Thursday, January 04, 2007

Max & Ruby: Portrait of Neglect?
This one’s for all the parents out there who have preschoolers who are addicted to Treehouse TV (the Canadian 24-hour preschooler channel) and Max & Ruby (the show airs on Nick Jr. in the U.S., I believe). Specifically, for the parents who actually WATCH the show with their kids.

Max & Ruby is one of those puzzling cartoons that was meant to only be watched by children five and under. In other words, those who don’t really think it through and begin to ask questions. The cartoon is based on the books by Rosemary Wells, and involve two bunnies: Ruby (voiced for a couple of seasons by Oscar nominee Samantha Morton), who seems to be similar to a child of about 8 or 9, and Max, her toddler brother who says one word at a time. The show usually follows the same storyline: in every episode, Max annoys Ruby, Ruby tries to get him to do something less annoying, he keeps saying one word over and over, and at the very end of the episode the one word usually contains the key to everything, and he wins. Critics of the show usually attack Ruby, saying she’s a dictator who constantly pushes her little brother around. But the more I watch it, the more I notice one thing in particular: Ruby is Max’s only guardian. There are no parents present, EVER. Ruby is a little girl forced to be the sole caretaker of a boy who’s at that age where he’s constantly getting into trouble. Kids watching the show probably assume it’s perpetually Saturday morning, Dad’s always in the garage, and Mom’s off getting the groceries or something. But if you think about it too much, this beautifully coloured, sweet little show actually becomes… sinister.

I’ve watched Ruby desperately try to get Max to sleep when all he wants to do is play with his toys. She’s tried to bathe him, and he keeps getting out of the tub and getting dirtier and dirtier. She’s made him eggs for breakfast, which he refuses to eat and she stands there coaxing him over and over until he tricks her into eating them and he happily walks away. She’s had to sell Bunny Scout brownies, but he smashes all of the boxes. He's eaten all of her chocolate on Easter and made her cry. She’s tried to teach him hide and seek, but he refuses to let her do the hiding, and she spends the rest of the day trying to find him and not having any fun. She tries to have friends over, but he usually dumps mud all over their things and ruins her parties. She’s had pajama parties (and therein lies the big one: it’s nighttime, and there are STILL no parents around) where she can’t just hang out with her friends, she’s got to mind Max and keep him occupied.

I was shocked recently during one episode that drove me nuts (Ruby’s friend Louise was going to call her with a big secret, and as soon as the phone rang Max came into the room with the loudest toy he could find; Ruby excused herself, took him outside, got him set up with a bunch of other toys, and went back to the phone, and Max sent a toy helicopter over her head through the window; back she went outside to give him some other quieter toys, all the while explaining that she needed him to be quiet for a few more minutes, returned to the phone, and he sent his remote control ambulance into the room; exasperated, Ruby tells him she’ll take the phone upstairs, and to hang it up when she gets there, and she’s not halfway up the stairs when Max picks up the phone, says, “Hi, bye!” and hangs it up, leaving Ruby standing on the upstairs landing, jaw dropped, with a dial tone in her ear… apparently she didn’t have Louise’s number). But none of that is what shocked me. What surprised me was the family portrait hanging on the wall that appeared to be recent. There’s a dad wearing a fedora, and a mom standing off to one side with her bunny lipstick on, and Max and Ruby in the middle. Wow, there ARE parents, I thought to myself, and then immediately wondered where the hell they were.

There’s a grandmother who drops around occasionally and humors the kids, and Ruby always seems ecstatic to see her (“finally,” she must be thinking, “someone who can relieve me from this kid”). But Grandma sticks around for only a few minutes and is quickly gone again. Max just stands there saying, “Door!” or “Blanket!” or “Cookie!” Where are their parents? Are they on shift work at night and sleep during the day? Are they off producing dozens of other little bunnies? Have they become rabbit stew? This is beyond latchkey-dom.

My husband is one of the ones who HATES Ruby with a passion, and wishes Max would inflict more on her. But I don’t see it that way at all. I can only imagine at the end of the day after Ruby, exhausted, gets Max to bed after fighting to bathe him, and comes downstairs, has a smoke, puts her little feet up on the bunny coffee table and changes the cig with a bottle of tequila, all the while wondering, “Why me? Where has my childhood gone? How dare Mom get knocked up and then let me deal with the consequences?” Then she stumbles back up the stairs, crawls into Max’s room and finds a rollerskate that she places at the top of the stairs, hoping Max will accidentally slip on it and end her misery. But we all know that the next morning, completely hung over with Max standing on her bed going, “Headache!” she’ll stumble back out onto the landing and step on that skate herself.

Poor Ruby.


Corey said...

You're not the first person to have an issue with this program. My brother-in-law is absolutely weirded out by the show. He has the same issues: where are the parents?

Sill, better than the usual anime-knockoffs that pass for edutainment these days.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with you. I have a 3 year-old and we watch this show because she loves it. I have often wondered where the parents are, too. The kids have the run of the house and, if Ruby is indeed 8 or 9, what is she doing cooking breakfast without adult supervision?

I guess we can assume that Ruby has earned her child care badge from the Bunny Scouts!

Unknown said...

God, I HATE that show!! My kids seem to immediately act bratty toward one another right after they watch it - OBVIOUSLY picking up on the whole theme of the show. Hate it!

Ike Buck said...

I can't stand this show. I hate Max and Ruby equally. The show is unimaginatively repetitve and the characters are are unlikable. Ruby is selfish caretaker.( I would like to point out that shows without caretakers can be pulled off successfully, i.e; Backyardigans.) All issues pertaining to missing parents aside, the show does present Ruby as the caretaker and her actions as such are piss poor. Furthermore Max is insufferable. I think he may be autistic, which would fine if he was portayed with that as a qualifier. Thank god my kids haven't taken to this show as much as they have others. I find it incredible that someone green-lighted this garbage. Rosemary Wells should be ashamed.

A Passion For Fashion said...

I love the show..and so do my kids 2 and 5. But this was my very thoughts..where are the parents?..So here i am seaching the internet for answers.

Anonymous said...

Just found this entry and I agree! This show screams out neglect all around!

Anonymous said...

I think Max is the worst of all. He is always causing trouble. Furthermore, there are never any consequences to his actions. The show actually ends with his horrible behaviors working out for Ruby. Ruby always says, "Oh, Max" and she laughs and Max smiles. This show is awful. I am glad my daughter is 2 and clueless.

Anonymous said...

Ruby makes Max out to look like a trouble maker. My 4 1/2 year old has strict rules watching the show, she knows she is NOT supposed to treat her 2 1/2 yr old sister the way Ruby treats Max. I wrote an blog on how I hate the show, and yes I can change the channel-but my daughter has learned valuable lessons how NOT TO ACT.

My teen kids like the show, because it is so disturbing to them, they laugh and laugh because they can't believe this show is on the air!!!

Here's my rant on it:

IT Guy said...

I read the original post, then did some searching on the web for some additional rants. I really think most everyone has missed the point here. The show is simply designed to show preschoolers how conflict can be resolved in an environment which is clearly safe, but without requiring the direct involvement of parents. If you yearn for overbearing parents and their helpless whining children, try Caillou.

Plus, that Catskills jazz really slays me.

Nikki Stafford said...

I can honestly say this is the longest ongoing commentary I've had on any of my posts. I wrote this as a tongue-in-cheek joke, and I'm amazed how many people seriously despise this show. As much as it's annoying for me to watch, I'd choose it over dozens of other shows for my kids to watch. I never considered that Max may be autistic until someone posted it here... I don't think that was Rosemary Wells' intent, but now that I watch the show, that comment clearly colours how I see it!

I'm honestly not sure why parents have to be overbearing as IT Guy would suggest. Isn't there a way of showing parents as simply being present without being overbearing? They pop in and out of a lot of other cartoons and you feel safe knowing that they're there, but their kids are still free to explore.