In a world where we continually tell ourselves looks don’t matter and talk to our children about beauty being ‘more than skin deep’, we are undermining our message before the kiddies are even aware of their own reflection.
The ugly duckling is portrayed as a heart-warming story about triumphing over a childhood of bullying. But how does the ‘ugly’ little one triumph? By getting beautiful! All his problems evaporate into thin air the moment he transforms from a runt with ‘feathers all stubby and brown’ to a ‘very fine swan indeed’. Who knew it could be so easy to get on in life? There’s no need for education or hard work, just wake up one morning magically transformed into an indescribable beauty and you too can live a life of happiness and fulfilment alongside the cruel and shallow bullies who once mocked and made your life a misery.
No wonder Lord Sugar’s latest investment was in a chain of walk-in cosmetic surgeries; our offspring are being brainwashed into the world of vanity before they’ve reached nursery. Bring on the plastic surgery and unfulfilling personal relationships!
5 Little Ducks
This cute little ditty masquerades as a sweet story which helps children to understand numbers and even the rather complex concept of object permanence (just because you can’t see the ducks, doesn’t mean they’re not there anymore. Clever, eh?)
What this song actually teaches our children is a worrying lesson in bad parenting. In Oscar Wilde’s classic farce ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’, Lady Bracknall reproaches the protagonist, stating that “To lose one parent, Mr Worthing may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness.” What would she make of the haphazard and careless shenanigans of ‘mummy duck’, a mother so careless she watches all five of her children disappear into the unknown reaches of ‘far away’ before she bothers lifting a feather to go and find them! Bloody lucky they come back in the end or she would have been facing a serious enquiry, although judging by the lack of intervention from any of the other aquatic inhabitants she may well have gotten away with it.
Just to add to this lesson in how to raise a crap family, I once attended a baby class where for the final line, after mummy duck had successively failed to get her children to do as they were told by ‘quacking’ (come on Mummy Duck, is that really all you’ve got when faced with the loss of your entire family?!), the saccharine hippy in charge crooned “then Daddy duck said quack, quack, quack, quack, and all five ducks came swimming back”. Seriously? No-one listens to mummy duck but daddy duck rocks up, says one line and everyone does exactly as they’re told? Do me a favour!
The Farmer Wants a Wife
The farmer wants a wife – so he gets a wife.
The wife wants a child – along one pops.
The child wants a dog – they happily oblige.
While all seems to be going perfectly in this microcosm of rural life, there’s a lack of sentimentality and a reinforcing of gender roles which leaves me slightly uneasy. The farmer wants a wife. Wants. Not meets. Not falls in love. Just wants, and gets. Then, obviously, the wife wants a child. She doesn’t want a career, or friends, or a happy and fulfilling marriage – as a “womb on two legs”* , all she needs out of life is to reproduce. Finally, having achieved her goal, she (I assume he won’t help, he apparently didn’t want the child, just a wife) raises a child so spoilt and demanding they clearly don’t understand the phrase ‘I want never gets’.
No wonder the divorce rate is increasing.
The Old Lady Who Swallowed a fly
This song has so much to answer for:
1. Poor knowledge of the natural world. A spider to catch a fly – common sense. A cat to catch a bird – fair enough. A goat to catch a dog?? A cow to catch a goat???! What weird, f***ed up farm did this woman grown up near where passive herbivores ran around trying to gorge on one another’s flesh? In all other stories, cows just stand there and go ‘moo’.
2. Obesity. It teaches a frighteningly unhealthy attitude to eating; teaching our children that there’s never a reason to stop until you’re dead. Could this be the key to the modern obesity crisis? It wasn’t turkey twizzlers after all; it was rhyme time at the local library!
3. Once fully inducted in the ways of gluttony, our children are taught to live life with an unhealthily blasé attitude towards death. During the composition of the song, did the writer not once stop to think that having “perhaps she’ll die” as the main refrain in a children’s rhyme was a little weird and inappropriate? And ending with the line “She’s dead, of course” a little too matter of fact for one of the most traumatic events a person can experience? I’m going to stop singing it now or I fear my own funeral will involve my son shrugging his shoulders before heading off to try and swallow a dolphin in the hope that it will sort out that frog in his throat.
Georgie Porgie Pudding and Pie
A disconcerting tale of bullying, sexual harassment and ostracism. If I’d thought about it a little more during pregnancy, I may have thought twice about naming my son George…
* The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – I’m teaching this at the moment and I’m still stuck in work mode. Sorry if it’s weird!