These days, kids have to look out for all kinds of things that I didn't even think about growing up: cyber bullying, global terrorism, and now, the insidious messages of Peppa Pig.
Peppa Pig is a popular children's show out of the UK that follows a family of animated pigs as they enjoy their everyday lives. They mostly play in muddy puddles, discuss the virtues of doing your chores, and speak in drawn out British accents. Pretty standard and inoffensive fare for a program targeted at preschoolers, right?
That was my first impression, but one episode was axed after it aired in Australia in 2012. The episode in question features the parent pigs teaching their children that spiders are harmless animals that can't hurt you. In the end, Peppa and her little brother are happily tucking the spider, which they named "Mister Skinny Legs" into their doll house, clearly loving their new plaything.
Watch the clip to see the all of the controversial action:
So, how could a kids show be banned for simply claiming that spiders are harmless? Well, at least one viewer felt like this was a dangerous lesson for children in Australia, a place that's popularly considered an unpredictable death trap with tons of deadly fauna. And, there's some truth to that fear since spiders are the "most widely distributed venomous creature" on the island continent.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) agreed with this viewer's complaint and released an official statement about the episode:
The ABC considered the episode unsuitable for broadcast in Australia and it had been restricted from being aired on the ABC’s television networks. However, the episode was accidentally published online due to a technical problem. The ABC apologised to the complainant and advised that the episode was no longer available online. In addition, the ABC undertook to improve internal communication about restricted episodes to ensure the error would not recur.
Update September 5 2017: Warning! Peppa Pig and its message of tolerance towards deadly creatures returned to Australian television, if only briefly. The episode was shown again days ago by Nick Jr., which said (via Slate) the showing was OK because the spider smiles and is obviously not dangerous.
The context of the way the spider is portrayed in the episode lessens any impact of scariness or danger; the spider does not look real, it has a smiley face and is shown in context of a show with other talking animals and therefore in an environment where the animals and creatures are not shown acting out their real nature.
Nickelodeon has since agreed not to broadcast the very dangerous episode again.
While this may sound absurd to American sensibilities, it quickly starts to make sense when you consider how...special the relationship between Australians and their eight-legged friends really is. And by "friends" I mean "deadly, stealthy menaces that will not hesitate to melt your skin and laugh at your misery." This is a dramatic reenactment of a typical spider encounter down under:
Kidding, but in reality the outcome can be even worse. Sydney funnel-web spiders, the deadliest in Australia and possibly the world, have fangs that can penetrate nails (even toenails!) with venom that can cause damage to the human nervous system. Redback spiders, which can be found in urban areas (even under toilet seats), can also cause severe pain to the nervous system as well as lethargy and nausea. You'll find that this is a consistent trend among Australian spiders, and now I regret ever sitting on a toilet seat in Melbourne.
So, while Oz hasn't had a fatality due to a spider bite since 1981, maybe that's because they wisely instruct their children to stay away from these potentially deadly creatures.
If that's the case, then I think this is a perfectly excusable ban. I'm all for free speech, but I'm way more for kids living to adulthood because they don't think that a venomous spider is just a misunderstood animal buddy. Spiders typically get a bad wrap, but, like with most Australian animals, I happily make an exception here.
Was this the right call to restrict this episode of Peppa Pig from the Australian public, or is this just an overreaction?