Thursday, October 22, 2009

Humpty Dumpty, CBeebies and cultural vandalism

Gather round, little ones, and Uncle Hugh will read you a nursery rhyme.
Or at least, he’ll download a CBeebies version from BBC iPlayer and play it back to you while he sneaks off to the kitchen for a quick snifter.
It’s an old favourite, so you can sing along. It’s all about a friendly organic egg called Humpty Dumpty. Poor Humpty! He accidentally fell off a wall, but luckily some kind soldiers were riding by and they – according to CBeebies – made him happy again.
That’s right, darlings. Made. Humpty. Happy. Again.
What’s the matter, children? Why are you crying? Did cruel Uncle Hugh spoil the nursery rhyme for you? Did you want Humpty to end up in eggy shards on the floor? Or was it the nasty CBeebies' wanton cultural vandalism that made you cry? What’s cultural vandalism? I’ll tell you when you’re older. Now, off to bed.
Time for a reality check. Yes, a CBeebies programme called Something Special has mangled the words to Humpty Dumpty. Yes, a few newspaper columnists are up in arms about it.
Not this one, though. He’s more concerned about the BBC playing fast and loose with Her Majesty’s Own Capital Letters. And anyway, they’ve got the words right on the Teletubbies website, so there’s still some hope for our literary heritage.
No, this is but a storm in a cultural teacup, and if you think differently then you should take a trip to Carpentras in south-eastern France, where the town council has voted to rename one of its nurseries.
No longer will la crèche Émile Zola take its name from the 19th-century novelist responsible for the gritty naturalism of Germinal and La Bête Humaine.
You know the sort of thing. Penguin Classics. Black covers. Eight hundred pages of novel, 40 pages of scholarly notes. Alcohol. Unemployment. Violence. Misery piled on misery. A bit like Bath on a Friday night. Not exactly holiday reading.
The works of Zola, it would appear, are too “demoralising” for nursery staff and their tender charges. So henceforth, the Émile Zola nursery will be known as Little Sweeties. And this in a town which houses one of the first and greatest municipal libraries in the country.
In France, it would appear, political correctness doesn’t go mad. It goes stark raving bonkers.
And yet, and yet... If Humpty Dumpty were alive today, and had fallen off a CBeebies-style wall, he wouldn’t have broken. Because he’d have landed on an impact-absorbing, slip-resistant, non-inflammable playground surface conforming in every respect to British Standard EN 1177:1998. And he’d have bounced.
But if he’d been in a French playground, he’d have landed smack bang on the gravel and been cooked in an omelette. They toughen them up early, across the Channel.
And those soldiers: they may have been helpful enough in the nursery rhyme, even if they couldn’t put Humpty together again.
But travel to Paris, as the grown-up Dixons did last weekend, and the military are on the streets, guns out, patrolling the entrances to such cultural hubs as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. (We didn’t just go for the food.)
So there you have it. On the one hand, Vive la différence. On the other, Plus ça change.
Just don’t let CBeebies mess with the Grand Old Duke of York, is all.

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