Friday, February 11, 2011

Children's television: rotting the brains of adults for 60 years

We all have happy memories of sitting down, Splicer and Pola Cola in hand, to enjoy the television of our childhoods.

All I have to do is list the names: Mr Ben, Bagpuss, the Clangers, Trumpton and the Magic Roundabout, and already - if you're about the same age as I am - you're grinning like a loon. Remember when you felt safe and warm, and didn't have a mortgage? Yes, it's a nice feeling.

So it's an easy step to assume that now, as parents, we're building similar memories in our children. That's why it's a little difficult to accept that children's TV is now a bizarre, mind-boggling mess. I hate it all, and here's why.

Where are my Christmas cards, you smug sod?

A rose-tinted spectacle

In these days of wall-to-wall television, piped directly into our eyeballs by wealthy Australians, the choice for children is bewildering.

Rich, colourful, cleverly-designed programming is everywhere, all the time, and if you want to see some, just punch Daddy in the crotch three or four times and he'll switch it on.

Or you can grab the TV remote yourself, and press random buttons until something loud and annoying needs to be corrected. It all works.

To complicate matters, we live in a nanny state where - thanks to the internet becoming a rabid, mutated version of Points of View - television companies aren't allowed to make a profit from children unless they're educating them at the same time. Huge amounts of money and time are invested in studying how beneficial or damaging it is for a toddler to hear "Eh oh!" a couple of hundred times a day.

Then experts write reports that parents don't bother to read because the damn kettle's on and it's either tea now or whisky later.

Character assassination

Let's start with an easy target: the Zingzillas.

Here they are:

From left: Sarah Jane from Mighty Mites, the simple one, er, the blue one and the idiot in a hat. Not shown: various groupies and drug dealers.

The story is that the Zingzillas are musical apes who live on an island with various other creepy post-apocalyptic mutations.

Every day they welcome guest musicians - who have included Dame Evelyn Glennie and James Galway - and present a "Big Zing" show which is always "the best Big Zing ever". Always. Every time.

I understand the need to encourage children to be active, and the healthy benefits of a musical education, but I cannot accept this is the best way to go about it.

Apparently, somebody's taken a nuclear test site and dropped a bunch of brain-damaged hippies on it, so they can watch them become more and more physically twisted and detached from reality, performing each day in a sad, deserted auditorium. That's just cruel.

Also, I've seen every episode in rotation, over and over, and would now like to detonate another nuclear device on Zingzillas Island, please.

More magical than a roundabout

But there's worse than that around. At least the Zingzillas mostly speak in words. This lot don't even bother:

Clockwise from top left: the pink one, the purple rabbit, the one with ears that would get you very bullied at school and the other one.

Hi-hi! Yes, it's the inexplicable alien creatures my son is obsessed with. It's Waybuloo.

This lot are downright weird. As far as I can tell, they're some sort of animal kingdom yoga teachers who do magic with the aid of some very cheap-looking wind chimes. Occasionally, they kidnap children and force them to carry out strange tasks for them, such as searching a plastic garden for poorly-hidden items.

Sooner or later, the main characters will float around, all the time talking in pidgin English that the children have been brainwashed to understand.

I realise that I'm ranting now, but I seriously doubt the weirdoes of Waybuloo are a valuable part of society. Do they have jobs? Certainly not. Do they pay tax? Highly unlikely. Is their teaching programme accredited by the Yoga Association? That's unclear.

Yeah, I've seen a lot of Waybuloo, too. Let's move on.

What's the story with this lot?

Arguably, animated characters might get away with being strange and alien, but what's the excuse when you're a real, live person?

Did you really go to RADA for this? You poor fools.

This is Balamory, the Scottish seaside town with colour-coded houses and a population which likes to sing and dance around the streets before the pubs are even closed.

There's PC Plum, the UK's least-effective police officer. It's lucky he never has any crime to deal with, because every time he encounters a problem he seeks help from the children in the local nursery.

There's Edie McCreadie, probably the most easily-distracted driver in Scotland. How she keeps her licence when she's too busy singing to look at the road ahead is a mystery.

There's Spencer, some sort of dropout who wanders the streets looking for things to paint. Perhaps it's some government scheme.

There's Josie Jump, who needs to change her medication.

And there's my favourite, Archie. With his English accent and unnecessary kilt, he spends his days making pointless things out of eggboxes and talking to people in a very slow but terribly nice way. He is possibly the most true-to-life example of a Scottish laird on television today.

Children love Balamory but, as far as I can tell, its main benefit is to teach them to be accepting of the mentally ill.

Just be quiet and eat your string soup

Those are just three examples of the bizarre tosh that we serve our children and call entertainment.

There is, of course, one important similarity: its purpose. Oh, much may be made of the opportunities for children's learning and development, but we know the truth: TV is a distraction to keep parents sane. As I've said before, we all start out with good intentions but, sooner or later, a child's tantrum will send us reaching for the remote.

But does it really have to be such utter nonsense? Can't we get back to sensible tales of sleepy stuffed cats, pointy-nosed aliens and magical costume shops?

My own childhood favourite remains Jamie and the Magic Torch:

Ah, what memories. Jamie's torch would open the magical helter skelter to Cuckoo Land, where his dog could talk and Officer Gotcha ate his own truncheon.

TV production companies these days need to stop making nonsensical programmes get back to traditional, wholesome stuff like that.



  1. Ah! No mention of 'Monkey'...

  2. You forgot to mention Green Balloon Club, a programme so relentlessly worthy and at the same time nonsensical that it makes me want to burn hydrocarbons at twice my usual rate. My favourite moment was when the smallest goblin-child announced that the new raised vegetable beds she has at home were made from materials recycled from when their swimming pool was refurbished. An example we should all follow when next the issue arises.

  3. Hi, Tordel. I didn't forget anything, I'm afraid. I was exercising restraint. I could have gone on and on and on...

    Also, I'd like to add that the first comment above is from my mother. Apparently I was obsessed with Monkey (the crazy Japanese show) when I was a kid. I do remember it but I don't remember being obsessed.
    I was cooler than I thought!

  4. Are you seriously saying that kid's shows in the 70s made more sense than current shows? - hahahahahahahaha!

    I loved Jamie and his Magic torch too. Great theme tune!