When my daughter Daisy was younger, TV shows were real to her. They were like whole other worlds and the characters existed, albeit behind a layer of glass. At five, she still loves TV but now knows they are created, acted, drawn and produced. She has a pretty clear understanding of the process and what I do for a living. And yet the characters are still alive to her.
The other day, she was watching Punky – Monster Animation’s show about a little girl with Down syndrome – when she came out with a question: “Daddy, why did you make Punky have Down syndrome?”
In a way, the answer was very easy. There are children who have Down syndrome and they should be represented on television and it’s good for children and parents to see a little girl like Punky. But the way the question was phrased gave it a specific spin – why did you give Down syndrome to Punky? Not making a particular positive or negative judgement on it but aware that, if you were Punky herself, this decision would be a pretty big deal.
Not long after, she asked why I made Cranky so grumpy. This question came from a different angle in that Daisy very much disapproves of Cranky’s biting one-liners. This one was a decision that affected Daisy herself.
Of course I could point to creator Lindsay J. Sedgwick and writer Andrew Brenner, who both had a bigger part to play in defining these characters, but that would have been wrong because she could have been asking about Cosmo or anyone in Fluffy Gardens. What was important about the question was the very clear sense of responsibility.
We create characters.
We give them life and we make them who they are, for better or worse. We make decisions on how they’ll act and react, whether we’re writing words to put in their mouths or even just animating a single scene. Everyone involved in the process plays a role in bringing these characters to life. And then we show them to children.
Different people will take away different things from that life we create and some characters, lines and even whole shows won’t suit some children. That’s to be expected and it’s why it is important that parents play an active role in choosing content for their children. Nevertheless, we are responsible for who we create and what we show to the world. We’re responsible for the scenes we animate, the lines we write, the details we add to a background, everything. And what’s more, we’re not just responsible for what an audience might take away from the show. We also have a responsibility to these characters. In some way they’re like teenagers screaming “I didn’t ask to be born!” but we brought them to life anyway. Are we doing that with honesty? Sincerity?
It all comes down to us and the choices we make. That’s what makes content creation so amazing. All of us involved in even the periphery of the process can make a difference and contribute. And then we own that responsibility, both to our audience and the little lives we create.
It seems even a five-year-old understands that.