#altbeebies: Modern day kids TV through the eyes of silly grown ups

Taking the role of stay-at-home parent for the best part of five years, I can’t say my social interaction skills were tested much for a good few years. Not that i’m really inclined that way anyhow. Enduring stints of toddler TV became the norm and after a while, having viewed with my kids, quite innocently, things started to change… Matrix style.

I found myself investigating (in my head) just how disconnected these shows were from reality. How little they mirrored real, everyday life. Of course they’re not going to, it’s kids TV, we don’t want them scarred for life. Perhaps it was something to do with the lack of sleep most parents of toddlers endure. I ignored all this and continued watching like some inspector of reality, picking holes in the fantasy fabrications and letting the subsequent smugness ease me into another thirty second nap. What was going on? I turned to social media and posed the question, “am I alone?”

Social media, the tool of choice for preaching to the converted. Sometimes though, there’s nothing more comforting than adding opinion to an echo chamber, knowing that your whimsical ephemera will swiftly disperse and nobody really cares or listens that much. It just so happened that there were other parents out there with the same nagging thoughts in their own heads. The #altbeebies hashtag via Twitter provided an outlet to share, in short sharp bursts (which worked just fine), parents own interpretations of what they experienced while watching TV with their kids.

Ra Ra The Noisy Lion is such a dickhead. Never seems to make any progress on his narcissism from one episode to the next - Steve Lawson, June 2012

“I think it was a coping mechanism, at first.” Ponders Jon Hickman. Easily the biggest #altbeebies contributor to date. “You’re sat there and you’re confronted with this whole new world and it’s utterly weird. I needed to reclaim it and reframe it to make it something I could understand again. It didn’t take long for it to become something much more meaningful, a space where I could talk with other parents who were in on the joke. Knowing others were out there and wondering what Me Too! was even for made 6:30am a much safer place for me.”

“#altbeebies offered a sense of accessible community and solidarity in the face of extreme sleep deprivation…” Says fellow parent Jenny Drew. “As I doubted my ability to string a coherent sentence together as well as my judgement, it was one easy way of checking/testing out my thoughts and observations at times when it was difficult to physically leave the house let alone have a lengthy “Is it just me?” conversation with anyone. “

Yikes. Max appears to be doing a Jimmy Savile impression on the Tweenies. How did THAT survive the BBC purge? - Stuart Harrison, January 2013

Stuart Harrison, another #altbeebies regular picks up on the sleep issue.”I overthink most television, and, in my most sleep-deprived moments as a dad to a pre-schooler, watching CBeebies is a catalyst to some of my most twisted flights of fancy. It’s fun to see a sanitised, squeaky-clean world and imagine a hitherto undiscovered layer of darkness, or even just muse on how Postman Pat is still in his job, given he messes up his deliveries EVERY TIME.”

The commentary built up a reasonable following giving it a bit of reach and life. Glancing over the stats reveals sustained commentary from the first tweet back in March 2011 through till about mid 2013. Over this time there were a number of regular contributors mixing it up with recent converts. It all went a bit mainstream when TV bod, Rufus Hound joined in the fun for a few tweets. Even the official Cbeebies gang noticed we existed but engaged pretty much at arms length as Jon Hickman explains, “What was fun was that after a while some of the actors who played roles within Cbeebies started to interact with us. I had some genuinely great banter with the guys that write the Zingzillas tunes (gutted, they’re a manufactured band after all!) and the guy who writes the poems for rhyme rocket. That one came after this dig: The Rhyme Rocket: “its engines run on rhyme / poems are its fuel” and tautology is its design flaw.

Why is Mr Tumble trying to fly? Why does he have a helicopter hat? LSD - Rufus Hound, march 2012

There’s a bit of comfort in knowing that social media isn’t all abuse and trolling. #altbeebies was a refreshing example of how the public can interact using humour without being offensive (and yet still quite dark at times). We all love Cbeebies and it was never about trolling, in any sense. Steve Lawson sums it up best…

…Comedy, diversion, community: something to do while watching the absurdity and brilliance of CBeebies.

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