Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A horse is a horse, of course, of course....

by Miriam
Sometimes, when watching NickJr. with my four-year-old, certain imponderables are raised: How come there’s a preponderance of cartoon pigs? Why do Little Bear’s parents wear Victorian clothing while LB himself walks around stark nekkid? Why is Dora the Explorer so irritating? One thing that always comes up with either the tv shows or when reading a book with my precocious little fellow is the fact that there are lots of animals who walk, talk, and think like humans. When we recently added a standard poodle puppy to our household, it was funny to see my son addressing himself to her as if she were another kid, explaining why she had done something wrong and he was annoyed or trying to make her understand the rules of a game he wanted to play with her. I wonder whether these interactions were informed by the expectation that Cleo the dog would suddenly respond not with an “Arf, arf” but with a perfectly formed sentence in the Queen’s English.

This lovely piece in the Guardian discusses animal characters in literature. But it doesn’t explain why Little Bear’s parents wear clothes.


  1. I've pondered many of these things myself, Miriam. Especially why Dora is so popular, considering parents buy all the accompanying paraphernalia. And as many endearing memories as I may have of Sesame Street, I would love to disembowel Elmo! Why have a role model for children that has such terrible grammar (at such a high pitch)? My favorite literary animal is Wilbur, yet another pig protagonist (well, there is some argument as to who is the protagonist of that book.) Fun post!

  2. Speaking of terrible grammar, should I have said, "to whom" on that last line? :)

  3. We have a standard poodle named Bones after Dr. McCoy. He refuses to talk until we get him better lines.

  4. Also, how does one explain the sudden absence of Little Bill, but MORE of Dora yelling things at my son?

  5. Michelle, I think "to who" is still correct, because it's the subject of the clause 'who is the protagonist'.

    We refer to our aging Jack Russell terrier as "the little old man." ;)

  6. Sure it's cute when you're four but when you're 23 and talk to your cat like she understands every word you're saying then people think you're a bit weird. Very unfair.

  7. Thanks for the link to that beautifully written piece in The Guardian. Btw, my 2 year old son is watching DORA AND THE THREE PIGS right now. I'm just glad he's outgrown Barney! At least Dora teaches some Spanish words, although, now that I think about it, Barney is quite a stickler for good manners. Okay, now I feel like a bad mom. Time for a book or a walk to the park! SE

  8. Susan Petrone5/5/10 2:14 PM

    My four-year-old daughter and I wonder about the following:
    * Where are Max and Ruby's parents?
    * Why doesn't Kai Lan have any human friends? (And where are her parents?)
    * Why do the Wonder Pets waste so much valuable time singing when they could be rescuing the animal in trouble?

    As for talking animals in literature, for my money, there's no topping Italo Calvino's brilliant short story, The Aquatic Uncle.

  9. The no clothes on little bear annoys me too. It really annoys my husband though- he thinks that alone is reason not to watch the show. As far as Kai-lan's parents- my culturally insensitive theory. The creator is Chinese and admits people are based on her life. I commented to my husband that ye-ye is so much fun and I just can't visualize his dad (husband is chinese) being that much fun. He was like, yeah, as my dad, never, as a grandpa- in a second (and with my daughter he is tons of fun). Traditional chinese parents are strict and no fun, grandparents are awesome though. The creator of kai-lan has also stated that she is hoping as successful as the show is, her parents will accept cartoonist as a legitimate career soon.

  10. Nice post Miriam, I love the image of your son explaining the rules of the game to his puppy! So cute!!!

    The fact that Little Bear doesn't wear clothes brings up another question, why does Mickey Mouse wear shorts, but his friend, Donald Duck, doesn't? Go figure!

  11. Adding to the Donald Duck comment by Lynn above me, why does Donald wear a shirt most of the time, but wrap a towel around his waist when getting out of the bathtub?

    I'm not to the point where I have to watch kids' shows with my children yet, but that article was lovely. I especially appreciated the part about coming to see non-humans as the most humane creatures of all. But I think a big part of why we have so many talking animals in literature is because we look for reflections of ourselves in other creatures, especially domestic ones. We get close to them, so we want to empathize with them and imagine they are able to empathize with us. I definitely believe my dog could read my emotions sometimes, and I could tell her mood by looking in her eyes. It's not that far of a leap to give her a human voice and thoughts. My sister and I did it well into our twenties.

  12. I'm with Kristin. It's not much of a leap to gift human voice and/or thoughts to an animal.

    My family and I are volunteer puppy raisers for The Seeing Eye. Granted the dogs we raise to lead the visual impaired are bread for their intelligence. But when one of them looks me in the eye, obviously anticipating my human need, it is as if I can hear the wheels turning.

  13. Yeah, or why do nekid animal characters put on swimsuits when they go to the beach?

    If you think Dora is irritating, which she is (stop screaming, you little weirdo!), check out Kai-Lan. Far more soothing. Yes, except for the absentee parents. And other humans. More creepy on Kai-Lan, why does the koala have an obsession with panda paraphernalia?


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