I occasionally watch children's programming not because it is intrinsically interesting – because let's face it, nothing will ever be as good as the Muppet Show – but out of an interest in the cultural education provided to children through television. Thus, children's programming is interesting in an "I'm really geeky" sort of way.* So when I was taking a break from my thesis writing with a spot of television about the life of Roald Dahl, the Sami Children's Easter program followed and I had to stay tuned. Thankfully, it was short, because it brought about two rather conflicting responses in me. The first was that it wasn't just cheesy, it was rather painfully dreadful. This is not to say that I don't think Sami people can make good programming. It's that, in a land of low-budget programming, this was really low budget, reflecting more on the Norwegian government's spending on this sort of programming than on the creativity or talents of the show's creators.** After all, there is a delicate balance between creating programming that is interesting to young children and builds their self-esteem by praising the general talent-levels of the audience without being patronizing. I've also watched single episodes of children's programming with significantly higher budgets which seem to be aimed at the same age group – Barney or Elmo-generation Sesame Street – and can say from these experiences that they are only marginally better.*** One can only pity parents who are exposed to this sort of thing on a daily basis for what one must hope is no more than a couple years. I suspect that if I get kids my favorite age for them will be once they are old enough to have a twisted sense of humor, but before they start smoking weed and generally being prats.
Back to the Easter program, the other response was of a more positive note. This was a Sami language program being broadcast nationally, though I'll grant this was on a state-owned channel and as special programming rather than regular scheduling. Really though, how many Sami children speaking a Sami language are there living in Telemark right now? While the show presented silly antics, as does any children's program, it also featured Sami kids playing in a rock band (where they sang in English, but that is another matter as many a Norwegian rock band of any cultural background choose English for their lyrics) and a young girl joiking.**** In a country where assimilation efforts tried to wipe out the Sami language, joiking was demonized and the type of drum that the girl was playing was collected by authorities and burned, this is still rather remarkable. It is remarkable, not least, because it demonstrates that the language is still actively being used and laws passed in the 1990s (oh, so long ago) are not merely politically correct window dressing. In order for such a program to be made and aired, there must be people who speak the language and in this case children who speak the language to participate in the staging of the program, and there must be children who understand the language that would be an audience for the program, not across the nation, but at least in parts of the country. This might seem self-evident to Norwegians, but without having traveled to Sami-speaking parts of the country a visitor can remain quite unaware of this official, though minority, language of Norway. It is probably also true of the program, that it is as much about keeping Sami language in active use as it is about the language actually being in active use.
*I personally prefer the word geek even though I'm such a nerd that I know that the more appropriate appellation would be nerd. Nerd, having the meaning of someone who is socially handicapped by their desire to know entirely too much information and the need to then disseminate that information to people who couldn't care less. For some reason, I prefer the old definition of "scary carny that bites the heads off of small animals" that the word geek carries, while still marking the bearer of the name as "incapable of being elected homecoming queen and thus in the same social circle as nerds" by contemporary usage.
**I have to add this contradictory statement, because I've recently discovered The Receptionist's YouTube shorts, and if there is anything more low-budget than a man with his work computer's built in camera, lots of construction paper, and the occasional use of ketchup-blood, I don't know what is. Yet, Mr. Betz creates some really bizarre and entertaining shorts, though admittedly entirely inappropriate for young children. Among other things he fantasizes in verse and graphic detail about being President Lincoln with foreknowledge of his own murder and about cannibalism on the Oregon Trail. Note that I said it's inappropriate for young children. Ten-year-olds would love this stuff, though their mums might not like his use of the word "fucker."
***Also, in sharp contrast to my peers, I never liked Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I did watch it occasionally as a child, but more out of rebellion than enjoyment. My mum had banned it along with Pee Wee's Playhouse from out television selection, as I remember it, because she found the hosts of these programs sort of creepy. And I don't care what anyone has to say about what a wonderful man Mr. Rogers really was, because I found him to be disturbingly "nice" and creepy too. I will, however, agree that it wasn't really a bad show, and it gave kids some degree of insight into kid-interesting things like balloon factories and cake, as well as how to be a decent person on a daily basis. A creepily nice person, but decent all the same. I do, however, think Blue's Clues is a good show for kids. At least, I did back when they still had Steve on the program, before the Steve as muder-victim on Law & Order controversy, when Blue was still a girl. It appealed to my feminism, Blue being a female and thus breaking the gender-color stereotyping of all things blue being for boys and all things girl being pink. And it had puzzles, and I approve of puzzles.
****On the unlikely chance that anyone reading this is not my mum or well versed in Sami culture, this would be a traditional singing style not unlike some Native American chanting traditions.