Of course you should spend all your time with your children engaged in vigorous outdoor activity or reading books about mindfullness and organic farming. Of course.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, you may have to clean the kitchen or take a phone call or even go to the toilet. That's what television is for. Or more specifically, Peppa Pig.
Peppa Pig fascinates and creeps me out. Alas, we live in an age where the word Awesome has lost all meaning, yet Peppa's mesmeric power over toddlers is truly that. Daughter Number Four can be snorting lines of sugar off the coffee table but will instantly abandon it once she hears that jaunty opening music. It transports her into a joyous fugue state, where there is no pain or distress. Peppa Pig is baby Prozac.
The daughter is not quite two yet, so I assume that she doesn’t follow the story arcs of the show, but I wonder – and I worry – about what effect it may have upon her in the future. Peppa lives in a weird place.
Even though PeppaVille is populated by a variety of animals, it radiates an eerie, almost Aryan conformity. Everyone lives in a house on a hill. Everyone (with one exception) is married and has two children. The mothers all stay at home and mind the kids. Most tellingly, there is no inter-species marriage: a fact underlined by the rather sad plight of one regular character, Miss Rabbit.
Because she is a childless singleton, Miss Rabbit seems to be filling the hole in her life with work. All the work. She flies a helicopter, she runs a pottery shop, she works in a supermarket, an aquarium, a museum, the airport, a theme park called Potato World. In the dozens of episodes we’ve seen, there’s only been one instance of her enjoying any leisure time: when Peppa and her friends happen upon Miss Rabbit sitting alone on a swing in the playground. What is she doing there? Is she observing the children she will never have? Is she wishing she were a child again? Beneath all the busyness, is she barking mad? It’s a chilling moment.
Every day my daughter demands her Peppa fix, and I worry about its hypnotic power
But if Miss Rabbit’s story might have anti-feminist undertones, other aspects of PeppaVille veer wildly in the opposite direction. Some animals are more equal than others: males are depicted as idiots. Peppa has a younger brother, George who can only do two things, cry and say the word dinosaur, while her father, Daddy Pig is the punch line for every joke.
In reality, Daddy Pig is a walking saint. He let’s Peppa have first go at everything and indulges her to a ridiculous degree. In one episode he cycled to work on Peppa’s bicycle just because she wanted him to. In another, Peppa, George and Mummy Pig destroy a number of Daddy Pig’s important work papers – a potentially disastrous scenario that could have led to him losing his job and by extension, their hilltop home.
But Daddy Pig doesn’t utter a syllable of complaint, and in return for this unqualified love, Peppa never misses an opportunity to tell her Daddy that he’s silly and that he has a big belly: a relentless stream of derision that seems to be heartily endorsed by Mummy Pig and her parents, Granny and Grandpa Pig.
Maybe I’m projecting. Maybe I’m spending too much time with my daughter. Every day now she demands her Peppa fix, and I worry about its hypnotic power. I worry that one day she too could develop into a fat-shaming Feminazi. I worry about what messages are being beamed into our babies’ pliant minds. You have been warned.