Contributed by E.L.
I take care of my nephews a few times a week and they love watching Nick Jr. and PBS. I was very fascinated with some of the things that were happening in some of these cartoons, Little Bear, Franklin, and Arthur in particular.
First, I noticed that these animals all take on human characteristics. At least the main character, but others included, all have opposable thumbs. They have the ability to write and pick up utensils–they can do tedious, intricate work even though they are equipped with a paw or wing. When a character does have wings instead of “arms” those characters have the ability to utilize their feathers like fingers, being able to bend and hold things with them, they also generally have one feather that is the place of a thumb and can thus write and hold things like the other creatures. In the case of Little Bear, the character Cat does not have a opposable thumb and walks on all fours, instead of on two legs–this does not limit its ability to stand on it’s hindquarters and to grasp items with its front paws. How it does this escapes me. It has no opposable thumb, per se, yet it can hold and play a tambourine–a naturally sticky secretion perhaps? magnetism?
Along these same lines, the characters (again, at least the main character) lives in an upper-middle class suburbia. Although Franklin and Arthur both have towns or cities which they live in, they live on the outskirts of these. They are equipped with large houses that have indoor plumbing of some sort, furniture of some sort, refrigerators, ovens with stovetops, and plates, forks, knives and spoons and other utensils. In Arthur, some animals live in the city in apartments, but never the main character. In Franklin and Arthur, the characters go to school where they have the capability to learn reading, writing and math. I also find it interesting that in Little Bear and Franklin, few characters are given actual names: “Cat” is a cat, “Duck” is a duck, “Hen” is a hen, “Snail” is a snail. Yet Franklin’s a turtle and in Little Bear the human girl is named Emily, they aren’t called “Turtle” and “Girl.”
I’m proving these points because there was something, in Arthur and Franklin mostly, the disturbs me slightly. In these worlds, where animals are the ones in charge, not all animals are equal. As a world wide community, we may have racial discrepancies and prejudices–which are unfortunate–but a human is a human. Period. These shows obviously take place in an America like setting, where democracy is the ruling practice and the citizens have to abide by laws. In America, we no longer practice servitude and slavery. No one will argue that point–things aren’t equal by any means, but we don’t force others into a slaveship. In these cartoons, they show the characters with pets, generally a dog or cat or a fish. I find this wrong. I realize that they are merely illustrating humans through the animals, but by giving the animals pets, they are saying that not all creatures are allowed equal rights.
Arthur has a pet dog named Pal. What makes Arthur and his friends and family above the species of dogs? Why was the puppy not enrolled in preschool with the rest and given the chance at an education? Why was enslaved into being a stupid mere animal without the higher thinking capacities and motor functions? In Franklin, a similar thing happened: Franklin passed a store window that had a puppy in it. What did he do? He talked to his parents about getting a pet. Again, why was the dog forced into the position of pet and not given the chance to make something of himself? We don’t look at a certain denomination of humans and decided that they will be our pets–our slaves. That doesn’t happen in today’s society. Why would these shows want to present the idea of equality among the species–except for those who will be pets. I doubt kids will see this and think, “oh, that Aardvark has a puppy as a pet, how cruel!” They see it as a reflection of human society in reference to owning a pet.
Also, there are no problems with the animals being carnivorous. In one episode of Little Bear, “Duck Soup,” they jokingly made a duck soup. They had Duck sit in a large pot while they put in other ingredients. Cat and Little Bear and the others added in this and that while duck swam around in the water. Why is the idea of eating another fellow animal all right? They play and get along with their friends, yet they have no qualms in eating another animals’ flesh. In our human society, yes, we eat animals, but we don’t eat other humans. Being a cannibal is highly looked down upon, except in cartoons, where a second thought isn’t given.
Maybe I’m overreacting, but I feel that in a society where animals prevail, either there should be a definite hierarchy of animals where the strong eat the weak and it reflects upon nature or all animals should be given the same rights and privileges, and should be vegetarian. In cartoons like Franklin, Little Bear, and Arthur, they gain nothing by having the characters be carnivores or by having them own other animals as pets. It breaks down the idea that we are equal and all have certain rights, even though we may look different and have unique strengths and weaknesses.