Friday, January 15, 2010

That's Offensive!

I remember the teaching instructions from the mid 1990s.  It was some sort of lesson or activity based on this  nursery rhyme:
Peter Peter pumpkin eater
Had a wife and couldn't keeper.
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well.

Except the lesson had swapped out wife for mouse.  Why?   There was some nonsense about how Peter's wife in the pumpkin shell was a bad example.  I couldn't believe they found it offensive.  Never mind that putting anybody in a pumpkin shell was implausible and silly.    Did they really think the original version would corrupt kids?   The whole thing struck me as "look how enlightened we are!" posturing.

I think nearly anything can be interpreted as offensive.
Take Jack and Jill:
Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown.
And Jill came tumbling after.
Let's squeeze some bogus outrage  out of it...
...Why, it's insensitive to people with head injuries.  It trivializes brain trauma!   It's sexist.   Why Jack and Jill and not Jill and Jack?  Why is Jill a secondary character?  They both fell down the same hill, yet we don't hear about Jill's injuries.  It implies that girls are less important It's racist by omission.   It's sexist against men because it implies the male character is incompetent.  It makes fun of the working class.   It mocks those who  rely on wells. It trivializes child labor.  It makes fun of thirsty people.   It makes fun of people named Jack or Jill.  Jack is a variation of John, which in turn is a from the name Yochanan which means "God is Great."  And you want to send someone named "God is Great" on a bungling adventure?  I guess you hate religion too....

Back to the people who replaced "had a wife" with "had a mouse," I wonder what they'd think of these early varients of the rhyme:

Eeper Weeper, chimbly sweeper,*
Had a wife but couldn't keep her.
Had another, didn't love her,
Up the chimbly he did shove her.
Peter, my neeper,
Had a wife,
And he coud[n't]  keep her,
He [put]  her [in the wall]
And [let all] the mice eat her.

 *This later was incorporated into a song that began:
Did you ever hear the story of Willie the Weeper? 
He had a job as a chimney sweeper,
Which in turn inspired Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher."   Who knew Peter and Minnie were relatives?


Sally said...

pc stuff gets so insane. I bet they're going to abandon nursery rhymes all together in schools, too hard to relate to. My relatives sent us many nursery rhyme books when Dinah was little and I noticed that though she loved being read to, the nursery rhymes were her least favorite.

Namowal said...

Hi Sally,
I think I appreciate some nursery rhymes more as an adult than when I was a kid. As you said, too hard to relate to.
At least the books could liven them up with cartoony illustrations.

stray said...

Fun illustration! They didn't worry about pc stuff when I was a kid.

Namowal said...

Hi stray,
It's funny how "what's appropriate" changes over time. Did you know that when they released the early episodes of Sesame Street on DVD it came with a disclaimer that some of it might not be appropriate for kids?

Linda said...

That's a lively illustration for a "still"!

Namo, it's funny because when I opened up your blog, I thought: "Those 2 carnival rides are STILL GOING!" like they should've run out of steam by now.

Namowal said...

Thanks Linda.
I probably should have put "stop" and "play" buttons on those things.
(Interesting how we have an internal eye for spotting when the laws of physics are pushed.)