31 July 2003

Mine's just right for me?

Theresa has a number of Barney videos in her collection, although she hasn't watched them recently. Barney is, of course, the purple dinosaur who appears on the American PBS television network, captivating toddlers and preschoolers alike, while less evidently appealing to their parents. Most of what is on this programme is innocuous, and much of it actually has some value, teaching the undoubted virtues of co-operation and tolerance, if not of courage and fidelity.

But there is one song which I fast-forward through when it comes on. Its refrain goes like this:

O, a family is people, and a family is love; that’s a family. They come in all different sizes, shapes and kinds, and mine’s just right for me; O mine’s just right for me.

The song proceeds to describe some of these kinds, including this one:

A girl I know lives with her mom; her dad lives far away. Though she sees her parents just one at a time, they both love her every day.

To be sure, there are children watching the programme whose parents are divorced, and they need to be assured that they are still loved by them. But conspicuous by its absence from this song is any recognition of the tragedy of the broken home and its devastating impact on children. By repeating the upbeat refrain after this stanza, the authors of the song fail to acknowledge the hurt that divorce brings to children. "Dry your eyes, and keep singing; everything's fine," the lyrics seem to say.

I cannot help concluding that the lyrics are aimed more at assuaging the guilt of the parents than at reassuring the children. When parents hear the obviously happy youngsters on television singing "mine's just right for me," they can heave a sigh of relief and pretend that the pain is not there. Yet I imagine that there are small children now hearing that song who, as they grow to maturity, will come to hate it because it minimized the genuine anguish they felt at their parents' shattered marriage.

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