International Parenting: Avoiding Stereotypes With ‘Rastamouse’

My son is having an international childhood. His father is a Canadian who lived for a long time in the U.S. and his mother a Spaniard who lived for a long time in England. We divide our time between Santander in Spain and Oxford in England.

One effect of this is that he has different associations for different places. England, for example, is a summer place, a small-town place where in the early morning before going to camp or the park he gets to watch TV. Spain isn’t a TV place because TV sucks in Spain. We didn’t even bother buying a TV there.

I don’t mind him watching BBC because they have some great kids’ programs. One of his favorites also helps make him more international. It’s called “Rastamouse.” Rastamouse is a mystery-solving Reggae mouse musician who always catches the bad guys. Once he does, he shows them the error in their ways and helps them make amends. Rastamouse calls this “making a bad ting good.” It’s a nice change from superheroes, who simply kick the bad guy’s ass.

“Rastamouse” is hugely popular in the UK and is coming soon to the United States. It hasn’t been without controversy, however. Some viewers think the cheese on the show is a symbol for marijuana, ignoring the fact that Rastamouse and his friends are, um, mice. A less silly complaint came from Daily Mail columnist Lindsay Johns, who in his op-ed on “Rastamouse” objects to the Jamaican patois. He says it panders to racial stereotypes and that “the BBC is leading us down the path of linguistic rack and ruin.”

“Very soon (if they aren’t already), a whole generation of primary school children will be rushing around the playground mimicking Rastamouse and saying, ‘Wha gwan?'” he writes.

So far, I have yet to hear my son imitate Rastamouse, and if he did I don’t think that would lead him to forgetting the Queen’s English. I also don’t agree with Johns’ statement that Rastamouse’s being cool means he isn’t cerebral. He solves a mystery every episode by analyzing clues.I let my son watch this show because, unlike what some of its detractors say, it actually breaks stereotypes. I have to admit to a certain amount of snickering on the part of me and my wife when we first saw this show. We kept waiting for pot references but they never came. We missed the whole cheese thing. Rastamouse creators Genevieve Webster and Michael De Souza (who is a Rastafarian) are clearly not interested in making a cult show for stoner college kids.

Our reaction made me think. While we know that most Jamaicans aren’t lazy pot smokers, we were brought up with that stereotype so it pops into our heads even if we don’t believe it. I was interested to learn from various African-American friends that in their community, Jamaicans are stereotyped as workaholics. One friend who worked briefly as a farmer in Jamaica (growing sugar cane) said he couldn’t keep up with the hard pace of his island coworkers. The TV show In Living Color did a riff on this with a series of sketches of a Jamaican family who have more than a hundred jobs between them. Every skit involved the father complaining about his “lazy, good-for-noting son who only has eight jobs.”

My son is getting a different impression of Jamaicans. For him, folks from that island speak differently but have intelligent things to say, make good music, work hard, and help their erring brothers and sisters “make a bad ting good.”

New BBC America cooking show combines travel and adventure

It was only a matter of time before all the eating of rats and scorpions on “Survivor” grew tiresome. Perhaps that’s why producer Kevin Greene and “Chopped” producer Chachi Senior created a new cooking series for BBC America that combines exotic locales with dodgy outdoor adventures. There’s just one little catch: there’s no kitchen.

No Kitchen Required” takes 2008 Food & Wine “Best New Chef” Michael Psilakis of New York’s FISHTAG and Kefi, private executive chef Kayne Raymond (aka the resident beefcake), and former “Chopped” champ Madison Cowan, and drops them into ten remote locations to perform some serious hunting and gathering.

After being plunked down in Dominica; Belize; New Zealand; Fiji; Thailand; Hawaii; New Mexico; Louisiana, and Florida, each chef is handed a knife (“Pack your knives and go,” is not a sentence you’ll hear uttered on this series) and a few key ingredients. They’re then left to fish, hunt, forage, and otherwise scrounge up the remaining ingredients to “create a locally-inspired meal that will be judged by the community.”

Despite the gimmicky and somewhat contrived nature of the challenges, there’s a lot to love about this show. It’s fun, innovative, and despite my raging addiction to “Top Chef,” I’m happy to see a cooking show that finally requires the use of local/seasonal ingredients (let’s hope there’s no blow-darting of endangered monkeys or serving of shark fin). Weaving the regional and cultural element into the concept is genius. Braised nutria, anyone?

The series premieres April 3rd.

[Photo credit: © Gilles Mingasson for BBC AMERICA]

Shortwave radio memories: BBC World Service turns 80

On this day in 1932, the BBC World Service started shortwave radio broadcasts.

It was a different world back then. Television was an experimental curiosity, satellites and the Internet were unknown, and so the only way to get news around the world instantly was via shortwave radio. Shortwave radio waves bounce off the ionosphere in our upper atmosphere to return to Earth hundreds or even thousands of miles away. While FM only transmits to spots within the line of sight of the transmitter, a shortwave broadcast can easily cross the Atlantic.

This was especially useful for the BBC, which transmitted news to the far-flung corners of the British Empire. They soon became the leaders of the shortwave radio scene and their broadcasts continue to be of the highest quality.

For most of us these days, shortwave radio is a quaint product of a different age, a bit like the aerogramme. There was a time, though, when shortwave was king, and it’s still vitally important to people in remote and developing regions, and to adventure travelers. This article on BBC interviews four people who still use shortwave to listen to BBC.

I used to love shortwave radio. As a bored child of the Eighties living in the middle of nowhere, it gave me a window on the world. With my clunky old radio I could listen to broadcasts from just about anywhere. Most of the national radio services had broadcasts in English, so I tuned in to news and programs from my favorite stations: Radio Damascus, Deutsche Welle (Germany), Radio Beijing, Radio Moscow (the Soviet Union), Radio Quito (Ecuador) and of course the BBC.

The BBC was my favorite. While not as exotic as Radio Pyongyang or the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service, the signal was always strong and they had programming on an endless number of topics.

Shortwave radio also gave me an insight into the world that the TV networks couldn’t, or wouldn’t. When the Iran-Iraq War was raging, I listened to both Radio Baghdad and Radio Tehran. It was like they were talking about different wars. Each side claimed crushing victories, often on the same day, and both upheld their cause as just. Comparing the Voice of America and Radio Moscow, I realized it wasn’t just nasty Third World dictatorships that played that game.
There were also the challenges of hunting rare and unusual stations–the pirate stations, or offshore protest stations like The Voice of Peace, and low-power stations from small countries. One I could never track down was Radio Nepal. I still remember the frequency, 5005 khz. No matter what the time of day or night and no matter how favorable the conditions, I could never pick up its signal in North America.

It was fitting, then, that when I first visited Nepal in 1994, I was greeted at the border by a Nepali soldier with his ear glued to a small handheld shortwave set.

“Nixon?” he asked.

“Um, yes,” I replied, not quite knowing what he meant.

“Dead,” he said.

Through the Nepali chatter on his radio I recognized the former president’s name.

“Oh,” I said.

He held out his hand.

“Passport, please.”

In my backpack I was carrying a shortwave set. I hadn’t turned it on that day or I would have known about Nixon. I did use it regularly, though, all that wonderful year as I journeyed overland across Asia visiting some of the countries whose radio stations I’d been listening to since I was a kid. I discovered a lot of strange local stations, but time and again I’d go back to my old favorite, the BBC World Service.

I don’t use shortwave much these days, only when I’m working in remote areas like Ethiopia. Even there satellite television is beginning to take over. For me, like most people in the West, shortwave radio has been displaced by the Internet. That’s not a bad thing, I guess. Still, it’s nice to know you can pick up a radio and hear the other side of the world. I think I’ll tune in today.

Video of the Day: An American explains cricket

If you’ve traveled to any of the Commonwealth nations, you’ve likely encountered cricket on television or in the newspapers. You may have even gotten stuck in a conversation about it while having no clue what anyone is saying. Heck, you might have even played it…poorly. Americans don’t understand cricket. Is it like baseball? What’s a wicket? Why does a match take so many days? Thankfully, one America has taken it upon himself to help us all learn about the game. Sit back, relax and let comedian Reginald D. Hunter explain the ins and outs of cricket. I think you’ll see that it’s a lot simpler than you feared.

Your Paintings website puts UK’s art collections at your fingertips

An online collection now boasts half of all the publicly owned oil paintings in the United Kingdom.

Your Paintings was started in June by the BBC and the Public Catalogue Foundation and has already uploaded high-quality images of 104,000 oil paintings by 23,000 artists.

The goal is to put online all of the estimated 200,000 publicly owned paintings housed in some 3,000 institutions, making it a veritable Google Books of UK art. There are plenty of UK artists, as well as many other works from around the world and from all periods. While all are owned by the public, many are in buildings that aren’t generally open to the public, so this website helps make them available.

Right now the website is focusing on putting up all the oil paintings since that was the preferred medium of painters for several centuries, and a medium that British painters used quite well. Other media such as watercolor and tempera are represented, and more such paintings will probably go up in the future.

Users can tag paintings to help with the ongoing organization of the collection. There are also links to BBC’s online sound and video archives and various guided tours by different people in the art world.

The website also hosts regular online exhibitions. Currently there’s one on the arctic.

Detail from John Constable’s “The Hay Wain” courtesy Wikimedia Commons.