A couple years ago, eeeeveeeerything was about Elmo. Elmo toys, Elmo movies, Elmo videos, roughly four Elmo plushies, Elmo dishes… Our daughter has since diversified, but the big game winners here, in terms of merchandise, are the Disney princesses* and Dora the Explorer
Dora… has her weaknesses. She’s bossy. She’s always telling the kids what to do (“Say, ‘Delicioso‘!”) and she treats her animal friends a bit patronizing. And then there’s the coying, pat-on-the-backs for every little effort. I mean, seriously? Some kids repeat “Vamonos” and Dora and Boots treat them like some kind of liberators! And my kid hardly even repeats the phrase. So not only is it hyped and unmerited praise, it’s totally false and unearned.
One recent episode had Dora and her monkeyfriend Boots warn their woodland friends about an impending storm cloud – which was personified as a bratty eight-year old bully. Each time the cloud would surface, he’d rain a little bit and then Dora would lead all the others into singing the “Rain, rain, go away song.” And then little Rain Cloud would go, “Ohh! I hate that song!” (He’s not alone) and go scampering off, as rainclouds are wont to do when they hear children taunting them. Now, it made sense to do this until all their friends could find appropriate (and even build) appropriate shelter – but then, at the end, when everybody is safe and dry inside, she has the whole county teasing the misunderstood cumulus until it vows to never return.
Ain’t that just messed up? She totally destroyed the ecosystem that she lives in just to show him who’s the bigger bully!
Complaints about kids shows are superfluous, of course. The best shows are no replacement for decent parents. But sometimes, they can be a little extra. I’ve heard, for instance, that it takes nine positive encouragements to make up for one negative harsh statement. If that’s the case, a lot of children are running a large deficit in appreciation, and characters like Dora help to fill in the gaps for some of them. It’d be nice if we could expect a television show to give realistic expectations to the children, but… um… it can’t. That job belongs to the parents and the community (which implies, yes, we’re *all* involved).
Furthermore, in a time when White American children throughout the country witness their parents’ apprehension of a new terror (Fear of a Brown Planet), they are becoming encultured to Spanish language, Latino foods, and dark-colored heroines. Latino culture is being normalized in the children at the same time it’s being villainized on the radio. And that gives me a ray of esperanza.
I believe the children are the future…
*As per the Disney princesses, well… I’m conflicted. Of course I don’t want her waiting around for her prince to come, but I see a level of empowerment and activism (and sensitivity to nature and the little ones) in the ‘princesses’ that I think is rather inspiring. But enough about those, they’ve been dissected so much by feminists and pop-cult analysts that I hardly think it’s worth breathing the formaldehyde.