Tuesday, December 30, 2003

While chatting to my brother, Steve, in Canada on MSN this evening he sent over a picture of his daughter Elin getting stuck into the presents on Christmas Day.

My attention was caught by one of her toys and I asked him naively who Dora the Explorer was.

Steve pointed me here and explained that little Ellie is quite a fan of the 7-year-old Latina.

I was quite taken by the programme's high-minded aims -- to "teach children how to observe situations and solve problems as they explore Dora's world with her. Along the way, kids learn basic Spanish words and phrases, as well as math skills, music, and physical coordination."

OK, so French might be more useful than Spanish for a young girl growing up in Canada but for a cartoon show it's pretty impressive nonetheless.

Then I clicked across to the shop. There are no fewer than 110 items of merchandise related to the show, ranging from loot bags at $2.49 to a vanity and stool set at $79.99.

Each item of merchandise is designed for and targetted towards pre-school children. Not teenagers with their own pocket money but kids who have only recently learnt to talk and are now being taught to shop.

This is nothing new, of course. I had my Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle (which never made it up the ramp and always crashed straight into the kitchen door) and Six Million Dollar Man Action Figure (with bionic eye and roll up skin on his arm) as a kid -- and I wanted them precisely because I'd seen them on television. But I'm sure neither Evel Knievel or Steve Austen attempted to "teach little kids problem-solving skills" while simultaneously trying to flog them as much associated bedding, collectibles, gift packs, play tents and stuffed animals and dolls as a pre-schooler can handle.

Dora the Explorer? Dora the Consumer, more like.


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