During a recent trip to London, I decided to take the ‘Jack the Ripper’ tour offered by many tour companies in the city. Expecting to see only a few tourists at this tour, not meant for the faint hearted, I arrived at the starting point, but to my surprise saw about forty people waiting eagerly for it to begin. To my further shock, parents had brought along little children as well, ranging from the age of five to ten. “They probably don’t know who Jack the Ripper is,” I thought to myself. But when the tour began, I realized that they knew exactly who Jack the Ripper was, and so did the kids. In fact, the children were the most interested. They would edge their way to the front, listen intently to the tour guide’s stories of blood and gore, examine the victims’ photographs, and they’d even ask questions. The only time I heard a peep out of those kids was when the guide told us that, in one of the letters allegedly written by the Ripper, he had claimed to have eaten the ear of one of his victims. Hearing this, a five-year old said, simply and elegantly, “Ew.”
Now some parents might blame young children’s increasing comfort with the concept of violence on the black magic box, also known as television. It’s an easy target – it just sits there, so parents can blame it all they want without any fear of it protesting. Actually, it’s the parents’ fault. Without realizing it they have been telling their children gory tales of violence, physical abuse, murder, disease and mental illness.
We call these tales ‘nursery rhymes’.
Do you remember the lullaby your mother used to sing to you to put you to sleep when you were a little baby? Of course you don’t. But it was probably ‘Rock-a-bye-baby’. Sounds comforting enough. ‘Rock-a-bye-baby, in the tree top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock.’
Not a perfect rhyme, you might think, but bad rhymes aren’t known to be potentially harmful. So what’s the problem? The problem lies in the next two lines.
‘When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
Down will come cradle, baby and all.’
Wow, that escalated quickly.
Within four lines, you’ve just been exposed to the concept of child abuse, parental neglect, and infanticide, not to mention sheer stupidity. And you’re only a few days old. Already the seeds of violence have been planted in your little mind.
These ideas were reinforced when you went to nursery school. You learned about Jack and Jill, whose search for water ended with them falling down a hill. What are children supposed to take from that? That it’s better to die of thirst than of a fractured skull? Then we have Humpty Dumpty, a dim witted egg who sat on a wall, fell off and then broke into a thousand pieces. Strangely enough, Humpty Dumpty isn’t the stupidest character in the rhyme. The stupidest character is the king, who had the brilliant idea of sending his horses to glue an egg back together. If they could speak, the conversation between the horses would probably go like this (please excuse the terrible puns):
“I say Alice, it’s a really whinny day, the egg shell pieces are being blown away. Get the superglue quick, will ya?”
“Neigh, Charlie, I can’t. We’ve got hooves, remember? It’s snort easy without thumbs.”
“You’re right Alice. Darn evolution and opposable thumbs!”
There’s little Jack Horner who decided that pulling a plum out of one’s pie classifies one as a very ‘good boy’. No doubt his parents had very low standards for him. Then there’s Simon, who was so obviously slow that even his name suggests it – ‘Simple Simon’. We also have Yankee Doodle, who was possibly verbally challenged, because he called the feather in his cap ‘macaroni’. And who can forget Wee Willie Winkie who ran through the town in his nightgown, looking through children’s windows? That’s just plain creepy.
Animals do feature widely in nursery rhymes, but not the cute and cuddly type. No bunnies or puppies or anything of that sort. Instead, we’ve got spiders. And mice – blind ones at that. The spiders run around frightening young children and falling of spouts, while the mice run up and down clocks and have their tales cut off by a butcher’s psychotic wife.
No, wait, I’m wrong. There is one cute and cuddly animal that features in nursery rhymes – it’s the little piggy. But, not surprisingly, he too is mowed down by a railway driver whilst innocently picking up stones on a railway –
‘Piggy on the railway, picking up stones;
Down came an engine, and broke Piggy’s bones;
“Ah!” said Piggy, “That’s not fair,”
“Oh!” said the engine driver, “I don’t care!” ’
Themes other than cruelty against animals, mental retardation and violence against children also feature in nursery rhymes. There’s the Black Death, portrayed in ‘Ring a ring o’ roses’. Yes, that’s rights – the ‘Atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down’ part represents the last stages of life of a Plague victim.
There’s harassment, shown in ‘Georgie Porgie pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry’.
There’s cannibalism, indicated in ‘Davy Davy Dumpling, boil him in the pot; sugar him and butter him, and eat him while he’s hot.’
And ‘London Bridge is falling down’ is just pure sadism.
So what do we do about these malevolent nursery rhymes? Obviously, we can’t use them anymore. So what do we sing to children when they’re refusing to sleep? What do we ask them to recite in nursery class? It’s simple: teach them advertisement jingles. They’re simple, effective and contain no gore, thanks to television censoring Nazis. And the best part is, when your kids grow up, they’ll know exactly which washing powder to buy.