This email started its life, many years ago, as the transcribed harrumphing of a Baby Boomer (in the body of a Millennial). I intended for it to be no longer than 75 words and for it to go no further than one of the world’s great galleries of inconsequential sourpussery:
Dear Green Guide,
I am concerned about a character on what must be the world’s most well-known and longest-running tropical fruit-based children’s programme. I’m referring, of course, to Bananas in Pyjamas. The character causing me this consternation is Rat. His behaviour seems often to stretch beyond roguishly slippery and moves into a territory I can only describe as odiously conniving. To give just a few examples…
Here is where I stopped because I found that the examples I was about to give were flimsy. They were scavenged from tattered memories I’d acquired by passing the TV and stopping for a minute or two to satiate my morbid curiosity. What I needed to do this subject justice was a carefully collated and shortlisted catalogue of incidents.
So, over the next few months, I made a habit of sitting down with a pen and paper and watching Bananas in Pyjamas whenever my children were. And often when they weren’t.
If you observed this period of my life as a montage in a film, it would show me growing evermore haggard, my greying face registering a look of building horror as the total extent of Rat’s depravity dawned on me. What I had once thought was a nasty little rodent overdoing the role of villainous comic relief, I now saw as a creature of pure darkness.
I don’t believe in evil. I think the idea that someone could be born bad is a preposterous notion, a simplistic and insidious concept designed to gloss over complex societal problems and appease superstitious bigots.
But Rat is evil.
Rat was probably wrenched from his mother’s womb with a pentagram on his forehead, performing a lewd act on a goat’s skull and wearing an Essendon guernsey.
And so I began a new piece of correspondence. No longer was I writing to The Age. Now I was writing to you. And my words were not blunted by Boomer civility.
“Rat is a festering canker on the arse of our culture; he should be lanced with a white-hot fire iron and his pus drained into a medicine bottle and ironically sold to him as an extremely expensive miracle cure for a disease he doesn’t have”, I seethed.
“This rich, steaming, post-hotdog-eating-contest turd needs to be buried deeper and further from human civilisation than responsibly disposed-of nuclear waste,” I hissed.
“If Rat left Cuddlestown and ventured anywhere near the northern suburbs of Melbourne I would track him down by following the unmistakable stench of charlatanry that emanates from his every pore and spray Ratsak up his arse with a fire hose,” I spat.
My words were unedifying, the sort of deranged, undies-on-the-head ejaculation you’d usually only find in the comments section of a News Corp column on… well… the ABC. I am not proud of them, but you have to understand the situation I was in at the time: I was like a sous-vide of fury (Rat was the plastic bag I was being very slowly cooked in the 55-degree juices of his boundless iniquity). From this sweaty death pouch, I perceived him to be such a grave and imminent threat to all that is good, that I considered this a war. You, as the provider of a platform for this egregious entity, were my combatant.
Thinking militarily, I decided now to change my tactics. I went from a declarative shelling to an interrogative bombardment:
“Why do the citizens of Cuddlestown endure this fiend’s unrelenting cruelty? While the Bananas can’t take three steps without colliding with buffoonish force and probably have a combined IQ of no more than 90, and Camembert and Dolly both think it’s 1935, and Topsy looks like she has really serious insomnia, there are still at least five characters who have the lucidity and wherewithal to stop this madness immediately.”
“Does every single person in Cuddlestown suffer from Stockholm Syndrome? They all seem to refer to Rat as their “friend” and yet there is almost no evidence that he has anything but the most superficial and cynical fondness for them. His neighbours very often laugh uproariously and backslap enthusiastically after one of his appalling acts of chicanery comes undone, but what part of his behaviour is funny or worthy of encouragement? All Rat leaves in his wake is pain and doubt, but these people almost revere him. Does he have some kind of magical hold on them?”
“Why wasn’t Rat immediately banished when he admitted he wanted to become a clown (in episode 110)?”
“Why do members of this mostly generous and compassionate community financially support a creature whose business-”
And as I got halfway through this final question, a realisation once again slammed into me, upturning the paradigm in which I was working, kicking my entire hypothesis – my every presupposition – hard in the dick. Bananas and Pyjamas isn’t frivolous babies’ content created to hold children’s attention in front of a television with a tatty story and some silly voices. It is serious educational programming.
It is allegory.
The Cuddlestonians don’t like rat. They don’t encourage him because they enjoy what he does; they guffaw and applaud and console because he is all powerful and to do anything else would be dangerous. He doesn’t have a magical hold on them – he has an economic one, and it is unyielding. They can’t stop shopping at Rat’s because he has the only shop in the area.
He is the archetypal monopolist…
… and snake oil salesman…
… and self-seeker.
He is the smiling, loquacious social Darwinist.
He is the sophistic rentseeker.
He is the freedom-spruiker obsessed with the rapacious accumulation of material wealth.
He is the misdirecting narcissist.
He is the cooing gaslighter.
He is the indignant queue-jumper.
He is the self-proclaimed expert on everything with a mistrust of experts.
He is the tough-talking coward.
He is everything wrong with the world.
He is everything that children need to gird themselves against as they prepare for adulthood.
He is a much-needed warning.
And so I changed my correspondence once again. The tirade that had once been a Green Guide letter concerned that you were showing content that was inappropriate for children is now a sincere extension of my gratitude.
Rat. Rat in a Hat. Angel of the Abyss. Beelzebub. Whatever his name is, he is the ABC’s greatest and most important children’s character, and I want to thank you for bringing his malice, his mean-spiritedness, his greed and his reckless disregard for others into our children’s lives.
Yours with more respect than all the slurry in Pedro’s sty,
PS: Bluey’s dad rightfully gets a lot of credit, but he’s an absolute dickhead in the skilltester episode.