By Yousif Al Hamadi
During the 1970s, television technology became more attainable and less expensive, allowing individuals to take part in television production and distribution. This economic advancement made it possible for the public to view television programmes explicitly produced for specific audiences, as in drama, sports, or news programmes (Cassidy, 2011). Children’s programmes have also been part of this narrowcasting, targeting a specific audience of children by their developmental stages. There are even programmes explicitly produced for newborns or infants to watchmaking screen-time accessible from day one. According to an author and journalist for the Guardian, Patrick Barkham, ‘television is no longer merely the drug of the nation, it is the pacifier, babysitter, wallpaper and teacher for our children. Increasingly it intrudes on the very first months of their lives’ (Barkham, 2009).
Immediately, the first thought one might have after knowing how long children watch television is what effect it may have on them. Fortunately, media scholars have found that the impact is limited. Even so, I am personally experiencing this phenomenon with my child. My daughter Sarah is 20 months old, and she is attached to several television programmes, films, nursery songs, and other media. She has gained several positive effects such as differentiating animals, colour matching, and mirroring laughter as I watch her join in on the giggles on television, while she may not comprehend the actual joke at times. I would, however, add that there may be an ever so slight or dramatic separation from screen-time when it is time to put it away, which can be seen as a negative impact from her consistent use of devices. Thus, it may not always be a smooth sailing transition.
The new generation is receiving and reaching information extensively and as quick as a press of a button. Today, children are being raised with the familiarity of different technological devices providing hundreds of options of cartoons and other types of programmes. With this, the role of parents becomes more critical as we need to follow up with our children’s behaviours and their development making correlations between what they see and their actions. In parallel, producers and distributors have also been developing their techniques and quality around early learning research, which in turn has shown some positive effects of cartoons on children. Parents, therefore, are at an advantage to enjoy this great opportunity of monitoring and providing early learning through shows and apps via screen-time. Several educational cartoons teach shapes, colours, and numbers to develop linguistic abilities interactively, turning learning into an enjoyable activity that also serves to give parents tools for bonding and sharing. The use of animation is a great tool for teaching as it is flexible and creative, and there is an extensive space to exaggerate physical possibilities by speeding movement up or slowing it down in a comical or expressive style (Halas, 1987: 9).
Peppa Pig is globally one of the favourite animation programmes with under-fives. It is a British children animated television series distributed by Channel 5 and Nick Junior since 2004. It is created by Neville Astley, Mark Baker, and Phil Davies in the form of five-minute shorts (Hughes, 2015: 41). Peppa Pig uses a very simple method of animation. It is drawn with smooth lines, simple solid colours, and simple shapes using 2D animation software.
Its central characters are 4-year-old Peppa, her pig family, and different animals such as cats, dogs, zebras, and sheep portraying her multicultural neighbours and classmates. The episodes revolve around everyday situations such as playing hide and seek, gardening, riding bicycles, and visiting relatives.
My daughter Sarah watches Peppa Pig, and it is clearly one of her favourites. She still does not talk, pronounces only a few words and some letters as she tries to create words, but she calls ‘Peppa’ clearly and without difficulties. She asks for it in specific, and she is able to recognize its thumbnail if it has appeared as a choice on YouTube or on an on demand list, and basically Peppa Pig will be easily spotted if found anywhere we go. Whenever Sarah notices it, she yells ‘Peppa!’ with excitement. Lately, she started to refuse to eat at mealtimes, but by playing Peppa Pig for her, she finishes the whole plate, regardless of what the meal might be. One of her favourite snacks has been raisins, yet she refuses to eat them unless they come in the box which has the picture of Peppa, so I have come to compile a good list of what stores do and don’t sell the infamous Peppa raisins. In many ways, with Sarah I find Peppa Pig is an excellent solution for many of her emotional conditions, at least for now.
In an article in The Mirror by Melissa Thompson, she said: ‘Peppa Pig is such a phenomenon it’s hard to imagine a world without her’ (Thompson, 2014). Several reasons are causing the addiction of children and toddlers to Peppa Pig and other similar programmes. An interview with Phil Davis, the producer of Peppa Pig, was published in The Guardian, where he pointed out some aspects that made Peppa Pig a hit. He said that before the series was produced he met Astley and Baker and discussed Peppa. They noticed that the content quality of the available preschool animation in the market was poor. Most stories were without a beginning, middle or end, incomprehensible, and most of the girls were either ballerinas or princesses. Therefore, they made Peppa with her red dress and fairy personality. They also noticed that children do not like to laugh at themselves, but they like to laugh at their parents. In the series, Daddy Pig often overestimates his capabilities, and many funny situations happen with him, such as falling from a tree or a helicopter without a parachute. They created Peppa Pig from the standpoint that it is possible to get the humour in without laughing at the child. Additionally, they preferred to make animal stories to have a space to be messy and to step away from reality, so children find a safe feeling when they watch it (Beaumont-Thomas, 2018).
Fifteen years since its first episode was aired, it is still noted as one of the top five best preschool television series. It is entertaining for both children and adults, not like other programmes such as In the Night Garden or Teletubbies, which are great for children, but torture for adults. However, Peppa Pig is extensively available on most platforms such as Netflix, Now TV, or any cable device by local providers. In addition, its episodes are already available accessible for hours on YouTube. Thompson said that the series was shown in more than 170 nations. More than 200 episodes were used in more than 12,000 products, such as in Sarah’s raisins. The owner of the licensing rights, Entertainment One, has earned more than 1 billion US dollars from Peppa Pig (Thompson, 2014). In 2011, the Peppa Pig World family theme park opened in Hampshire where families could visit the animated animal cast in the form of plastic models and spend the day not only watching Peppa but partaking in her world (Stuart, 2011).
Peppa Pig is an excellent choice as its short stories offer simple vocabulary and high-quality content. The series provides language development to children by highlighting essential vocabulary. Children need to hear words more than one time to be able to use them. For example, in the 6th episode, The Playgroup, the word ‘playgroup’ is said frequently. Similarly, the same technique is used in the 17th episode, Picnic, with the word duck. Repetition is a very successful technique. Even repeating episodes over and over brings familiarity and information to be stored in the long term memory of a child. It may be annoying for parents, but familiar vocabulary encourages children to join in (Lennon, 2015).
Actually, any cartoon animation can be educational when parents are involved. A list of techniques was suggested by the blogger Mary Lennon who is the director of social science research at Columbia’s National Center for Children in Poverty in New York. First, it is required from parents to watch television with their children. For example, while watching any show, parents can comment and ask questions on what happened in any scene, wondering who made it, such as the meal that showed up at the table, where someone might have gone when leaving the room, or where the location on the screen might be such as the washroom. This is essential to develop children’s storytelling ability. Also, parents should comment on the feeling of the characters, whether they are happy, sad, or angry. Feeling vocabulary develops a child’s empathy for friendship and sharing skills. Also, parents should allow children to choose the episode themselves. This encourages children to communicate, use new words, and gives a sense of control (Lennon, 2015).
People have a love/hate relationship with Peppa Pig. According to the creators, Peppa’s behaviour is representing children’s logic (Beaumont-Thomas, 2018). Many people who post and write their opinions on the web see the main character, Peppa, bringing joy as she has many friends and is polite with her constant use of thank you and please. Others are not pleased with her, seeing her behaviour as antisocial. They are annoyed with her unnecessary whining when she loses, is rude with her friends, and is a mean older sister that often bullies her brother.
Nevertheless, the most annoying thing in Peppa Pig is the snort. The idea is educational teaching animal sounds that follow each character after they speak. For example, the rabbit family follow their sentences with a squeaking sound, ponies neigh, and pigs snort. It may be acceptable during the episode, but there is an obvious exaggeration in the opening sequence when the entire family snorts, making it inevitable for any child to learn to snort. Sarah sometimes points to Peppa with a snort, and during the opening sequence, she does not miss sharing the snorting moments of the pig family. Generally, snorting is an expression of ‘scorn, anger, indignation, or surprise’ (Merriam-Webster.com, 2019). Culturally, it is unacceptable behaviour in many areas with everyone all over the world. People do not wish to hear a snort in public, especially if it comes from their children. It is disgusting.
In fact, the differences between cultures and traditions worldwide make people think, signify, and consume media differently. As for colours, white in the European culture signifies purity and peace, while in Eastern Asian cultures, it signifies death and misfortune (Robinson, 2017). In 2015, Peppa Pig started to be broadcasted in China. It was dubbed easily and became very popular. It was such a success that it increased the income of Entertainment One massively. Additionally, theme parks similar to Peppa Pig World were expected to open during 2019 in Beijing and Shanghai. Unfortunately, the series became popular amongst violent and pornographic territories as well, relating Peppa to inappropriate jokes, phrases and tattoos. Recently, the Chinese video-sharing website Douyin deleted 30,000 clips and banned the hashtag #PeppaPig (Haas, 2018).
Moreover, Peppa Pig is multicultural. The teacher, Madam Gazelle, is French, Mrs Zebra is Irish, and Peppa has a British accent. Many people see Peppa’s accent as lovely, but some Americans would not like their kids to adopt it. They even call it the ‘Peppa Pig Syndrome’ or Peppa Pig effect’ (Horton, 2019). Americans find words such as ‘petrol station’, ‘going on holiday’, and ‘mummy’ awkward.
Many Muslims have an issue with Peppa Pig as well. Children in Muslim communities are raised seeing the pig as an impure animal and is not allowed to eat. The series created controversial ideas. Some people became confused between what is supposed to not be eaten with what is supposed to not be watched on television. However, Muslim children like to watch it. Peppa Pig is ubiquitous. Bizarrely, there were campaigns between Muslims in Australia raising money to produce alternative programmes specifically to Peppa Pig. All the ideas of the animation series were adopted from religionist scripts, but this may not be the best way to go about finding alternative shows to the pig (Palazzo, 2016).
When children watch television, they do not experience the same things adults do. For example, in general, preschool children do not understand flashbacks, dreams, or the difference between fantasy and reality. In 2012, the 36th episode of Peppa Pig, Mister Skinny Legs, was removed from online publications and future broadcasts in Australia for the same purpose. In the episode, Peppa’s brother George wants the spider to be his friend and takes him to bed, while Daddy Pig tells Peppa not to be afraid as the spider cannot hurt her. After this episode, there were complaints that children in Australia might pick up and play with dangerous spiders (Zhou, 2017). Another aspect of being cognisant about it is that preschool children find non-visual aspects such as the spoken parts difficult to follow. Therefore they enjoy interactive television programmes where the hosts speak directly to the camera, as in Sesame Street and Play School. They are also able to understand that some cartoon is not proper for their age as in scary images and violence, as it can have a negative impact on them (Raising Children Network, 2016).
Clearly, television has side effects on children, and it can be either encouraged or avoided. First, parents should watch television with their children, as Lennon suggested, monitoring and observing their reactions. As a father of a 20-month-old, it does help me bond with her, laugh with her, I know her favourites, and I am able to understand her way of thinking. Second, parents should be selective by choosing age-appropriate shows. This can be viewed as watching with intent as parents hold a key role in the development of their children and can assist in making screen time an interactive learning activity. Children mimic everything they hear. A harmless pig snort such as in Peppa Pig, all whilst may be annoying, but can also bring laughter to the group. Lastly, I may have created a bad habit of providing screen time during meals as it may lead to overeating, eating junk food, and not teaching proper table manners. However, children at my daughter’s age adopt new things fast and get rid of bad habits easily, so I may still be able to desensitize this a bit. Technology is and will always be an educational and challenging journey.
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