My seven-year-old daughter has gotten into some straight-up terrible TV shows of late. While I'm glad one of them is a magical-girl show like Sailor Moon, which organically extends her genre palette, it's absolutely awful. I long for simpler times - times when I'd watch Peppa Pig with her.
It's been about 18-20 months since the jaunty, oink-snorting theme song of Peppa Pig rang out after dinnertime. More than a year since I chuckled at George, Mummy Pig, or the two Miss Rabbits while my daughter watched them on YouTube. The simple truth is my daughter outgrew Peppa Pig. The weird corollary is that I haven't, and probably never will.
The shows that my kid has watched are markers on her road to maturity, ways for me to unscientifically chart how she's growing up. The obligatory Sesame Street and Thomas the Tank Engine periods were more instructive with regard to who or what she glommed onto. Thomas won out over Elmo, in general, because she was more into dramatic arcs. The gentler affect of Daniel Tiger's Neighbourhood probably bored her but the daydreamy sing-song rhythms of the Mister Rogers-descended show matched her tendencies. (As for me, all the musical cues and motifs on Daniel Tiger that come from Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood damn near reduce me to a nostalgia-fuelled crying jag.)
Being a cultural critic, I think a lot about my kid's media consumption. She knows that I do, too. When Black Panther was still in theatres, I told her I wanted to take her to see the movie featuring Daddy's favourite superhero. You know, the one I've been writing the comic for. "It doesn't seem like it'd be appropriate," she said in a precocious word-punch that shattered Daddy's heart. After picking up the pieces of my soul off the ground, I conceded that she had a point. She's probably not ready to see Killmonger tear up Wakanda in his angry quest for vengeance.
Her self-assessment had me thinking about my own relationship with her changing viewing habits. There's an odd rudderlessness to her viewing methodology. I don't sit and watch every show with her but I do check in on what's being served up. Algorithms are always pushing new content at her and, once she's watched all of a particular series at a given time, it's dead to her. Tumble Leaf doesn't exist anymore, despite the fact that at least one more season was added to Amazon after she watched.
Part of my affection for Peppa Pig comes from the fact that it's an exceptionally well done show. Episodes like "Digging Up the Road" or "Miss Rabbit's Day Off" have a perfect balance of kid and adult humour. The mix of dry British mockumentary snark, naive kid logic, and goofy situational antics never failed to make me laugh and it often seemed like there were sly subtexts and hidden depths waiting to be found. My daughter loved the silliness but was also drawn in by Peppa's mild sassiness.
That sassiness connects directly to the kinds of shows she's mainlining nowadays. Her red-hot infatuation with DC Superhero Girls and Teen Titans Go! has cooled a bit, but she still reads books based on those properties. She'll bubble up with a funny memory about Robin or Beast Boy, too. But her new obsession is a swath of aggressively gendered dreck like LoliRock or Glitter Force. I've got nothing against this kind of entertainment in principle. I sing along with the Moana or My Little Pony soundtracks because they're, y'know, good. These other shows have terrible music, flat by-the-numbers plots, and lazy character constructions that rely on types. They're so bad that I've been wondering if a recent uptick in back-talk and attitude are related to their consumption.
I generally don't prescribe to such correlation and am, for now, chalking it up to just where she is in her socioemotional development. If binging Barbie's Dreamhouse didn't make her fame-obsessed and clothes-hungry, that causation probably isn't happening now either. Her brain still mostly works in the way that I've grown accustomed to: long, winding flights of fancy, insistent inquistiveness, and the constant need to be reeled back into focus. Behavorial change is always right around the corner at this age and I think a lot about how much rigour and routine need to be in her daily life. Still, I want her to be this way — able to creatively access a sense of fantasy and wonder - a little longer.
Long before I had a kid of my own, I remembered a story a friend told about her son. When he was around three years old, he wanted to watch The Iron Giant every day. The lad could quote lots of its dialogue at will. Four years later, this same kid strenuously denied that The Iron Giant was ever his favourite movie. Prompted by this memory, I asked my daughter about the show she had to have every day:
Do you remember watching Peppa Pig?
What do you remember about watching Peppa Pig?
Why are you asking?
Because I'm writing an article about the shows that you watch. What do you remember liking about Peppa Pig?
I liked when she found out new things, like Santa's real and when she helped encourage her little brother to swim.
Do you remember any of the characters?
She had a friend named… she had a bunch of friends, I forget their names. There was a cat, a dog. I think there was an elephant.
Why did you stop watching Peppa Pig?
Finished the album.
Finished the album? You feel like you watched all the episodes?
Would you still watch it now if there were new episodes?
Um, sure, but I just don't like that they're kind of like stick figures.
Oh, ok. Why not?
I like more detail now.
"I like more detail now." One simple sentence that could mean so many things. Among those meanings is the fact that she's growing in complexity and dimensionality, and subconsciously looks to visit worlds that offer more of the same. As wretched as LoliRock is to me, I still was happily surprised when she quickly ran down the world-building lore for me. There go those nerdy genes, I thought to myself. They will take her from the stuff I love to her own new interests and maybe even back again.
As for me, I tried watching Peppa Pig without her last night.
It felt weird.