Bananas in Pyjamas teaching you to like ‘bad boys’ and clean up all their mess

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.

Cross-posted at blue milk.

Categories: arts & entertainment, gender & feminism, parenting

Tags: , ,

21 replies

  1. I’ve watched a bit of BiP and also was bothered by the behaviour patterns of the three bears, although I can’t remember if that episode was one – it does sound familiar, so either I have seen it, or BiP has a real sexism problem.
    I also noticed in the episodes that I saw, that of the characters that weren’t bananas or bears, the males had occupations or roles (shopkeeper, inventor) and the female characters were just sort of there.
    I was rather surprised, since it’s a Playschool spin-off, and they’re usually much better about sexism than that.

  2. I have been unhappily surprised by many of the shows on ABC Kids. There is a particularly irritating cartoon with two brothers pranking their older sister who seems to have to act as their carer despite the parents voices being heard from off screen. In just about every episode she loses and has to do things for them, as well as be their disciplinarian/carer. They get up to all sorts of mischief and she has to deal with it all. There are also the usual amount of super hero cartoons with lots of men running around doing stuff and one or two women who never seem to talk to each other. There is probably a PhD thesis in it.

  3. And Bananas is badly animated. (But that’s just my opinion as a fussy animator.)

  4. Oh dear, standards of political correctness must have slipped since I stopped writing Bananas in Pyjamas! I haven’t seen the ep in question, so I can’t comment on it directly.
    But I cranked out 150 episodes for the fruits in suits during the 1990s. Most of us writers were male, but our bosses (Executive Producer, Series Producer and Script Editor) were all strong, intelligent women who wouldn’t let us get away with any nonsense.
    Certain words were found to raise the ire of viewers and generate a stream of letters and phone calls and were to be avoided. ‘Secret’ suggests child abuse and exclusive play. ‘Magic’ suggests satanic rites with goats’ blood. Apparently.
    When the Bananas and Teddies held a midnight feast, a consultant dietician was engaged to check my script for its nutritional value.
    The boy Teddy, Morgan, was a gentle soul who loved cooking. Teddy Amy was the adventurer and Teddy Lulu loved ballet and bossing people around.
    The Bananas, although large, were not to be adults – they were ‘automonous children’.
    All of which is to say, we tried very hard to get things right, and I’m sure the present producers and writers do too. It doesn’t always work out.
    Thanks for taking it all seriously anyway. I’ve just gone back to writing for ABC Childrens (though not on Bananas) and we’re doing our best.

  5. Welcome to Hoyden about Town, Richard, and thanks for dropping by to share your behind the scenes perspective. I wonder whether the change to animating the series now (instead of the live-action costumed show you worked on in the 90s) has perhaps made for some changes in the creative process that make it more likely for such howlers to slip through?

    If Morgan is normally a gentle kitchen-loving bear while Amy has adventures, and Lulu gets bossy, then presumably Morgan is often cleaning up messes made by the girls? And this episode could be meant to be a switch of that dynamic for once? If so, then not having character dialogue which makes that clear for drop-in adults (or to remind the children that this switch has occurred as an unusual thing) would seem to be a lapse in the explication aspect of the writing.

  6. Thanks Richard, for the comment. I loved your insights! Especially, the nutritional value of the midnight snack. Made me burst out laughing.
    For the record, a woman writer was credited with Super Bear and it may have been an episode where the boy bear got to experience something very out of character for himself, and if I have missed that context, having not given much attention to the other episodes, then that would change my thoughts on the episode considerably.
    However, I think Tigtog has highlighted the thing that annoys me most about the representations in this episode – not just whether a character of either gender gets to do the messy, adventurous, dangerous stuff, but whether a character of either gender gets to do the worrying/cleaning up/sorting out behind the scenes/taking care of/emotional work, too.
    Finally, I know, as writers, you’re doing your best (and I love ABC For Kids) and that it is easy to criticize from the outside – my sister is an ABC journo and I see what she endures – and I hope you understood that my click-attracting title was a little tongue-in-cheek here.

  7. Thanks TigTog and Blue Milk. I’ve enjoyed the post and the discussion.
    I haven’t been involved in the new animated BiP series since writing one episode for it a few years ago. Nor have I even seen more than a couple of eps. It has a very experienced Australian production team, though the animation is done in Singapore.
    I agree with The Amazing Tim it’s basic animation, but you get what you can afford to pay for with kids’ TV. Pixar has bigger budgets.
    My test for gender stereotyping is to try the story with the sexes reversed. In the story as you describe it, a reckless girl Teddy playing superhero and getting into trouble, then having the mess cleaned up by a couple of more sensible guy Teddies would seem to have problems too.
    And yes, we do understand and enjoy tongue-in-cheek irony and I’m not in the slightest offended, especially since I didn’t write the ep in question.
    Keep up the good work!

  8. Thanks to the author and the ABC writers for an interesting read. I have seen BiP but not the episode in question. From the author’s description though I think my chief complaint would be that the Super-Bear in question didn’t have to clean up after himself! Thankfully my work in that area is over however. My Super-Bear is now 22 years old; and still cleans up after himself.

  9. Apologies for the slight off-topic-ness of this post, but the opportunity to thank Richard Tulloch for the work he did on Stories from our house and Stories from our street was too good to pass by. My kids “read” and read these stories over and over again when they were small, and (almost 20 years later) my eldest has used them as resources during her teaching training. True Australian classic picture books, that’s what they are. Thank you!

  10. Obviously the next step is campaigning for the ABC to get more funding so we can #destroythejoint with more quality children’s television and get them while they are young.

  11. Sadly, I’m not as amused and delighted by Richard’s contribution; “Standards of political correctness” – obviously attempts to subvert and/or prevent representations of horrible gender stereotypes as portrayed in that episode are just foolish and wrong, because that’s what “political correctness” denotes. In my experience, it’s always a denigratory phrase.
    I would guess that the new animated series (my kids saw the old in-costume one) is outsources to a private production company, in keeping with the new lean, mean and efficient ABC. Am I right?

  12. PBS has the same difficulties with Sesame Street from parents on both the left and right extremes.
    Of course, it’s a delicate dance between accurately reflecting the little girls in the audience who really do play “mother” with baby dolls and want to nurture to showing that little girls (or female Muppets) can be part of the adventure, too.

  13. Delicate balance? Looks like an argument from the middle to me, which can be summed up as “Killing all the babies vs killing no babies makes the balanced position killing half the babies.”
    Bad logic,

  14. Tom, a picture where there is stuff girls and boys do, and stuff only girls do is a problem. Including the girls in adventuring and showing the girls nurturing is not enough.
    I expect more.

  15. The boy Teddy, Morgan, was a gentle soul who loved cooking. Teddy Amy was the adventurer and Teddy Lulu loved ballet and bossing people around.

    Having suffered through a number of episodes of the current series, I can say that these personality distinctions have evaporated completely. Morgan doesn’t cook, he just wants to move his bed nearer the fridge so he doesn’t have to get up to snack, has smelly sneakers, and avoids work. Amy and Lulu are indistinguishable. (But, yes, the Bananas are much more ‘autonomous children’ than adults.)

  16. They destroyed the Teddy’s personalities? I am so sad. 😦

  17. From what I’ve read, there was a British children’s series where the writers wanted to have a woman character be the villain, but the network executives vetoed it saying “You can’t have a woman as evil! Women are the mother figures!”.

  18. I agree with The Amazing Tim

    Err…probably just a typo, but you might want to apologise to Kim.

  19. Of course, it’s a delicate dance between accurately reflecting the little girls in the audience who really do play “mother” with baby dolls and want to nurture to showing that little girls (or female Muppets) can be part of the adventure, too.

    All you need to do is show boys nurturing and girls adventuring as well as the other way around. Problem solved.
    As Yet Another Matt said,

    Tom, a picture where there is stuff girls and boys do, and stuff only girls do is a problem.

  20. I think a mistake we make here in Aust in our home-made children’s programming, is to aim too low. The plots are often so simple, the take-home-messages pretty flimsy, there just doesn’t seem to be much point for an average pre-schooler to be watching. The exchanges between Jimmy Giggle and Hoot/Hootabelle are in this camp, with the owl’s falsetto and unintelligent responses to Jimmy’s fairly lame propositions, are not making very enriching moments of TV.
    I spent a couple of years in Canada, with two pre-schoolers at that time,and felt that the programming they were able to view on CBC free-to-air was much more sophisticated in plotline, and seemed really to engage the children in what they were watching, following on to something they might not have been able to predict or see all the way through, before they watched it.
    I also love my ABC, but really wish Jimmy, Hoot and the Bananas would ‘Level Up’, and give our kids something to really watch.

  21. I think you would find that the episode is pretty typical of the new series. I love the old series, but I really try and stop my daughters from watching this new series, very annoying.

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