Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Dr Patricia Edgar, and other monsters

After the issue of banning junk-food advertising on kids’ TV came up in Federal Parliament on June 16, Dr Patricia Edgar (founder of the Australian Children's Television Foundation) could reasonably be expected to have promptly chimed-in. Perhaps she decided to hold her fire for a while, because two days earlier she had had published a quite bizarre Op Ed, recommending censor leniency when it comes to rating quite-scary kids’ films – as long as such films are styled as fairytales, that is. Whatever – I’m sure the business/union combine known as Hollywood couldn’t have put the argument for their naked commercial interests any better if they’d paid someone to write it. And Dr Edgar sure knows how to unpack a fairytale:

One of the myths that has been perpetuated about J. K. Rowling is that she was a single, unemployed mum, living on the poverty line, who wrote in cafes because she couldn't pay her heating bill and who just happened to churn out a story that appealed to millions of children around the world. She was, in fact, a tertiary-educated woman who had studied classics and had been writing stories since the age of six.

Huh? Apparently, out there in Patricia Edgar-land, a person can’t be unemployed and a writer, or tertiary-educated and poor. If so, beam me up, Patty.

Today though, Edgar belatedly did weigh-in to Fat Kids: the Issue. She observes – quite correctly – that Mark Latham’s proposal to ban junk-food advertising on childrens’ TV could only be a part-solution at best. However, as to her own decades (c. 1980 – 2002) of complicity in the problem – as founder and then long-term boss of the Australian Children's Television Foundation – Edgar is nonchalant:

Twenty-five years ago, I chaired the children's program committee of the then Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. Bruce Gyngell (the first face on Australian television and then chairman of the ABT) was the father of the new Children's Program and Advertising Standards, which are still in place. Bruce, who loved the industry, believed there could be a trade-off on behalf of children, and he promulgated the quotas and limits on advertising that became the standards. There were to be no advertisements in programs for preschoolers, whom it was recognised did not know the difference between programs and ads. And the number of advertisements in C-classified programs for six to 12-year-olds was reduced . . .

The fact is that restrictions on preschool advertising were meaningless. The way around it was to make the program the advertisement. And so we have Bananas in Pyjamas, Teletubbies, Postman Pat, Bob the Builder, Thomas the Tank Engine, The Wiggles, Hi-5, and so on. And the public broadcasters, the BBC and the ABC, are the worst offenders. The characters are tied in with the products and junk food is a dominant part of the mix.

If the childrens’ TV industry so took the public for a ride then, the fact is that the now-retired Dr Edgar should have spoken out about the “meaningless” nature of the restrictions on preschool advertising at the time. And since she didn’t (AFAIK) – she should be held to account on this (aka: Fat kids of the nation, stuff suing Macca’s: it’s at least as much Patricia Edgar’s fault too, so why not “shop locally”?). At the very minimum, Edgar could do a General Pinochet, and retire in graceful disgrace (= shut the fuck up).

Finally, and with the disclaimer that I’m not into either the Harry Potter or the Shrek franchises, why is the former all-good because of its fairytale-ness, while Shrek – who even I know is a fat monster – is simply evil incarnate in the medical (= non-fairytale) sense of the word:

Free speech for the advertiser means, it seems, having the right to tell children that eating is fun; that it's fun to be fat (like Shrek)

So evil monsters must be skinny, Dr Edgar? Or is that fat monsters must be no-fun? I’m confused.

All I’m hoping for is that the nation’s chubby cherubs follow the trail of Kinder Surprises all the way to Dr Evil-witch Edgar’s front-door, and serve her with a big, fat, gingerbread writ. Now, that would be a fairytale for the whole family.

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