Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Backyardigans: A Social Study

Today I spent 9.5 hours babysitting my boyfriend's nephews (twin boys who are turning five in February). While most of the day was spent running outside, doing sticker puzzles and playing games like Go Fish, we managed to fit in a few episodes of their favorite Nick Jr. show, The Backyardigans. As far as kids' television programming goes, this show is pretty innocuous. And apparently, many many children are OBSESSED with it. YouTube is filled with videos of adorable little kids singing the theme song and dancing around like maniacs.

However, for the analytical and culturally-sensitive viewer (or blogger with too much time on her hands), it's impossible to ignore some of the subliminal messages. The basic premise is that five "animals" hang out in a backyard and via their imaginations are transported across time and space to a number of adventurous locales including ancient Greece and the Paleolithic Age.

The main characters (pictured from left to right):

Tasha: a bossy hippo (fun fact: the only Backyardigan that always wears shoes!)

Tyrone: a sweater-clad moose with a laid-back stoner vibe

Pablo: a cross between a bluebird and a penguin

Uniqua: a sassy pink alien-looking thing with antennae

Austin: allegedly a kangaroo, according to Wikipedia, but you could have fooled me

My first question is, why not use all real animals? I'm all for encouraging tolerance towards those who are "unique," but do we really need a fake animal named Uniqua to get that point across? It's also a *little* troublesome that Uniqua is voiced by a sassy little girl named LaShawn Jeffries:
I would get it if all the characters were hybrid animals or fictional creations, but it's very easy to tell what Tyrone, Pablo, and Tasha are supposed to be (and realize that they don't belong in anyone's backyard.)

Then there are some loaded multicultural storylines. In an episode I watched today, Pablo and Uniqua sang a rousing song called "Will Work for Pancakes" and then proceeded to do farm work and manual labor for Tasha. I couldn't help but wonder, is this meant to be a metaphor for the exploitation of migrant workers, the perpetual enslavement of the underclass? Will future episodes feature the Backyardigans traveling to the antebellum south or hiking along the Trail of Tears?

I mean, probably not.

Every episode ends with someone's stomach growling and the gang deciding to break for food. Let's just hope they steer clear of this fellow:

Now that's the kind of cracked-out children's show I can really get behind.

No comments: