Won’t somebody please think of the children?

I still remember the first proper book I ever bought for myself. It was set in an enchanting, fantasy land.

It was Comet in Moominland by Finnish writer, Tove Jansson and when that first copy eventually disintegrated under the strain of multiple readings, I bought a new one; I still read it once every couple of years, and I often recommend it to parents with kids keen to read. As a child I was drawn to the eccentric characters, the whimsical nature of the world they lived in and the sense that this world was designed and drawn by a person who truly understood me.

As an adult I still enjoy that richly textured world but I also relish the sub-text and the philosophies espoused by some of her characters. Characters like the eternal wanderer, Snufkin, who returns each Spring to wake his best friend Moomintroll from hibernation but never settles down.

"One can never be entirely free, if one admires someone else too much"

"One can never be entirely free, if one admires someone else too much"

Or the waspish and anti-materialistic Little My who asserts “Possession means worries and luggage bags one has to drag along” or the darkly miserable Groke who leaves a frozen patch of ground wherever she sits.

I like to think that Tove Jansson, by introducing me to the Moomins and their complex, multi-layered world, allowed the child Bartender to start developing ways to question the world I lived in and inspired me to, Snufkin-like, explore that world with an enquiring, open mind.

I’d like to think that modern creators of popular culture have the same intuitive sense of children’s minds as Jansson did when she wrote Comet in 1946.

Perhaps not. When I stumbled across an episode of The Fairies this week, I wondered to myself, after quickly suppressing the initial gag reflex, what is the author trying to say here?

The Fairies

In this enchanted, fantasy land you won’t find any of that wistful, Nordic gloominess…. you’ll find “days full of magic, friends, giggles, singing and dancing and of course, fan-fairy-tastic fun! all in “pretty shades of pink”. Your hosts are two dancing, singing fairies, one who enjoys housework and the other who enjoys giggling a lot and having no brain. Their friends include a Tooth Fairy, a Beach Fairy, a singing Bee, a man in lycra with a tall hat, and an Elf who bakes.

Hello? I'm a girl and I'm stupid

Hello? I'm a girl and I'm stupid

For children, the text is direct and often didactic. The characters dance and sing songs with moral messages about how pollution is bad and having things is good. Their creator, Jen Watts, claims these musical interludes help teach important life lessons to young girls. Like this tune, which is evidently designed to curb your child’s natural instinct for theft:

But to an adult it appears the sub-text of the world of The Fairies isn’t actually very sub either. On The Fairiewebsite, girls (and I think we can safely say that Jen Watts is “writing” for girls) can click on “Meet Us” (you’ll find it right next to the button that leads you to “Fan-Fairy-Franchise opportunities) and discover that the Pink Fairy Rhapsody’s “bubbly personality is expressed constantly via her always smiling, cheeky face” and that the Purple Fairy Harmony’s jewelled mask was “magnificently crafted by a designer jeweller.” She also wears a “sweet bodice” and her skirt “twirls and swirls beautifully when she dances.”

Acting 101. Practice your "I'm doing this for the money" smile

Acting 101. Practice your "I'm doing this for the money" smile

So in the sub-textual world, according to Jen Watts, girls are brainless, giggling dopes who love to buy expensive stuff and don’t mind dressing like fairyland sluts. Perhaps Ms Watts’ goal was an maternal one when she discovered that her 2-year old…

“was such a typical little girl — she just wanted to put on my high heels and dress up in wings, lip gloss and glitter and there wasn’t anything around that fulfilled her fantasies”

… and she thought a world in which girls that age can wear heels and make up would be a kinder, gentler one.

Or perhaps, Jen Watts decided that, as she explains in this article, “there’s only one goal and that’s to be the best preschool property in the world

Presumably it also means dressing young girls in short skirts, urging them to shop and encouraging them to adopt stripper names like Harmony and Rhapsody. And, given that it’s only for kids, she, probably correctly, assumes that nobody at a TV network would give a shit about overturning years of feminist advances on gender equality or think twice about turning pre-schoolers into sexualised consumers.

I’m not saying that being popular and selling enormous amounts of merchandise is indicative of a wayward cultural compass. The Moomins became an enormously successful book series and spawned comic strips, films and a TV series and is still popular today, 60 years later.

What I am saying is, The Moomins success lay in the fact that Tove Jansson respected her young readers and was addressing their minds rather than their pocket money.

I doubt The Fairies will last that long. How ironic.


One Response

  1. I originally let my daughter watch these shows but have since had many concerns similar to those you have expressed.
    I’m also VERY concerned that this show is only for pretty white people — are we in the 1950’s and can justify ignoring the remainder of Australia’s population?
    I think we’ll be sticking with Play School, at least it has a greater cultural mix, is more about children using their imaginations to create things, and does not portray such sexist messages about what roles boys and girls should take.

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