Thursday, March 11, 2010

Freaks, wierdos, slapstick duos: identical twins on television

After a long, hard swimming lesson today, Matthew and Jonathan kicked back on the sofa with a couple sippies of milk (white for Jonathan; chocolate for Matthew) and tuned into an episode of Olivia, the animated series about an imaginative girl pig who is obsessed with red.
I didn't catch all of it, but I found myself pulled in when Olivia introduced a set of identical twin pigs, who were boys. She mixed up their names, of course, and they pointed out her error. Olivia's response? She laughed and referred to them instead as, simply, "twins."
The identical boys then performed the equivalent of a circus act.
This from Nick Jr., the network that proclaims to defy stereotypes and introduce children to a diversity of peoples and cultures with such shows as Dora the Explorer and Ni Hao Kia-Lan.
I have always been annoyed by the portrayal of identical twins in film and in television. When they are the main characters, they sometimes fare well. But when they are secondary characters, they are most often the slapstick duos, the wierdos, the freaks.
They are not hard to find, particulary in the popular animated televisions series targeted at children-- the Egg twins (Eggbert and Leo) in Oswald; Timmy and Tommy Tibble in Arthur; Susan and Mary Test from Johnny Test-- just to name a few.
Now that we are raising identical twins of our own, I am more than annoyed. I am concerned for my youngest sons and the message that these portrayals relay to them. These shows treat identical twins as hillarious units, as misfits, as circus acts.
And as I look at our boys sitting there on the sofa-- one in shorts, the other in pants; one in a red shirt, the other in yellow; both with their heads cocked in precisely the same position with precisely the same expression on their handsome faces-- I can't help thinking that this is hard enough.
Already, their strikingly similar looks and mannerisms require that they announce their indivual identities daily, something other children never have to worry about. But now they have to fight Nick Jr. too, and PBS and Disney and all the authors out there who use identical twins as devices.
The worst part?
(Maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe they'll never put two and two together. They are smart boys, smart enough to avoid identifying with cartoon characters. Smart enough to differentiate fiction from reality even at three years old. Maybe, I've just had too long a day and this rant is just the result of stress.)
When the identical boys on Olivia performed their clownish act, Matthew and Jonathan laughed.


Mary said...

Don't forget the Shining. When I was in college there were twins that looked very similar to the Shining twins at the magnate high school on campus. In fact, Shining Twins was what people called them (hopefully not to their face). -mary

Kim said...

I just watched the new Alice and Wonderland. Remember Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum? Oh brother.
I couldn't help but feel the same way as you describe.

But for the most part I think people see identical twins as pretty awesome. :)

Twinsmom said...

Those are both great examples. And I agree, Kim, they are pretty darned awesome!

Unknown said...

This is a legit concern. We're pretty sure our twins will be fraternal (due in July) so a lot of the pressure identicals get will be off them ... though they will have to deal with lots of "Twins? You don't look like twins!" jokes.

And I find it hilarious that I now have to consider Zach and Cody as good examples of ANYTHING.

grilstwinsmom said...

I understand where u coming from i too was annoyed by the way television is using twins like that but my twin girls just see others twins on tv n they say hey look theres me n my sister,n they laugh everytime they see someone the same as the other person,so i guess if it doesn't bother them it shouldnt bother me either.