I don’t know how my 2-year-old learned about Peppa Pig. We certainly never introduced her to it; maybe another child mentioned it. It doesn’t matter. Like the Lovecraftian old gods Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth, you do not need to gaze upon Peppa; the mere idea of Peppa is enough. Once there is Peppa, there is only Peppa.
This week The Wall Street Journal reported American kids watched so much of UK-made cartoon Peppa Pig during COVID-19 lockdowns that the little ones picked up British accents. This is very funny. It’s amusing for anyone who laments Hollywood sensibilities and McDonald’s franchises conquering the world. It’s fist-clenchingly ironic for Brits who absolutely cannot let go of this tiny rainy island’s inflated sense of self-importance. And it’s probably quite funny to linguistics experts, as the #PeppaEffect claim comes around every few years (we saw it in 2021 and previously in 2019), and it’s just not true.
But it does show up one of the major concerns of a lot of parents during the pandemic: What to do with kids who have to be at home when schools are closed and childcare is unavailable, especially if you’ve also got to put in a full day of work in that same enclosed space. There are plenty of hours in the day when your baby, toddler or adolescent’s attention span is measured in seconds. There are only so many trips to the park you can make, especially when winter rolls around or, god forbid, somebody gets sick. Under that pressure, guidelines about screen time inevitably go out the window. Sometimes you have to park your kid in front of Peppa.
Before we go any further I should point out I’m English, and as we’re talking about British accents you’ll have to indulge me a few quaint British-isms in this piece. If you like, we can turn it into a drinking game: sip a cup of tea every time I use the word “pavement,” neck your super-strength lager if I mention the Queen and bung the government a few grand every time I sell a guided-missile system to a despotic regime.
Kids don’t pick up accents from TV. They develop language from conversations with their peers. Even a parent’s accent may not be passed on to a child if the kid grows up in a different environment. (My wife and I are currently locked in a war of attrition over how our daughter says “bath,” “path” and “grass,” which I suspect I will lose.) So Peppa isn’t warping your kid’s accent: all that’s happening here is children in other countries may pick up specific individual British words or phrases, like “mummy,” “zeh-bra,” or “your application for disability benefit has been refused.”
As New York Magazine’s Jack Denton wearily points out while debunking the #PeppaEffect, the high-speed mass-communication of the internet means although pronunciation isn’t transmitted to other countries, new slang is. Which is totally lit. You know what isn’t lit? Two grown adults (my wife and I), perfectly normal and healthy apart from mild cases of extreme sleep deprivation, drifting around our house murmuring, “Do-do-do-do-dooo, do-do-do-do.” And then softly answering each other, “Pehhh-pa Pig…”
You can hear that in your head, can’t you? If you can’t, congratulations, you’re young. Maybe you’re not a parent yet, or maybe you are but your baby is still all floppy and still throwing up adorably on you. Well enjoy your strawberry daiquiris and your TikTok vibes, because this a warning from your future. Peppa is coming. And once you watch Peppa, you are one with Peppa. You become Peppa.
No, you don’t have to watch Peppa Pig. There’s a mum at our kid’s nursery who won’t have it in the house. She even told off the nursery for encouraging Peppa chat. This woman is an frickin’ amazon. And in fact we did deliberately try to insulate our kiddo from the P-word. Y’see, we’d heard things — every new parent has. Vague frontline reports of nieces and nephews and godchildren becoming radicalized, like the briefing scene in Apocalypse Now except instead of Marlon Brando losing his mind upriver it’s a toddler throwing a tantrum over a cartoon pig.
But resistance was futile. One day our daughter came home from nursery and demanded “Peppa, Peppa!” And since then, Peppa Pig has been a daily presence in our lives. We’re enmeshed in the Peppa Cinematic Universe: books, toys, sticker albums, the works.
Look, we’re not complete pushovers. There are certain behaviours we don’t allow, consistent boundaries we maintain, Rubicons we will not cross. I refuse to look for Peppa music on Spotify, for example. Otherwise when we aren’t watching Peppa, we’ll be listening to Peppa.
We even tried to fight back. When our kiddo asks foror JoJo and Gran Gran it’s a soothing balm of wholesomeness washing over house and home. I was delighted when my daughter actually asked to keep watching King Rollo and Mr Benn, the enchanting fuzzy felt-tip animations from the 1970s and ’80s streaming on . Best of all, as obsessed as my daughter is with Peppa Pig, she’s equally or possibly more obsessed with Hey Duggee! I am also obsessed with Hey Duggee! It’s funny, it’s wholesome, it’s beautifully designed and it’s very, very silly. Hey Duggee! is the best.
But before you know it… “Peppa, Peppa!” I do my best to adopt the practices recommended by parenting Instagram accounts such as BigLittleFeelings, but toddler demands are just an element of being a dad you have to accept, like back pain and cargo shorts.
There have been over 300 episodes of Peppa Pig since the series began in May 2004, and it feels like we’ve watched the same three a hundred times. We can watch it on at least four different streaming services in different combinations of seasons, making a mockery of any attempt to go through them in order.
Look, I don’t hate Peppa. Season 7 began in March this year with Peppa and her family winning a trip to America, a phantasmagorical four-episode odyssey into the heart of the American Dream. It’s Easy Rider animated in MS Paint. This arc established that while Miss Rabbit is one rabbit doing multiple jobs in Britain, there are multiple different Miss Rabbits doing different jobs in America. This is a metaphor I intend to unravel one day, if I can only get some sleep.
You might say I’ve thought far too much about a children’s television show. To which I say to you, um, yes thank you I do know that. I lie awake at night mourning the knowledge pushed out of my head by the names of Peppa Pig’s friends. I zone out during Zoom calls wondering why anthropomorphised animals need doctors and vets. I also occasionally yell out “A-woof woof!” like Duggee or “Here’s your pinecones Snowden!” like in that one episode of Messy Goes to Okido. And I compete with myself to see who can do the best impression of Mr Onion from Moon and Me. (The key to a good Mr Onion impression, right, is the balance of nasality and self-importance. “Onions!” You try. “Onions!” Hmm. Mine’s better.)
Luckily for us, my daughter is already British so we don’t know how much of an accent she’s picked up from Peppa. But we do see the behaviour she picks up from streaming and screens and all these newfangled devices we never had when I were a lad. She’s learned that when she’s watching YouTube on anshe can just mash the thumbnails and a new colorful thing will instantly squirt into her eyeballs, giving her an attention span of nanoseconds while also sending her spiralling off into weirder and weirder content-holes. And she’s learned if she just yells “More Peppa! More Peppa!” as each episode ends then, yes, there will be more Peppa. When we fire up an a-la-carte streaming service instead of steering her towards the set menu of broadcast children’s TV, then autoplay means endless episodes.
More Peppa, forever.
A year and a half of lockdown and anxiety and lockdown has been a strange and isolating experience, and I make no judgement on anyone who docked their kid in front of a screen for any length of time. We’ve all had to work and cook and live in the same flats and apartments and homes day after day, week after week, month after isolated month. If sending your kid on a playdate with Peppa meant you got to keep your job or get the housework done or just gave you a damn minute to catch your damn breath, then fair enough.
As a society we need to collectively reckon with how our kids interact with digital technology, but it’s more complicated than setting time limits on how long they watch. It’s just as important to think about the behaviors kids pick up from unchecked interaction with the screens we hand them. Compared to that, a few funny little British sayings don’t seem so bad.
Kids like Peppa Pig. Everyone likes Peppa Pig. Everyone must worship Peppa Pig. More Peppa! More Peppa!
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