Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Growing up on Rastamouse...

The BBC has launched a new children's show called Rastamouse (clip below), in which the characters speak patois and appear to spend their time creating "boombastic" tunes and "shakin it." SkyTV's Colin Brazier has taken issue with this new show:

But with its latest acquisition the BBC has lost sight of the logic of what children's TV is for.
Rastamouse, which launched a few weeks ago on CBeebies, features an animated Rastafarian mouse. He sings with a band called Easy Crew. So far so good. But, and here's the rub, the characters speak Jamaican Patois.
They use phrases like "me wan go" ("I want to go"), "irie" ("happy"), "wagwan" ("what's going on?").
I can understand what the BBC aimed at. It wants to reach out to kids who feel excluded by the clear diction of 'mainstream' children's TV. It wanted a 'cool' character for kids who might not feel all that much in common with Spencer, Josie or, indeed, PC Plum.

But the idea is flawed. It is folly to think that patois is something kids need exposing too. It is an obstacle to social mobility in the very communities which need it most.

When my husband and I first moved to the UK I worked with teenagers in some of London's most impoverished and violent boroughs. These are neighbourhoods rife with violence, where teens have no respect for anybody (including themselves), where heroin and meth are the drugs du jour, where getting shanked (stabbed) on the way to or from school is a real possibility. There is no hope floating around on these streets. Every once in awhile I met a young man (or woman) determined to break the cycle, move out of the borough and make an honest living. One young man in particular was relatively well-mannered, bright and determined to forge a career in finance. Observing this young man and realizing that the moment he opened his mouth in a job interview with any City firm his barely comprehensible "English" would immediately disqualify him from the position was frustrating. Encouraging and promoting patois to youngsters in a population where the majority of young students do not speak English as a first language, and where many who claim English as a first language can barely string a grammatically correct sentence together, is not helping development - it is building barriers.

Colin finishes his post with this thought:
Young, black boys don't need to take lessons in cultural affirmation from Rastamouse. They need to learn how to speak in a way that will not bar them from opportunity

I could not agree more.