For those of us born and raised in the UK, perhaps the greatest epitome of infant TV was Balamory on CBeebies. It was like a rainbow had melted all over this tiny town; there was a lovely little nursery, charming multi-coloured houses, and a big yellow house for Josie Jump which would more than fit the bill for MTV’s Cribs.
“Wow, I want to live there!” my baby brain thought to itself. But, sadly, I never could call it home.
While Tobermory (where Balamory was shot), does possess some brightly coloured seafront houses, it is far greyer and… well, ordinary… than CBeebies made it out to be. Archie’s brilliant pink castle is nothing more than a giant grey slab overlooking the town.
Housing – and life in general – is idealised in Balamory, and maybe for good reason. After all, the point of a show like Balamory is to please and entertain. Hard-hitting realism would likely go over the head of a four-year-old, it might even scare them. But, children watching this show are being transported into a dangerously detached fantasy. Balamory constructs an idea of what homes should look like, giving false expectations to the viewership.
Television can have such a pronounced effect on young children, so much so that in the past it has created something of a moral panic both in the UK and internationally. Recently, there was a call in Australia to ban children under two years old from watching television, which was in part a reaction to this very problem. A singular depiction of houses is being presented to young children, who will more likely than not take them at face value.
Compare Balamory with the dominant experience of housing for children in the UK – built-up urban areas, lacking the bright colours and picturesque nature of this quaint little seaside village. Children living in tower blocks or even city suburbs could look at these kinds of houses with envious eyes. They might feel that there is something missing from their own home.
This ultimately derives from the portrayal of the world on Balamory – and make no mistake, that tiny little village is definitely a world. A world where all the houses are brightly coloured, nicely decorated and seem to reflect their owners freakishly well. That is simply not reality. Our world of cement bricks, cold steel and rows of generic houses is as far removed from Miss Hoolie’s turf as you can imagine.
It can be argued that the romanticisation of housing is not a problem. Firstly, it is debatable whether or not a single will influence how children see the world. Secondly, TV is inextricably linked to escapism. Viewers, especially where younger ones, look to shows to transport them to an imaginary land.
The problem is that it is not just Balamory creating idealised versions of houses and homes. Almost all children’s TV creates similar depictions of fantastical homes, whether they be next to a zoo of talking animals or a giant treehouse. These portraits are detached from reality, refusing to present children with the real world.
Not enough television presents children with ‘home’ – home as it exists, as a place of tangible comfort and security. Instead, the synthetically coloured houses are seen as places of artificial joy.
Image: Jessica Bee @ Flickr