When Arthur and My Little Pony Turn Bad
It’s a kind of virtual hostage-taking. A new culture war tactic has emerged recently, in children’s programming, of all places. Parents are being forced to make difficult choices — or, rather, to make a choice which, while obvious, is going to be hard.
Recently the upbeat, socially-conscious Arthur, a PBS show whose anthropomorphic animal characters have misadventures and learn life lessons, announced to great fanfare that the wise, kind schoolteacher, Mr. Ratburn, was going to marry his gay lover in a very special episode of the show. (His lover was also inter-species, though that wasn’t as emphasized).
My Little Ponies has followed suit. The show introduced a pair of “married” gay ponies.
Other shows and feature films, including ones with established characters your kids likely know and love, are sure to join in, coercing little children everywhere to acknowledge a consensus of approval. You’ve got to be ready to respond.
Yes, kids’ programming has always pushed assorted agendas. They could be innocuous or even positive ones, such as those I used to see in PBS’s Arthur decades ago, when my youngsters would watch it. Or they could be commercial ones: My Little Pony might as well have been called Transformers, But For Girls, a half-hour toy commercial, interrupted at intervals by toy commercials.
However, the blatant “subvert traditional values” tactic is a new and more ruthless level of manipulation. The parent isn’t just pressured indirectly to buy the toys. Instead, parents must choose between moral beliefs and beloved characters. “Put down your values,” the kidnappers demand, “or your kid can never see his imaginary friends again.”
Parents are in an uncomfortable spot when charming children’s characters become ventriloquists’ dummies for the opposition. Who wants to disappoint small children? “Mommy, why can’t I watch the ponies anymore?!” “Daddy, I love Arthur!”
These beloved shows have taken your children hostage. What should you do? Well, watching these shows with the youngsters, as discussion fodder, is certainly an option. However, you’re going to have to conclude the discussion with “So the writers here can’t be trusted.” And what good are charming characters you can’t trust?
A hostage rescue may not be possible.
And That’s Good
And perhaps that’s all to the good. These assorted critters — the neon ponies, the cuddlesome aardvark, and others — were corporate creations all along, with all that implies. They’re meant to sell corporate products — and corporate values. Stockholders and bureaucrats — and now gay activists — may have a stake in their commercial success, but you don’t.
Instead, sit down and read to your youngsters about classic characters they can love: characters like Mowgli, Mole, Bilbo, Rikki-tikki-tavi. Frodo and Aragorn. Lucy and Peter. Holmes and Watson. And when your children’s response to television or film adaptations of those characters is a critique of what the show got wrong, you’ll know you’re doing it right.