Friday, 12 October 2012

My Collection of Inappropriate References in Children’s Media

A few months ago I heard someone mention that the Muppets song “Rainbow Connection” is
the only children’s song with the word “lovers” in it. This wasn’t said critically or puerilely; it was just an observation. For me it made me think of the era the song came out of, and how it was a time when media directed to children could also appeal to adults because it didn’t talk down to children or attempt to coddle them. We pay a lot of lip service to that idea these days, inserting clever adult references into Finding Nemo and putting Ricky Gervais on Sesame Street and saying constantly that we don’t talk down to our children. But The Muppet Show didn’t try too hard to appeal to everyone; it just did. I remember loving the episode with Rudolph Nureyev, even though I knew very little about ballet (never mind who Nureyev was), and the whole time feeling so privileged and special because I knew someone thought that children like me were smart enough to appreciate this.

The comment also made me think of other rather inappropriate references I’ve come across in children’s media recently. Some of them are accidental, perhaps, but others were created in the same spirit as “Rainbow Connection,” I believe: acknowledging that this is a part of life and children are smart enough to handle it. Here’s my collection so far.

This New Baby, Teddy Jam and Virginia Johnson (Groundwood),
I’ve mentioned before that Teddy Jam’s Night Cars is a favourite in our household. Matt Cohen also wrote This New Baby long ago, and Groundwood has recently re-released it with gorgeous illustrations by local textile designer Virginia Johnson. We bought this to give to a new baby who lives near Johnson’s store, but Cookie loved it so much we had to read it five times before we finally handed it over.

The part that reminded me of the “Rainbow Connection” comment, though, is “This new baby
opens his eyes…like morning love.” I know the look of morning love in a baby’s eyes, but this poem is open pretty wide to interpretation, and my mind also went some place completely immature when I read this. Grow up, Mama!

Canadian Railroad Trilogy, Gordon Lightfoot and Ian Wallace (Groundwood)
Groundwood isn’t particularly known for edgy children’s books, but here’s another entry from
them. Uncompromising, maybe.

If you’re Canadian, you’re supposed to know Gordon Lightfoot’s song “Canadian Railroad
Trilogy.” I’m pretty sure it’s on the citizenship test. So I was thrilled when Groundwood came out with a picture book version. The illustrations are epic and glorious, and Cookie loves finding all the little details built into them.

The illustrator, Ian Wallace, made a point of filling in the blanks with his illustrations. Many
allude to the darker side of the building of the railroad, such as the displacement of First Nations communities, the horrible treatment of Chinese labourers, and the, er, shenanigans of men living far from home for long periods. One such illustration shows a man being embraced by a woman in a red dress. Naturally Cookie asked, “Who’s that?” and I instinctively responded, “His wife. She’s all dressed up because he’s been away for so long and she’s happy to see him.” Inside I’m thinking, “Is that a…? It can’t be, but…” Fortuitously, in the back of the book Wallace describes his inspiration behind each picture. Sure enough, the woman in the red dress is a prostitute. In a children’s book. Honest and uncompromising, and easy to tell a white lie about. Nothing wrong with that, in my opinion.

Plus, I’m sure this is not the first children’s book with a prostitute in it. There must be religious
children’s books that I will never come across that have Mary Magdalene in them. And when I was growing up, she was still a prostitute.

“I Love Trash,” Oscar the Grouch (Sesame Street)
This one falls under the category of “accident,” I hope. Apparently Katy Perry’s dress was too
risqué for Sesame Street to air (luckily not for YouTube: click here), but somehow someone missed the double meaning of this lyric in Oscar’s anthem: “I’ve a…rusty trombone.”

Not sure what a rusty trombone is? Google it (probably best not to at work), or better yet, don’t, and maintain your charming innocence (and your breakfast).

Got any more hilariously (or charmingly) inappropriate references? We’d love to hear about

-East End Mama

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