Learning Good versus Evil, Team Umizoomi Style.

Good versus evil.  An age old question.  Right now, it is a 5 year old’s question.  Which TV characters are good and which are bad and why?  My son is asking when he is good or bad.   He seems to be trying to make a generalization by use of cartoon character examples.

But have you checked out kids’ TV lately?

Recently, the little guy watched an episode of Team Umizoomi.  (What the heck happened to Joe from Blue’s Clues that he now plays a robot cartoon?  I mean, I knew he was getting porky, and losing his youthful “cuteness” but cartoon robots?)  If you know this show, then you know the “team” uses shapes and counting to create objects and solve problems for human children in Umi City.

The episode in question was “Team Umizoomi versus the Shape Bandit”.  The “bandit” is a cat who steals shapes and the team’s “shape belt”. [The “bandit” reminds me of Dora the Explorer’s Swiper – also a weird cartoon character who is beloved, although he steals stuff and throws it away, and does such a bad job of it that Dora gets it back in less than 30 seconds.  How lame is that?] Eventually, of course, the team gets the belt back, just in case you were worried.

The bandit confesses at the end that he just wanted to build himself a house in Umi City because his hideout is lonely.  The team says he is not a “bad” guy after all, because he was “lonely”!  In the end, all is forgiven but only after the team builds the house for the thief who then gives back the shape belt and all the other crap he’s stolen from all the innocent citizens of Umi City.

Really?  What are these writers on?  Is there a Vicodin glut amongst the kids’ show writers and they turn out this kind of story line?  What is the moral of the story?  I guess that it’s okay to steal if you’re lonely.  Once everyone else figures out you’re just lonely, they will give you what you want, and you can just give back the other stuff you didn’t want in the first place.  Wow.  Good stuff, right?

A milkshake and a pondering...

Now, having watched this show, my son has a few questions.  Often, T will ask a question by giving me a sentence with a question inflection in his voice like a professor, waiting for his students to fill in the blank.  First, “Shape Bandit is a _____?”   I have a few chosen selections for the blank he gives me to finish his sentence.

How about “manipulative thief”?  No, he won’t get that.  I’m debating how to answer while he repeats his question a few more times.  He alters it a bit as he asks,  “When Shape Bandit has the Shape Belt, he is being ______?”  Hmm, is it being a petty theft or is he actually involved in grand theft?  I guess the correct answer would be “criminal” or “felon” depending on the value of the shape belt.  Little Tootles won’t get that either.

So, I just turned the question back around on him.  His fill-in-the-blank was quite simple.   “…he is being bad.”  Then, we reach the hard part.  I asked him why is he bad.  He did not answer.  I told him it was because Shape Bandit took something from someone else without them saying it was okay so that was “stealing”.  He repeated “stealing”.  Not sure he gets it.

I wonder how much of this the typical parents escape.  I know that I’ve heard typical kids tell their parents how so-and-so was good or bad and what they did to earn that description in the telling child’s opinion.  That is a lot of sophisticated information that those kids can pick up on that my child cannot.

My kid is busy trying to decide, as I write this post, whether his Dodge Challenger remote control car is good or bad.  He often gives objects physiological needs (hunger, thirst, pain) and emotions but will exclude those attributes with people.  It seems it’s almost like it’s too much to consider people to have these needs and emotions.  It’s much easier to pretend that an object, which he can hold and control, can be good or bad.  Then, he will talk to that object.  The Dodge Challenger will not judge him, hurt him or talk back.  He won’t have to read its emotions.  He can assign it emotions and needs that he can pretend to fulfill or ignore if he wants.

Pretend is great practice.  It’s almost like he is getting to that point where he is hauling around objects like ‘dolls’ (but they are cars for him) to practice for social encounters some day in the future.  And how could that be a bad thing?  He’s throwing a little dabble into philosophy in the mix as well.

Someday, he will learn that his Dodge Challenger can be used as an undercover cop car to go pick up the Shape Bandit writers and haul their cat-loving butts to jail for writing such a lousy script.  Goodness, I hope he recognizes that same cop car can pick up Swiper and his inventor on that criminal round up too.


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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11 Responses to Learning Good versus Evil, Team Umizoomi Style.

  1. kcunning says:

    I’m actually happy that kids’ shows are becoming more nuanced in their portrayal of good and evil. When I was a kid, the good never messed up, and the bad were bad forever. It caused some severe malfunctions when I was told I had done something ‘bad’. Was I forever tainted?

    My Little Pony:FIM does a great job of balancing good and evil. The shows are often about the main characters being their own worst enemies. They make mistakes, they suffer from their choices, and with the help from their friends, they find a way to fix their mistakes and make amends. Now that I think about it, the show rarely has a true villain, even a misunderstood one.

    Of course, nuance isn’t exactly the best thing when dealing with an autistic child :\ Jake is nearly 12, and still trying to grasp the elusive nature of good and evil.

  2. C... says:

    Some cartoons do seem overly simplistic. Makes me wonder if any of the writers have an early childhood education background or they are just winging it to make a buck. My son used to love Thomas the Trains stories when he was that young and I think I understood it was because of the extensive dialogue and the little train faces. It was simplistic but the dialogue in it was a lot better than some of the cartoons for very young children.

  3. Flannery says:

    I’m right there with you on this. There’s so much ambiguity in these shows that it’s really hard to explain things to my kiddo. He has a grasp on “good and bad”, but he struggles with “bad, except he was really lonely and sad, and while that doesn’t make it okay that he did it, it kind of makes him less bad.” I mean, that’s quite a mess to explain.

  4. blogginglily says:

    There was an age with Emma where it became apparent that she did NOT appreciate cartoons where there was no overtly evil villain. Scar, from Lion King, is troubling, because he SAYS nice things to Simba, but she wasn’t picking up the sarcasm. And then he kills Simba’s dad!! I think that uncertainty was scary for her. She was more onboard with less realistic villains. . . like lonely shape stealing kitty cats, or mustache twirling Snidely Whiplash types.

  5. You can add Mickey Mouse Clubhouse to your list. I know because I have seen every. last.episode — at least 5 times each. In MMCH Pete is the villain, but he’s usually not bad… just misunderstood, or lonely, or… whatever. But the writing? It IS bad.

    I don’t look forward to teaching Little Miss about good and bad with these kinds of examples. Gonna have to get me a few copies of some classic Wiley Coyote!

  6. Broot says:

    We, too, went through a “labelling” stage with my NT kids over who was the good guy and who was the bad guy. It was important to them. While I agree with kcunning that it’s good they’re layering it, and showing that there’s a grey area that involves the WHY a person is a “bad guy” I think when kids are little, since they think in black & white terms, their bad guys should be black & white distinguishable, as well. Discovering the world is full of grey areas really doesn’t happen with most people until they’re well into their 20s.

    I think we have to understand the clearcut definitions of ideas and terms before we can figure out the abstracts, circumstantials, and overrides.

  7. Kelly Hafer says:

    Wait…I got stopped at the fact that Joe from Blue’s Clues is the voice of the robot. Is that true? Totally not the point, but that is where my brain landed. I gotta research this!

  8. Grace says:

    Ryan is 8 and thinks all bad guys wear burglar masks. If you’re not wearing a burglar mask, you must be OK. I blame Swiper.

  9. Lisa says:

    This particular episode has been played no less than 10 times since it aired on Monday…or Friday…whatever. All I know is that Tate is obsessed. He had a very difficult time telling his therapist why the bandit was the bad guy. He was confused because in the end, he gives everything back. He perseverated on the part with the robot sneeze. He wants to watch that over, and over, and over….

  10. eof737 says:

    Oh! I can’t stop laughing over this one… What are they on? I wondered about that too when Barney was a huge hit!!! 😆

  11. VALERIE says:

    My daughter kept reminding me that she wanted me to write to Nick Jr. that she is scared of the Shape Bandit. I just went on their site and quoted her words. You can too: http://www.nickjr.com/home/write_to_us.jhtml

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