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It’s a bit like ‘Where’s Wally?’ Locating something interesting and different in the mire of American-dominated children’s TV. I’m not helping make myself any more popular with them over the sea but I have to speak.
The TV meerkats are currently in my top ten of personalities I’d like to get to know. Their mysterious culture, their serious faces and grave humour make them a serious contenders for personality of the year.
They look after their old and are tender with their young.
Even their broken English, their hobbies and histories are refreshingly captivating. They have philosophy and you get the feeling they’re quietly erudite. Which makes them a highly attractive alternative to… the Americans.
No doubt we get the worst impression of America. The media they export (though I hear they export their best) has a strong cultural message which is foreign to us and the mania for consumption that has escalated here over the last 25 years here is (I think) American.
Pop Girl channel with its endless spool of teen TV programmes (which I’m subjected to every day now) consists almost uniquely of U.S. programmes.
The California-tanned beauties and their fit, virile male friends make tedious watching. They snack on leaves and fruit (hah!) and fight for environmental issues, justice and stand up for the small guy.
Their staccato talk (do they really talk in those nasal, whiny voices?) and tales with morals are written (and acted) to a formula. Are we to take these kids seriously when they promote honesty or loyalty?
And I see the same facial expressions, same body gestures and inflection… (we end up watching the same stories with different actors in them. Someone invariably spits out food or has a food fight; someone will adopt that cocky expression and say, ‘Oh really?’ Someone else will frown-smile and say, ‘Okaaayyyy…’ to denote the weirdness of someone else. Yawn…
Now the meerkats… they’re wholesome and seem beautifully unaware of how to present themselves globally. Blissfully un-photogenic and with no idea of what ‘cool’ is, (“Who’s this cool?”) the entire family is clearly lacking any PR exercises. Unattractive (even baby Oleg isn’t pretty), foreign and with no sense of what we in the west are used to, it goes to show we’re capable of accepting the new and peculiar.
One of the most peculiar characteristics is that (I’ve just learned) meerkats are native to south Africa yet they have strongly eastern European accents… Some dark and interesting evolutionary/ancestral episode no doubt.
They feel like creatures I’d like to have in my close circle of friends. They could teach me new things and help me solve problems in new ways.
They wouldn’t understand our desire for buy-to-let or fast food; you get the feeling they walk five miles to the village for bread and have things like smoked tomatoes and pickled apple for supper (they’re all very trim you’ll notice).
Their TV marketing campaigns would be innocent and plain. The moustached chap with the village hardware store – proud of having secured a TV commercial after having been on the list for 15 years – might advertise his shop’s dinner service by smiling widely at the camera with a slogan like, ‘Buy my jugs and pots – they’re very useful!’
No, I don’t want to adopt a toy or buy a book and I wouldn’t want them to have a series. But credit to the creator of these fully formed and novel personalities.
As a backlash against the eternal flow of US culture (we in the UK now have ads directly imported from the US – no editing for the UK market), with its uniform outpouring of values and moralising, the meerkats remind us of the diversity that lies beyond the States. And the value in that diversity.
(Oh God that last line sounded a lot like preaching and moralising… it’s catching I swear…)