File this one under: Don’t let your cranky, feminist mother watch your TV shows.
So, my three year old son was watching an episode (‘Super Bear’) of the Australian children’s show, Bananas in Pyjamas the other day and I walked past and caught a scene that began to irritate me. I was so bewildered by it that I ended up watching the whole episode again on iview to be sure about what I was seeing. Before I go on, let me say that generally speaking, I am sure Bananas in Pyjamas is a really great show and I have not watched enough of it to know if what I observed was a pattern or not.
The background and storyline is basically this – one of the teddy bears is a little boy and the other two teddy bears are little girls and all three are friends with the two Bananas, who are kind of like the adult figures. In this episode, the little boy teddy bear is a fan of a book called Super Bear and he buys a costume so he can play at being Super Bear. All very cute and typical of children’s television, so far.
But the little boy bear as Super Bear becomes trouble. He is so wrapped up in his imagination that he really thinks he does have super powers and doesn’t appear to notice the trouble he is causing or the danger he is to himself. The Bananas try to assist with the problem, a little, but they’re more like doting uncles who are not concerning themselves too much with the chaos because they’ll be going back to their own civilised house soon. (Bless). Instead, it ends up being the little girl bears who have to clean up things Super Bear is destroying while Super Bear remains oblivious, and at one point they even have to gracefully rescue him when he is wanting to leap off a ladder ‘to fly’. Tellingly, the little girl bears deal with these problems in a way that doesn’t involve Super Bear having to know about it because he would only cause more mess if he tried to help and because they do not want to hurt his dignity or spoil his fun. Worse still, his fun interrupts their own fun and plans and when they express some irritation about it all the Bananas encourage them to be careful not to ruin the boy bear’s illusion of himself as a superhero.
It wouldn’t have particularly disturbed me as a story if it was about a parent or uncle cleaning up after the little boy teddy bear (although I think it is good when even little people get a chance to take some responsibility for themselves), because really, this is pretty much what parenting toddlers and preschoolers looks like – they go about making ridiculous amounts of mess in the pursuit of joyful fun and you get to clean it up and if all goes well they never realise how tiring they are. But the sight of two little girls doing the cleaning up and taking care of, instead of having fun and adventures themselves? And the idea that the little boy got to experience the thrill of danger while the little girls got to worry about him? It all struck me as so, so wrong.