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Calliou’s Anatomy
heteronormative
catvalente

I have two television thoughts to share.

I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix, which is a not-as-terrible-as-I-thought Knitting Show. Knitting Shows are ones I am not a fan of per se, but are mild and pleasant enough to knit to. Mostly procedurals, which I cannot watch without something to do with my hands. My attention wanders. Anyway. I’m in season 2 and it’s not half bad.

But the title sequence makes me crazy.

The difference between Grey’s Anatomy and ER is pretty much that there are a handful more women on the show. It’s the same medical drama format that has been used since St Elsewhere and probably before. Slightly more protagonist-centered, but it’s Scrubs without jokes, the same interns-in-crisis thing that’s been making money on TV for years.

But the title sequence is basically: show medical thing, show girly thing. Lather, rinse repeat. Show clamps/forceps, show eyelash curler. Show a WOMAN’S red shoes among all the REAL DOCTOR SHOES! Show an IV dripping into a cosmo. WHAT.

This is not what the show is about. No one on the show drinks froofy drinks or obsesses over shoes or is really all that traditionally feminine. Yes, they are attractive, but this is television. Meredith is actually kind of plain. It’s a show that easily passes Bechdel, but doesn’t really tackle head on the issues of being a woman in a male-dominated field. To this point, everyone in a position of power is a dude. (Bailey is a resident, and though she has some authority over our protagonists, she is not part of the power structure of the hospital.) Yet the titles make it look like Sex in the City: Hospital Edition. There was plenty of romance in ER and it never got this treatment. (Also, the title, which I thought a cute pun at first, is actually kind of icky.)

All I can think is that this is the thing where if there are women onscreen, they must be frivolous and OMG SHOEZ AND BOYZ! The show undermines itself with this weird title sequence, because it clearly wants to be at least most of the time a serious show, but in a world of amazing titles–there really must be some kind of contest over at HBO–Grey’s Anatomy is selling itself as something it’s not, and it leaves me with a gross taste in my mouth. More than two men onscreen, that’s normal. More than two ladies onscreen, it’s a chick show about chicks and boning, and they must be talking ab out shoes, amirite? (Sorry, the red shoes really get to me. NO ONE ON THE SHOW WEARS THOSE SHOES.)

Ahem.

Second thing. I was over at a friend’s house the other night. This friend is possessed of young children. These children like to watch a show called Caillou. The baby asked for it by name and thus I sat through an episode of it. Holy crap.

Ok, first off, Caillou is this (weirdly totally bald?) little boy who learns lessons about things, I guess. Par for the edutainment course. But I cannot express how different this show is than anything I watched as a kid.

No one is ever mean to Calliou. No one ever tells him no. His life is awesome all the time. When he toddles up to some bigger kids (middle schoolers it looks like–Caillou seems like a kindergartner) on the skating pond and asks to play hockey with them, they’re like: Sure kid! We’d love to play with you! Then Caillou’s dad takes him to buy a bunch of expensive hockey equipment and they go back to the pond, whereupon the big kids play with him.

What?

Allow me to tell how how this would have gone down if it were a 70s/80s era kid’s show.

The big kids maybe would have said they’d play with him. Maybe. Depends on the genre. They might have laughed at him and called him names right there. But when Caillou got back with all that equipment? They would definitely have beaten the shit out of him and stolen it, leaving Caillou to learn a hard lesson about how people are the worst. Or enter a fantasy world of magic and enchantment where he would make friends with a lion-bear or something and come back to get revenge on the bullies. Revenge was a big theme back then. If you had a bike, a bigger kid would magically manifest out of the air to beat you up and steal it. If you were in a movie for kids, you were an underdog, and anyone in a higher grade than you was pure evil. Sweep the leg, Caillou!

The conflict in this episode came from Caillou not being super awesome at hockey right away, and learning that maybe he’d have to practice or something, which bums Caillou right the fuck out. Also earlier, it didn’t snow when he wanted it to. I…have no words.

Listen, Charlie Brown not only never got to play football, but Lucy stole his ball, abused him verbally and caused him to hurt himself repeatedly, and then charged him for therapy. And the Peanuts are SUPER wholesome entertainment for children of all ages! I was waiting for this to be a bullying episode, where Caillou would learn something about something, but no, everything was awesome in the beginning and slightly more awesome in the end.

I don’t want to be all KIDS THESE DAYS but I can’t see how, exactly, you function on planet earth if this is what sets up your expectations of human interaction. If your idea of a bad day is when everyone accepts you and is extra nice to you only you weren’t better than them at their own hobbies. I don’t even want to meet adult Caillou, who has got to be some kind of monster of entitlement and douchery. He might have straight up murdered the first person who didn’t want to go out with him.

I know childrens’ innocence must be protected, but eventually they do have to learn that people are the worst, and they are a people, and therefore they have the capacity to be the worst, too. At which point other people will react to that, and the world will keep going round. Caillou is distraught that it didn’t snow on his schedule and that his cat wasn’t that into learning a trick. I mean, it is a baby show (though everyone is very articulate and talking in long dialogues, so not that much of a baby show? They aren’t teaching simple words or anything. There’s a plot.) but I just couldn’t get over how not-my-childhood’s-television this was. It made the Muppets look like the fucking Wire.

Of course, what I learned as a kid was that a luck dragon was a good tool for conflict management, so who am I to judge?

Mirrored from cmv.com. Also appearing on @LJ and @DW. Read anywhere, comment anywhere.


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Coming to television in about six years: Caillou - the Goth Years.

I never could get past Caillou's whining when my daughter watched that show. My grandmother was certain he was an oncology patient.

Ok, so this was my actual theory. Everyone is nice to Caillou because he has cancer. That's the only reason I could think of for everyone from his parents to kids three times his age bowing to his every whim and never denying him anything.

It's even got this weird fuzzy white cloud border, as if Caillou is remembering all this from heaven.

In the 70s... the kids wouldn't have played with much equipment... though if it was, say sesame street, someone might have /loaned/ him a stick so he could play a little.. then sent him on his way until he was big enough.

I dunno. The Peanuts were in the 70s and earlier and that shit is brutal.

I couldn't tell you how many episodes of GA I've watched, at least two-three seasons, but I have no conscious recall of the opening.

I find it amusing how much Americans hate Caillou. Maybe it's a Canadian thing.

But now my wheels are spinning over The Muppets doing The Wire



Edited at 2011-09-26 04:28 pm (UTC)

I assume you've seen the YouTube vid of Kermit doing drugs and giving blowjobs and listening to er....I forget the song. Johnny Cash covered it.

Sometimes they don't show the opening, just a white title screen. It's in every ep in the first season and more than half of the second though.

What age is Caillou aimed at? If it's aimed at the younger kids, then maybe the producers think that "Isn't life awesome" is a more useful message than "Life sucks, then bullies steal your lunch money". I can remember shows from my dim-and-distant youth that was just kids going places and doing things, kind of documentaries for the pre-schoolers.

Also, you shouldn't watch kids' shows if you're an adult without kids; that way lies only madness and shouting at the TV.

It's a cartoon and I'm not sure what age group--I mentioned it seems not exactly for babies, it's not that kind of documentary type show, I would suspect it's for kids Caillou's age.

The thing is, they could have made Caillou try to train a dog. They could have made it rain so he couldn't play instead of not snowing when he demanded it. The conflict could have been that bigger kids wouldn't let him play, but he learned how to make his own fun (a VERY common theme in "my day") but they wrote this privileged little monster. It didn't have to be "life sucks" but it didn't have to be "life is engineered for your pleasure and pouting is an appropriate response if NATURE and ALL HUMANS don't conform to your wishes."

We watched Caillou a couple of times over the summer, because there needed to be some kind of distraction at that hour and the only other age-appropriate option on TV in our market is Barney. (Kill it! Kill it with a stick!)

The whiny voice is like nails on a chalkboard for me, and the permissive parents drive me STRAIGHT up a tree. Given my druthers, we stick to other PBS offerings.

I've seen it a couple of times (just by chance) - and I had the same response; the kid freaks me out a bit.

Caillou is living in Canada, where everybody is nice. Heh.

Totally annoying though. Now that I'm not dependent on AFN's family channel for all child related entertainment, I haven't had to watch a single episode.

They dumped the credits sequence to Grey's sometime around the third or fourth season, because it didn't work and most shows on network tv no longer bother with them - possibly because they are annoying to watch on DVDs.

Oh, good. I hear it gets terrible around then too, though.

I’ve never seen Caillou so I can’t comment directly on it, but I think one could make the case that pre-schoolers, whose social skills and whose ability to separate fiction from non-fiction are still pretty weak, need different kinds of TV than six-to-nine-year-olds, who finally have enough brainpower to understand that other children exist and that they suck. A conflict-driven plot that an older kid would find cathartic might just scare a younger kid.

Note that if Caillou codes as a kindergartener, then the show must be pitched to children who are young enough to see kindergarteners as Big Kids Worthy Of Respect.

See my comment to nelc above about plots that could have had the same content without the screaming pitch of privilege so huge it might as well be magical powers over nature and humanity.

the reading material for children today, compared to my time('67-'81) seems very dummied down. At the very least, I think kids should learn about world mythologies and folklore.

Will the main exposure to narrative form be movies and video game?

Grey's ditched those titles at some point - it just has a card now.

I remember watching the DVD set for the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, and one of the extras was talking about how it got made, etc.

Apparently for US cartoons in the 80's, the Christian/morality groups had enough pull to demand changes in the planning stages of cartoons. They talked about how the one guy who was always a jerk was inserted into the story because, "There always needs to be one person who doesn't conform, and non-conformity must be punished." (!)

I wonder how much of the meanness in those cartoons was:
a) part of the general culture ("revenge theme" etc.)
b) life is hard lessons
c) weird morality group demands?

I think the best example of "life is hard" cartoons I ever watched was Starblazers/Space Battleship Yamato. I was 6 years old watching one of the protagonists remember waiting at the bus stop for his parents to come home from work when the city they work in is bombed by aliens and his parents never come home.

I was so weirded out by the D&D "YOU MUST CONFORM" message when I heard about it, but it made absolute sense in retrospect. I mean, yes, the Cavalier was kind of a dick, but there were a couple of times when he was clearly proposing the only sane and rational course of action, and they never let him be right even ONCE.

Caillou is four, but I think he's meant to be a beacon of socialization and positivism for children my kid's age, e.g. rising two. Also, as has been pointed out, he's Canadian. Nothing bad ever happens in Canada unless you're aboriginal and hiking on the Highway of Tears. (That would make for an excellent Caillou ep. I can't stand the bald bugger.) The show is packaged locally with a lot of pre-verbal preschooler fare up to about kindergarten-age programming such as Fireman Sam. And Caillou beats Fireman Sam any damn day.

Is Fireman Sam the new Postman Pat?

Caillou is intended for toddlers and pre-schoolers and it's intended as an aspirational example, not a "tough lesson" sort of thing. That is, this is how people could/should behave toward one another in a dreamy, idealized sort of way. Caillou is privileged and whiny in exactly the same way that most toddlers and pre-schoolers are privileged and whiny. By-and-large, they've had their every need catered to them, and they think they can get stuff (being good at hockey, a trainable cat, snow, etc.) just by wishing for it. Caillou deconstructs that privilege and demonstrates that you can't just have anything because you have amenable parents.

Most shows aimed at this level--Backyardigans, Little Einsteins, Word World, Caillou, and so on--don't feature strong interpersonal challenges. They're intended more as positive examples of working together, relying on friends, making friends in the first place, etc.

The stuff in the 1970s and 1980s... well, this kind of thing was there, you might just not remember it very well. Sesame Street is a huge example. Polka Dot Door, Pinwheel House, Muppet Babies, etc. did not feature much in the way of bullying, hard lessons, and whatnot. That was left for older-oriented programming, and that stuff is still evident in the older-oriented programming of today.

I think Muppet Babies is a total dystopia actually. And Sesame Street started out explicitly in a ghetto, with trash everywhere and kids trying to be happy despite troubles.

Oh god, Caillou makes me wanna puke nails. That kid's voice is like razorblades on a blackboard, and he is the whiniest little punk...

Fortunately, the monkey's pretty much over her occasional interest in the show. (To be honest, I often suspect that her interest was sparked as much by my objections to the show as by any genuine desire to watch it. She loves to make me squirm.)

I may be horribly misremembering, but it doesn't sound too much different than Muppet Babies level of conflict.

Various Muppet Babies were mean to other Babies all the time--and the show is really kind of a total dystopia of neglect and Lord of the Flies level child society. IMO.

I have a fondness for Caillou. Partly because the young girl who once voiced him, Jaclyn Linetsky, was killed in a car crash a few years back around the time my kids watched. My kids enjoyed that show when they were ~2-3.

fwiw, Caillou is four.

If you're actually a non-casual caretaker of kids Caillou's age and younger, you know that in fact, toddlers and preschoolers do get distraught when it doesn't snow on schedule, or people don't do exactly what they want when you want, or similar -- my kid *right now* is threatening a meltdown b/c I won't give her a third cup of juice, only water. Caillou is intended to give them the emotional language to identify their feelings and also to realize that this shit ain't cosmic.

IOW, it isn't about protecting their innocence. It's pedagogical, not coddling.

Also, it's not like kids are going to have a diet of all Caillou, nothing else, until they reach the age of majority.

I, frankly, find Caillou alternately boring and annoying. And don't talk to me about his parents. Or the subtle racism and sexism. But the reason kids love Caillou is b/c it speaks to their world. I mean, not all kids, duh. What it doesn't do is speak to the world of adults, which is why we find it dissonant.

Edited at 2011-09-26 05:05 pm (UTC)

Also, having spent a great deal of time watching this show, I think your characterization of its lack of conflict and meanness is highly exaggerated.

I'd imagine the Canadian HOCKEY!!!!!! factor has something to do with it, but 24/7 awesome is... yeah. Even the damn Teletubbies had conflict and resolution and problems.

... I think. Maybe. My niece is eleven now and I have almost succeeded in the repression of those memories. Occasionally a song or two from the Wiggles might pinball around my brain.

God. If I hadn't adored dragons before that movie.


Falkor picture! Both awesome and true.

I've written before about how our culture has spent the last 20 years or so growing into the idea that Kids Can't Handle Anything and gradually excluding all sorts of cues/situations from media aimed at them--when really the case is that *adults* can't handle anything. Or, more specifically, they are terrified of having to handle explaining those things to their children. I think you're right about protecting innocence, but it's not necessarily children's innocence that is threatened.

One of the reason I love Pratchett's young adult stories - he doesn't soften issues. In Nation, the main premise is a kid dealing with his entire island population being wiped out, and it's not dumbed down for a young adult audience.

You get the 'people suck' in preschool television when they enter 3rd grade. Trust me on this one (and there is STILL that panel I want to do about today's preschool television - there's a LOT going on these days in that age group).

Caillou is definitely one of the ones most people object to. One wants to drop kick that whiner out an airlock. Ditto Franklin. But these days, we are actually taking developmental milestones in account when developing/programming to this age group - congrats to all of the early child development advocates, who have definitely got an out-sized amount of attention in the past decade, and here is the outcome.

Trouble is, you hit kindergarten - maybe even second grade or so? Kind of when kids stop being 'pet-like' and start being people...and it all falls apart. Disney XD does a really good job of addressing this, but then again, Disney IS all about sweetness, light and nothing really bad happens here without just cause. It's Disney. *shrug* (My favorite example? Phineas & Ferb.)

The seventies and eighties for this age group? Barney. And maybe some PeeWee's Clubhouse (do not engage). You still fell back heavily on the old Warner Brothers catalog (oh, Animaniacs, how we desperately LOVED you when you arrived), and the other 'half-hour long commercials for NEAT toys' like Transfomers, Rainbow Brite, My Little Pony and its ilk - which today kind of proves the point that even kids will ignore the crass commercializm if the stories are good.

If this is holding your attention - I have suggestions if you want to get the nasty Caillou taste out of your brain. Do I have a six year old? Do I have a degree in popular culture or not?

But you definitely have my sympathies.

I can tell you're around my age because you think Barney has been on forever. It actually premiered in 1992.

If some of my students are anything to go by, that culture of deservingness is ingrained.

Thank god not all of them tho.

I have two girls who are both now past the age of Caillou. Praise the universe and all its glory. Finding decent kid's programing is a bear and add something in which girls are not stereotypically stupid, lazy, and boy obsessed and you are in for it. Stuff which didn't make me want to stab my eyes out include Peep in the big wide world (with added science) and Jane and the Dragon.

Oooh, I liked the episode or two of Jane and the Dragon that I saw.

Caillou is actually the prequel to "Hitman" starring Timothy Olyphant, which still never explains why he is completely bald.

I have a friend whose daughter made this comment regarding Calliou:

"If Calliou burned the house down, his Mom would say, 'That's okay, Calliou, we can always get a new house.'"

Various people have speculated the parents are on anti-depressants, which may explain his whining as well.

I am on antidepressants myself, and Caillou's mom still makes me feel like Miss Hannigan.

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