Public Service TV, pedagogy and Swedish Childhood - an international story of imagining a child audience
This paper draws on TV Studies (e.g., Corner, 1999; Lury, 2005) Visual Studies (e.g., Mitchell, 2005; Rose, 2001) and Childhood Studies (e.g., James, Jenks and Prout, 1998; Lee, 2001) to explore how children and childhoods are represented, visualized and negotiated as an audience for public service television. Television for children is often debated in terms of the risk and assets that the medium is thought to pose for its target audience. However, what is actually broadcast for children on TV is much more seldom looked into either by people engaging in public debate or by research (for exceptions cf. Bignell, 2005; Buckingham, 2000; 2002; Lury, 2005; Oswell, 2002; Rydin, 2000). The present study draws on TV-material broadcast for children in Sweden during 1980, 1992 and 2007, as well as programming from 2015 targeting the youngest audience (0-9 year olds).
When studying the Swedish broadcasting arena and its focus on a child audience one must bear in mind that some aspects are specific to the national context, such as a very long time period of a public service broadcasting monopoly (1956-1992 for Swedish television) and a thereby linked strong public service TV tradition for the child audience. The specificities of the national context in regard to broadcasting practices are the reason for the years under study.
When looking into the public service TV content for a Swedish child audience there are a few discourses that cannot be avoided, nature is for example always a valid content to target child viewers with independently if the programmes are home-grown or not. To ask the viewers to be active is also common in all kinds of programming for this audience group. Last but not the least, TV for children is almost always educational one way or another.
What I would like to focus my presentation on is three different programmes, all acquired from large international actors on the global media market and all of them linked to Disney Play School in some way. The programmes, JoJo’s Circus, Little Einsteins and Bear in the Big Blue House are broadcast for the youngest Swedish public service TV audience. They can be viewed as commercial programmes, something that has been troublesome in the public service context, but to buy programmes is something that the public service broadcasting company has been doing continuously over the years (Rydin 2000). What I would like to discuss is what kind of educational notions these programmes draw on, for all of them have a clearly defined educational topic intertwined in the programming plot. How this is done, what is actually taught and with what measures are although something that divides them.
JoJo’s Circus seems to display a joyful fairy-tale school, but when studied the teaching used is in a traditional manner and children in this programmes are to do what they are told by authoritarian adults.
Little Einsteins can bee seen to focus on highbrow culture such as classical music and art, but in the programme the high culture ingredients gets lost in a fast moving plot and quite bossy child characters.
Bear in the Big Blue House uses a different way to communicate its educational topic. Here the viewer is invited to join the activity on more friendly terms and what is thought, differences in imagery and perspective, is displayed in a quite complex way.
These three international, and quite globally spread programmes are in this way displayed on Swedish public service children’s TV and they are, like so many of the other programmes that are broadcast for this audience, educational – or maybe even edutainment (cf. Buckingham & Scanlon 2005). But what is striking is that they display so vastly different educational perspectives and they thereby come to present quite different views on what kind of audience these programmes imagine child viewers to be. However, these programmes put light on how notions of childhood is inevitably entangled with educational aspects in society and this raises questions of how media produces and reproduces stereotype notions of what childhood is supposed to be like.
The international conference: Media cultures of early childhood, 7-8th April, 2016, The “Youth and Media Studies Center” (Centre détudes sur les Jeunes et les Médias) in partnership with EXPERICE (Paris 13 University) and GREMS (Université Catholique de Louvain), Paris, France.