ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Friday, March 24, 2006

Baa-Baa Black Rainbow Sheep...

... have you any [rainbow-colored?] wool?"

Here's the story from the UK:

Nursery Rhyme 'Un PC'
Updated: 11:57, Tuesday March 07, 2006

The 'PC Brigade' have caused another storm by rewriting a favourite nursery rhyme. They have changed Baa Baa Black Sheep to - Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep. Several nurseries have changed the traditional rhyme so as not offend ethnic minorities, it has been reported. They say the words "black sheep" alienate and offend young black children.

And that's not the only rhyme to get a 2006 makeover. Humpty Dumpty has a miraculous escape from impending disaster when he falls from his wall - and stays in one piece. Teachers say they do not want children to be upset by the human egg's scrapes.

The controversial changes, which have been seized on as political correctness gone mad, have been introduced by some nursery schools in Oxfordshire. Stuart Chamberlain, manager of the Family Centre in Abingdon and the Sure Start centre in Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, defended the move. He told the Courier Journal newspaper: "We have taken the equal opportunities approach to everything we do. This is fairly standard across nurseries."

But parents are reported to be unhappy with the move. "Baa Baa Black Sheep is one of the most well-known nursery rhymes for generations," one parent told The Times. "For people to come and fiddle with it is ridiculous."

Now, this is just insane. I don't think that even Oliver Willis would object to this classic nursery rhyme. Here is the "offensive" rhyme in full (for those that are hyper-sensitive, it's best to avert your eyes.... now):
Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.

One for the master,
One for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.

Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.

One to mend the jerseys
one to mend the socks
and one to mend the holes in
the little girls' frocks.

Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.

The racist overtones certainly come right through, don't they? And what is the educational reason for the "overly offensive" Baa Baa Blacksheep?:
"Baa, baa black sheep" Nursery Rhyme History

Educational reasons for the poem "Baa, baa black sheep"poem
The reason to the words and history to this song were to associate wool and wool products with the animal that produces it, not to mention the sound that a sheep would make! The first grasp of language for a child or baby is to imitate the sounds or noises that animals make - onomatopoeia (words sound like their meaning e.g. baa baa in "Baa, baa black sheep"). In some of the earlier versions of "Baa, baa black sheep" the title is actually given as "Ba, ba black sheep" - it is difficult to spell sounds!

The History and Origins of Baa Baa Black Sheep Nursery Rhyme
The wool industry was critical to the country's economy from the Middle Ages until the nineteenth century so it is therefore not surprising that it is celebrated in the Baa Baa Black Sheep Nursery Rhyme. An historical connection for this rhyme has been suggested - a political satire said to refer to the Plantagenet King Richard III (the Master) and the the export tax imposed in Britain in 1275 in which the English Customs Statute authorised the king to collect a tax on all exports of wool in every port in the country. But our further research indicates another possible connection of this Nursery rhyme to English history relating to King Edward II (1307-1327). The best wool in Europe was produced in England but the cloth workers from Flanders, Bruges and Lille were better skilled in the complex finishing trades such as dying and fulling (cleansing, shrinking, and thickening the cloth). King Edward II encouraged Flemmish weavers and cloth dyers to improve the quality of the final English products.

Words and Music
The earliest publication date for the "Baa, baa black sheep" rhyme or poem is dated 1744. Music was first published for "Baa, baa black sheep" was in the early nineteenth century making it into a song for children.

So, not only is the Oxfordshire school district embarrasing itself, it's failing to educate the children by removing the onomatopoeia and replacing it with "baa baa Rainbow." And who in the heck wants rainbow colored wool????

As Jeff Goldstein demonstrated with the "controversy" over King Kong a few months ago, any story can be twisted to assign meanings which clearly weren't the intent of the authors:
Long-time readers of this site have heard me mention this before, but several years back, while teaching an honor’s seminar in interpretation theory, I made the intentionalist argument via a backhanded play: having assigned H.A. and Margret Rey’s Curious George to my class, I supplied along with it three essays (ostensibly from scholarly journals), each purporting to analyze the story through a specific theoretical lens.

The essays were fakes (see a portion of one here)—I had written them myself and attributed them to professors and academic journals I’d invented (without making my students aware of this just yet)—but each one represented a well-argued reading of the story: one from the perspective of queer theory and iconography (the tension created in the interpretive space between experiencing the illustrations and “reading” the text; the shape of the Big Yellow Hat; the tall, phallic tries in the foreground; an illustration of George and the Man in the Big Yellow Hat being rowed out to a waiting steamship by a sailor, whose crotch and straining muscles provided the focal point of the illustration—all while George smiled, his tongue exposed; George slipping in the Man in the Big Yellow Hat’s pajamas, etc); one that drew on feminist theory (the notable lack of women in the story); and finally, one from post-colonial theory (the Man in the Big Yellow Hat goes to Africa, traps the native Other, and brings him home as a trophy/pet, where he sets out to try to domesticate the troublesomely curious monkey).

Ultimately, my point was to argue that, though all of these interpretations were plausible and, indeed, coherent and compelling, if argued persuasively—in what way could H.A. and Margret Rey’s Curious George be said to mean any of these things?

Clearly, the “meaning” here was being derived from what we were able to do with the signifiers—with how we were able to resignify them so that they fit a narrative of our own interpretive process. What was missing, however, was the final (and most important) step: what is the likelihood we had correctly reconstructed the Reys’ signs? And of course, to decide that, we had to focus on the Reys’ intent. Were the Reys—either consciously or unconsciously—writing a homoerotic narrative (or, more literally, a narrative implying approval for bestiality)? A misogynistic narrative? A racist, imperialist narrative of subjugation of the native other? Or were they simply interested in writing a story about a man and a monkey?

Not surprisingly, the class—after careful consideration of the evidence—decided on the last.

The bottom line being, that though Curious George could come to mean a lot of things, what that meaning is remains dependent upon how the signifiers (both verbal and iconongraphic) are resignified and shaped into a narrative of our own process of decoding and re-encoding. And in both principle and kind, some of the “meanings” we considered in class were derived no differently than were the meanings early Puritan settlers took from a locus infestation (which, when seen through a particular interpretive worlview, suggests a sign of God’s wrath), or those a child sees in clouds, where he discovers a fluffy bunny or a rocking chair; because without appealing to authorial intent, we become the authors of the text; and because we are in effect rewriting that text, we have created an entirely new text.

Clearly, the Oxfordshire school administrators are not as intelligent as Jeff's students. Perhaps they could enroll in one of his classes?

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler

Comments (1)
saintknowitall said...

Other songs that need to be re-written:

That Old Rainbow Magic
Oh, Rainbow Betty
Rainbow & White - Three Dog Night
Rainbow Dog - Led Zeppelin
Rainbow Magid Woman - Santana
Rainbow Water - Doobie Brothers
Rainbow Friday - Steely Dan

And don't forget the names of bands:

Rainbow Sabath

And finally, all the ladies will have to trade in their little "rainbow dress" that we hear so much about.