in the real world? Bears and hippos just hanging out, yeah? How on earth is my imaginary child supposed to relate to that?

Incidentally, winner of 'best piss-taking response' is Harold Showmore of Boston, who writes "Big Cook, Little Cook? Why does the BBC continue to discriminate against average-sized cooks?!". Which would have made a snappier response than this ludicrous fisking I've just undertaken, but it's a bit late now.


  1. Usually, when a Daily Mail headline is a question - eg. "Why does CBeebies hate stay-at-home mums?" - it's pretty safe to reply "because they don't", or similar.

    Anyway, apart from anything else, Laura Kemp's article is an extremely lazy piece of journalism; she doesn't even get around to mentioning the Tweenies.

  2. Laura Kemp needs to get out more - perhaps to a mother and toddler morning or maybe even going out to work in a socialised environment?

    What a load of paranoid rubbish. Three words for Kemp's next attempt - The Magic Roundabout.