Thursday, December 5, 2013


There is a computer-animated show on Disney Junior called Doc McStuffins, and both the little guy and the little girl are obsessed with it. (I'm sure if we allowed the baby to watch tv, and if he could comprehend it, he'd be obsessed, too.) I have surmised from the blank stares I get from other people who don't have toddler-to-kindergarten aged kids that Doc has not yet become a breakout star in the manner of, say, Dora the Explorer, but that may be just around the corner. Or it may not, but clearly either way my own children don't really care. It's simply their new favorite thing ever.

My wife and I have had more than a few good self-deprecating chuckles about this. Doc McStuffins is basically the perfect realization of every desire for children's entertainment a bleeding heart bo-bo parent could posisbly harbor. The eponymous Doc is a little girl who is about six years old. She is upper-middle-class African American. Her mother is a medical doctor and the primary breadwinner for the (intact!) family, while her father is a chef. She has a little brother who's probably four or five. Doc (canonically her real name is Dottie but I have never heard any other characters, including her parents, call her anything but "Doc") loves toys and prides herself on being able to fix broken ones, clearly mimicking her mother. Between her brother, who is (age-appropriately) much less careful with his own toys, and her other multi-culti neighborhood friends, there is no shortage of slightly damaged toys to receive Doc's ministrations. And when she is alone with toys, as she often is in the backyard playhouse which she refers to as her "clinic", Doc can bring them to life with her magic stethoscope. My wife and I have had discussions as to whether or not the toys really do come to life (a la Toy Story) or whether it is all in Doc's imagination; I come down on the side of magical realism and have cited individual episodes in support of the argument, but it's probably beside the point.

So, in addition to being a very positive depiction of strong female characters in a minority ethnicity family without making any big deal out of it, and in addition to conveying a totally pro-social message where the conflict of every episode is diagnosing the nature of a problem and then taking steps to fix it, and in addition to working in wellness messages (the "medical problems" the toys suffer from tend to be things that apply to little kids, too: a glow-in-the-dark toy stops glowing because it's been at the bottom of the toybox = everybody needs to get outside for fresh air and sunshine sometimes; a toy's moving parts stop moving because they are gummed up = everybody needs to take baths; &c.), AND in addition to demystifying how doctors treat patients and stressing there's nothing to be afraid of (we've talked to our own pediatrician about Doc McStuffins and apparently real doctors love this show and claim it makes their job a lot easier with kids who are familiar with it) ... it's not an unpleasant show to sit through for grown-ups, either. Every episode has a couple of songs in it which are all well-crafted and poppy (and some of which are downright earwormy) and Doc's toys provide some decent intermittent comic relief, nothing terribly subversive but enough to keep the whole show from being totally insipid. If someone were to describe it to me I would say it sounds too good to be true, but I've seen it for myself, and after go-rounds with Mickey's Clubhouse and Curious George it's a pretty welcome distraction.

The little girl is in the sweet spot of the target audience but, as I mentioned, the little guy is just as big a fan. I think I've mentioned that some time ago we started letting the kids watch YouTube videos at bedtime as a reward for complying with the bath-and-PJ's ritual. For a while there the little guy was watching classic Disney shorts and the little girl was watching simple ABC's animations and whatnot. Then the kids discovered Doc and that was all the little girl wanted to watch all the time. Sometimes (more often than not) because he gets to stay up later, the little guy slips into the little girl's room while she's watching her videos immediately before bed, and the little guy watches over our shoulders. A few days ago, after watching some Doc videos with his sister and then getting ready for bed himself and watching one Donald Duck cartoon, the little guy sheepishly admitted that for his second video he wanted to watch another Doc. Which was fine with us!

In fact, the little guy and little girl are so equally enamored with playing Doc McStuffins that both of them want the same present from Santa: an official Doc McStuffin's doctor's bag complete with stethoscope and otoscope and thermometer and so on. This is pretty much a done deal as far as my wife and I are concerned, and I self-indulgently pat myself on the back for not hesitating even a nanosecond over the fact that Doc's bag is pink and purple and sparkly. Clearly this leaves the little guy unfazed, he was very adamant he wanted not just any bag but Doc's bag, and so I am following his lead. I think I've alluded before to the fact that when I was growing up my dad was extremely rigid about gender roles and playthings (my Little Bro was not allowed to ask for a Cabbage Patch Kid because dolls are for girls, e.g.) so that's a cycle I'm happy to break. I've also referred to occasions in my childhood where Little Bro and I each got our own copy of the same toy, to keep the peace, and here we are at basically that junction with my own kids. It came a little sooner for them than I would have expected, but it's cool. I wouldn't have wanted things to be too predictable.

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