Thursday, 5 March 2009

NOT PJ: Our Stories, Our Songs, Our Selves, God Help Us

‘C’ is for cultural cringe, says Bernard Darnton . . .

BernardDarnton Sesame Street is relentlessly American. Not that there’s anything wrong with being American. It’s just that, when you have children, you hope they’ll grow up speaking the same language as you.

Where I grew up having a biscuit after playing football on the pavement, thanks to the ubiquity of American television my children will probably grow up having a cookie after playing soccer on the sidewalk.

My mind is neurologically fixed to believe that the last letter of the alphabet is “zed” and no amount of trans-Pacific culture is going to rewire me. “Zed” will always sound better to me than “zee” – except during the party pill debate, when pronouncing BZP as “bee-zed-pee” marked one out as a cranky Jim-anderthal killjoy.

To prevent our children’s linguistic assimilation we have The Go Show. Come something-past-eight every morning three young adults, whose enthusiasms show varying degrees of authenticity, educate our youngsters in the Kiwi vernacular.

There’s the chubby blonde girl, the brunette sporty girl, and there’s the slightly bilingual chap who’s neither scary, posh nor ginger.

The show should be educational because it’s written with the help of Otago University’s Children’s Issues Centre (paper code CHIX, which would be about right) and, by golly, it’s dripping with education.

In a single episode yesterday we learnt not to burp at the table, to do up our seat belts, to get ourselves immunized against meningitis, and to sing a song about recycling in deaf sign language – virtuoso wetness and a daring stab at trilingualism.

Last Friday this show for preschoolers educated us about what happens when Mummy and Daddy don’t want to live in the same house any more. Gone are reading the clock and finding out how chocolate biscuits are made. These days we’re peering through the arched window to find out where divorces come from. It doesn’t matter that Jemima’s shagging “Big” Ted behind Humpty’s type-II-diabetes-prone back because they all still love you.

Relatives of mine divorced when I was about five and (so I’m told) I was quite upset. Every parental disagreement was translated by my child’s mind into a home-wrecking catastrophe. By nine o’clock on Friday morning, hundreds of parents across the country were fielding questions from children newly primed to expect familial disaster.

On Tuesday, a trio of The Go Show’s fake muppets found a plastic bag. By the commotion this caused I thought someone must have found half a dog turd in their rusks. There was much running around looking for an adult to fend off this mortal danger.

This is the world our children inhabit today. A parental break-up and subsequent tug-of-love is perfectly normal – a bit of a jape even, what with having two houses and all – but a supermarket bag is a source of blank terror.

The characters from Sesame Street are simply more likeable than their eerily-similar-looking, possibly-intellectual-property-rights-infringing, nauseatingly do-gooding New Zealand cousins. So they speak a different dialect. And they only get 96% of the alphabet right. So what?

They also import another American idea: the idea that if I don’t want to watch Sesame Street I don’t have to buy their videos. If I don’t want to watch The Go Show because it’s emetically preachy I still have to pay for it. Tena koe, New Zealand on Air. You’re awesome.

* * Read Bernard Darnton’s NOT PJ column every Thursday here at NOT PC * *


  1. You've forgotten the best thing about Sesame St - it was very very funny.

  2. That sporty brunette one is very hot though


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