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Children’s TV is political … even Peppa Pig

In a recent post to his Telegraph blog, Piers Akerman identifies a series of faults with the ABC that stem from its purported left-wing bias. It includes a surprising jab at the British television program for pre-schoolers Peppa Pig, which has invited a substantial amount of media mockery.

Akerman claims that the animated show “pushes a weird feminist line that would be closer to the hearts of Labor’s Handbag Hit Squad than the pre-school audience it is aimed at”.

In response, Annabel Crabb satirically analyses Peppa’s “ungirlish love of puddle-jumping” and the “sinister presence of Miss Rabbit, who has about a hundred jobs, [and] is unmarried”.

Peppa displays her “weird feminism”

She also points to previous conservative attempts to read left-wing conspiracies into pre-school programming. For instance, in 1999, Reverend Jerry Falwell warned parents that the handbag carrying Teletubbie Tinky Winky was representative of gay sexuality. Not only was he purple (“the gay-pride colour”) but his antenna was also triangular (“the gay-pride symbol”).

At Mamamia, Jamila Rizvi also mines the comedic potential of Akerman’s interpretation of Peppa Pig, describing the ways the program contains “a barrage of socialist propagandist material that would make Karl Marx proud”.

Yet children’s books have long been used as overt propaganda. While Akerman’s and Falwell’s interpretations of Peppa Pig and the Teletebbies are far-fetched, they are right to recognise that children’s books, television, and films are not politically meaningless simply because they are produced for young people.

Witness Nazi reading primers, where the letters of the alphabet were taught against a backdrop of swastikas, and biographies of Hitler for children. The illustrated book Der Giftpilz (The Toadstool/Poisonous Mushroom) from 1938 instructed German children in how to recognise Jews. A class of schoolchildren who have been taught how to identify Jewish physical features recite the following verse: “From a Jew’s face / The wicked Devil speaks to us, / The Devil who, in every country, / Is known as an evil plague”.

Nevertheless, such explicitly didactic attempts to use children’s texts to instil political propaganda are comparatively rare.

What is common to all children’s literature and media are the ways in which adults aim to socialise children into the accepted beliefs of a particular time and place. Writers for children do not generally sit down with a devious plan to embed left or right-wing views in their children’s works. Yet they largely cannot help but reflect the cultural norms of the period in which they are writing.

Historical children’s books prusakolep

For instance, many colonial Australian children’s books, including illustrated alphabets for very young children, depict Indigenous Australians as lazy, or as destined to “die out”. While we might laugh at the idea of a television show for pre-schoolers as being anything more than a brief distraction, it is much easier for us to see in hindsight that these children’s books are certainly not devoid of any political meaning.

Dismissals of children’s texts as “innocent fun” also contradict how closely children’s books and television are policed by concerned adults.

Numerous children’s books have been banned from schools and libraries in the past century. The controversy over Play School representing a family comprised of two mothers in a “Through the Windows” segment in 2004 also clearly shows that we believe that the stories children read and view help to shape their sense of cultural norms.

Parents serve as gatekeepers of what children are permitted to read or view. As a result, contrary to Akerman and Falwell’s fears, children’s literature, television, and film tend to be conservative at heart. Challenging or radical stories for children struggle to be made because they lack the mass appeal and profitability of narratives that we deem acceptable for children.

Yet even the most popular, and seemingly benign, stories for children present perspectives on race, gender, sexuality, class, and disability. Cultural theorist Stuart Hall explains that “ideologies tend to disappear from view into the taken-for-granted ‘naturalized’ world of common sense”. When a Disney villain, for instance, tends to be darker than the hero (as in Aladdin) or camp (as in The Lion King), it does not stand out to us as presenting a particularly racist or homophobic perspective to children.

Likewise, when Sesame Street once included a cast of almost exclusively male puppets, or Richard Scarry books depicted only male characters in jobs, the gender imbalance was not seen as sexist until gender norms shifted dramatically. Today’s revised Richard Scarry books illustrate both male and female characters in the kitchen and at work. With a shift away from male characters as the default, a female character like Peppa Pig can now form the core of a program intended for children of both sexes.

Peppa has clearly not been deputised by Germaine Greer. However, like all characters created for young people, she does bring with her the ideas that we want to convey to children about what kinds of people are valued and what sort of people they should strive to become.

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  1. Rene Oldenburger

    Haven't got one

    Children books are just that, books for children, unless adults want to "analyse" them, what a rubbish, they're just children books.

    Having said that, what's this nonsense of having no more Xmas at some schools?

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    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Rene Oldenburger

      Within the increasingly feminist Scotland, schools have banned making Fathers Day cards.

      “Thousands of primary pupils were prevented from making Father's Day cards at school for fear of embarrassing classmates who live with single mothers and lesbians.”

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/2176315/Fathers-Day-cards-banned-in-Scottish-schools.html

      There is some evidence of this also occurring within the very feminist education system in Australia.

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    2. Rene Oldenburger

      Haven't got one

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Never heard of something like that before, but doesn't surprise me. That's just brainwashing children

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    3. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Rene Oldenburger

      Making cards is at least a practical skill for children to learn, as opposed to watching a TV set.

      The system of banning Father’s Day started first, as a part of attempts to eliminate fathers from families, but the elimination of Father’s Day eventually leads to the elimination of Mother’s day also.

      Such as this expensive New York private school that has banned both Father’s Day and Mother’s Day.

      http://www.wnd.com/2001/05/9163/

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    4. Rene Oldenburger

      Haven't got one

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Looks like progressive "adults" have completely lost the plot. Worst thing is they use children for their own ideological obsession and do it in the name of "concern for children".

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    5. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Rene Oldenburger

      That is interesting.

      Universities normally blame secondary schools for poor student performance, while the secondary schools blame the primary schools, and the primary schools blame the parents.

      But there are primary schools now attempting to eliminate the parents, within some type of feminist/socialist/Marxist ideological framework.

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    6. Rene Oldenburger

      Haven't got one

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      You wonder what they were like as kids, as kids were they interested in masculinities and femininities when they read a book or watched a children's tv program?

      But somehow today these children need to be made aware of that and be protected from such "influences" all of course for their own "wellbeing".

      Sack the lot of them and send them to Antarctica

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    7. Rene Oldenburger

      Haven't got one

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      March of the Penguins great dvd that one

      But I wonder what these "educators" teach their own kids, can't watch a children's program or read that book because it stereotypes gender and/or race.

      These "educators" who ban xmas at schools for whatever reason, do they ban xmas at home.

      What do they tell their kids about their friends and families who do celebrate it.

      They're all bonkers

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    8. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      ".....Within the increasingly feminist Scotland, schools have banned making Fathers Day cards....."

      Really Dale? You quote the Telegraph as a credible source of information? But that just shows how these ridiculous memes get spread around the lunatic right-wing echo chamber.

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    9. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Rene Oldenburger

      I have never known a teacher to oppose a holiday.

      There are significant concerns that the education system is highly anti-Australian, as nearly everything within the education system is imported, and so much of it is now americanised.

      But not one teacher I know of has opposed the holiday on Australia day.

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    10. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Yeah - I'm sure it did seem well researched. But then again......

      "....COUNCIL chiefs have denied reports that a ban has been slapped on school children making Fathers Day cards...They insist there is no such school policy across the region’s schools...The council has been accused nationally of enforcing such a scheme to stop classmates who are the children of single or lesbian mothers being embarrassed.....Family rights campaigners levied condemnation towards Dumfries and Galloway who along…

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    11. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      The article does mention names and numbers, but feel free to write to Press Council in the UK if you don’t think the article is correct.

      The following is concerning regards political correctness gone into overkill, and whether that political correctness becomes the norm in our feminist education system.

      “But the Father's Day edict follows a series of other politically correct measures introduced in primary schools, including the removal of Christian references from festive greetings cards.”

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/2176315/Fathers-Day-cards-banned-in-Scottish-schools.html

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    12. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Mike, the source you cite CONFIRMS what you deny.

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    13. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Scottish state genderists are pretty notorious. Not quite Sweden, but still appalling.

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    14. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Scottish state genderists are pretty notorious. Not quite Sweden, but still appalling.

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    15. Julie Thomas

      craftworker

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Andy I'm not picking a fight with you but these cultures are quite cohesive and I wonder if there is any evidence that state genderism is a problem there.

      I'd think that the adults involved would be able to enculturate the kids without doing any damage to the boys?

      I do not think that our culture should do this because we are much more multi-cultural.

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    16. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      "....The article does mention names and numbers, but feel free to write to Press Council in the UK if you don’t think the article is correct...."

      Yeah - write to the Press Council about the Telegraph getting something wrong. You're a funny man.

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    17. Rene Oldenburger

      Haven't got one

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      That's funny, sort of true as well :)

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    18. Julie Thomas

      craftworker

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      It is amazing when this type of newspaper gets things right. I really truly read something accurate in the Mirror newspaper once.

      It was a report about an MRI result that showed that right wing people had bigger 'fear' areas - something like that anyway. The results were 'true' and have been replicated but the mainstream position - AFAIK - is still the same; there is no way to know if right and left wing people are just born like that or the brain differences are due to cultural learning.

      So now I think about it, the Mirror was wrong because there is no consensus that supports the 'asymmetry' hypothesis that there is a 'right wing brain' even though this one experiment did show that.

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    19. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Julie Thomas

      The Tea Party in the US is usually labelled as “right wing”, and usually portrayed as dumb, stupid, intolerant white male etc.

      But surprise, surprise…members of the Tea Party were actually found to be scientifically literate.

      http://cnsnews.com/mrctv-blog/matt-vespa/yale-professor-embarrassed-discover-tea-party-members-are-scientifically

      This shows the bias, prejudice and bigotry of those who want to portray people as being dumb, stupid, intolerant white male etc.

      But you wouldn't do that...or would you?

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    20. Julie Thomas

      craftworker

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Wrong again Dale, I actually follow the Yale professor - via his blog of course - who does this work and if we are talking about the same Yale professor then he was not at all embarrassed to discover this fact.

      He is actually supporting the theory that there is no difference in the structure of brains; it is our group affiliations that determine our politics.

      The professor who wrote the "Republican Brain" is the one who thinks that there is an asymmetry and he is not at Yale. So check your facts.

      Go to the Yale professors blog and see what he actually says and then tell me what you think he is saying.

      http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/

      The fact is Dale that journalists employed by private media corporations do not tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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    21. Julie Thomas

      craftworker

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      I don't think it is a matter of being choosy Dale or easy to please; that's what we have science for so we don't have to choose what to believe on the basis of what we like and don't like.

      The scientific method is a really useful way of working out what to think. I do read some articles from the New York Times but not often - I love their book reviews though.

      I think that headline - and I haven't time to read the so I don't know for sure - is true. The rich are not in favour of paying more…

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    22. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Julie Thomas

      I am quite aware of the limitations of science and the scientific method.

      And I am quite aware of the total and complete limitations of something such as “feminist research”

      For technical reasons I won’t go into here, no amount of tax can pay the debt the Obama government has created in the US.

      While Obama likes his golf and frequent vacations, he has also created more debt than all other US presidents combined.

      It wouldn’t concern me, except what happens in the US will unfortunately affect Australia also.

      But back to the topic, and left wing influences do seem to occur in education systems at least.

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  2. M O'Brien

    Boomologist at finance

    "... convey to children about what kinds of people are valued and what sort of people they should strive to become ..." or in the case of this kind of paranoid attack, what sort of people they should NOT strive to become.

    Whats wrong with the ABC being a little biased, Piers? Don't you want balance in the media? How easy is it to be seen as biased to the left when everything else is so profit/consumption/growth oriented?
    You're against dredging the barrier reef - left wing.
    You're against…

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  3. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    There is perhaps bias in everything..........we are all subjected to inculcation of personal ideas every day, and it's up to us to sort them out - or not.

    This left wing ABC diatribe is an academic argument that has reached it's use by date.

    I don't watch Q&A and think "oh that's a bit right/left wing". I either agree or disagree with comments and opinions. Eventually everything can be divided up into three compartments - left wing, right wing and the centre.

    They are all valid, and all have pros & cons.

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    1. Julie Thomas

      craftworker

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      The idea of the centre needs to be better defined I think Stephen.

      One idea that seems rational to me is to use evidence from science to work out what is in the middle and fair for as many people as possible. Science seems to me to be the best way of finding truth that we western people have developed and quite possibly the best thing evah that humans have made.

      There seems to be a growing consensus about what is true about human nature and what environments in which we thrive although it…

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    2. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Julie Thomas

      My idea of "centre" seems to be the ideal as you have indicated -
      the best outcome for the majority, but still taking into account a minority view. if only life were that simple.

      I think the words "left" and "right" have come to mean anything and everything. If you don't like it it's far left or far right, if you like it it's perhaps the centre............the yin and yang of political rhetoric.

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    3. Julie Thomas

      craftworker

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      conservative vs progressive, hierachical vs egalitarian - so many 'tendencies' that we have to form ourselves into a dichotomous society.

      For sure Stephen, I agree that the yin yang idea is really useful for understanding competing tendencies that humans have. It seems like a way of conceptualising the differences in the things we value without having to fight about what is right and wrong.

      There are so many ideas from other cultures that we can use now. I like the idea of eclecticism; it was big as the best approach to take in counselling psychology when I did my psych degree.

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    4. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Julie Thomas

      We rightly take life seriously, but it is gone from us so quickly.
      We are fortunate to live in a society where we can afford to consider the left, right and centre as options and positions.

      We are not struggling with poverty or ravaged by war and factional violence.We don't have to worry where our next meal will come from. In these circumstances political diatribe is not even on the radar.

      We can be comfortable with our opinions and values, and debate the very often frivolous concepts here in TC.

      But most of us will be dead and gone in 50 or 60 years, and the world at large won't miss us, and life will go on for better or worse.

      Take it as it comes, I say, and don't get too carried away with the bullshit of the world.

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    5. Julie Thomas

      craftworker

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Yep we are incredibly rich in this country and so ungrateful.

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    6. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      This is the same problem with gender based personality tests though.

      When you categorise certain personality traits as masculine or feminine you end up getting funny results.

      In the same way, you can divide left and right...

      or divide left right centre

      or divide left, right, forward, backward - see that went 2 dimensional

      or even left right forward back up down - 3 dimensional

      so that you can be a left wing but hate GMO and you would be left back centre

      or left wing and love GMO and Nukes - forward left

      or left wing but think gays are icky - backwards left

      etc

      you can also divide by 9 or 11 or 243 or 0231521

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    7. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Julie Thomas

      "One idea that seems rational to me is to use evidence from science" - bloody lefties aye

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  4. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    Akerman is ridiculous - there is no overt propaganda campaign.

    But using Michelle Smith's own analysis, you can argue Peppa Pig reflects the ideology of a political class.

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    1. Julie Thomas

      craftworker

      In reply to James Jenkin

      James one theory from the conspiracy riven left is that the idea of the article was to get lots of people to click on it so that their 'ratings' would look good. It's called click bait.

      But I don't understand how you find that Michelle is saying that Peppa Pig does reflect an ideology or political class. Perhaps it is a social ideology that is being reflected in Peppa Pig and some people are mistaking it for politics?

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  5. Ben Marshall
    Ben Marshall is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Writer

    Hi Michelle.

    I write soap opera, have written some kids' TV and I'm also writing novels. For me there are two issues here.

    The first is what writers do. I won't give a Writing 101 here, but I will say it's character and context that drives story and attitudes. Writing with an agenda, or a pedogological approach is a recipe for a s**t story full of lame characters. So, for example, I'm "left wing" - whatever the hell that means these days - but I definitely don't stack my writing with…

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  6. Vanessa Young

    logged in via Facebook

    Would Dale Bloom mind providing the evidence that children 'within the very feminist education system in Australia' are being prevented from making Fathers and Mothers Day cards. I have had two children participate in the public education system in Australia and now my granddaughter is at school.This year my daughter and her partner were presented with the full compliment of celebratory cards.

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    1. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Vanessa Young

      Dale unfortunately seems very anxious to include "feminist" and "education" in the same sentence as often as possible.

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  7. Michael Shand

    Software Tester

    The whole thing is an exercise in projection and finding patterns in meaningless noise.

    They want to brainwash your children with TV shows and so they automatically assume that's what your doing as well

    With the conclusion already set, they can then go out and find these patterns that appear in completely meaningless noise

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