February 28, 2009

The Sound Of One-Hand Scolding

cbeebies_hosts.jpgA media cluckstorm erupted in the UK this week after the BBC reported with that "some parents," including "a minority of parents" on the broadcasters' online forums, "complained" or "expressed concern" that Cerrie Burnell, a new presenter on CBeebies, the children's channel, was "scaring" kids and "prompting awkward questions from young people" because she was born with just one hand.

Media commentators across the media spectrum were unified in their alarm and condemnation of parents for harboring what the Guardian called an "alarming prejudice". Mmm, alarm? The Daily Mail would love some, thanks: "It's not Cerrie Burnell who's a threat to children - it's their bigoted parents". The Times was just disappointed it had to report on this controversy at all: "even in this supposed age of equal opportunity, there remains a hardcore resistance to confront the issue."

Exactly how grave is this threat and how large this hardcore resistance, again? Nine "official complaints," whatever that means, and a tiny number of comments on the CBeebies parent forums, which are moderated by the network. I surfed through the entire CBeebies boards, though, and couldn't find any.

There were dozens of comments of the "Where are Chris and Pui?" "Bring back Chris and Pui!" variety, where overwrought parents complained at how CBeebies was disrespecting and abusing children by replacing the previous presenters without a chance to say goodbye. [The pair left to develop another show, set to air later this year.] And there were dozens more comments after the mediastorm broke showing support for Burnell and outrage at her critics, and doze I could not find any comments expressing "concern," or "prejudice," about Burnell's arm or her potential effect on kids.

I did see six comments with the message, "This posting has been hidden during moderation because it broke the House Rules in some way."

And there are references to other threads and exchanges like this one from early February,

posted by Kazraa (U8233448): We havent watched CBeebies for a couple of weeks so I was a little surprised when I did tune in to see the new presenters. What's happened to Chris and Poi? Not sure about the new ones and not sure how children will take to them either.

posted by wonderfulmummyof2 (U13774450) :Before someone jumps down your throat, they have left and if you check out a few of the threads you'll find out a bit more. They have gone to do their own programme together which sounds fab due around spring I heard?? smiley xx [formatting altered from original]

Which makes me wonder if CBeebies deleted the comments that BBC cited as "expressingi concern"? Or did they delete entire threads that contained the comments in question, along with, presumably, the vast majority of forum participants' refutations and shows of support?

That would be problematic, but can you imagine a week-long media frenzy erupting over a story titled, "Five insensitive comments on Internet message board leave several indignant"?

the BBC story that started it all: How do you explain a missing hand to a child? [bbc via dt reader marty, who posted about the story at gearability]
Nonplussed reactions from two disabled TV folks, Gary Murning and the BBC's own resident expert, Disability Bitch. seriously.

1 Comment

Which only reinforces my general view: People Suck.

The only reason children 'freak out' at people who are 'different' is when their parents do.

When I was a small child (somewhere around 4), my mother and I were out shopping when we ran into a man whose face and hands had been very severely burned (he was a WW2 vet). To this day I still remember simply being fascinated because he was so 'different'. Of course, my mother scolded me for staring, but the gentleman was very gracious and kind, he smiled and explained that he had been burned in the war. I smiled back, shook his had and told him that 'he was very nice'.

It's something that has stuck with me to this day. With so many vets now gone, I don't think children have these same experiences today (although, with Gulf War 2 coming up on it's 6th anniversary, and thousands injured, they unfortunately may).

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