Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Petite Curies?: A Feminist Critique of the Little Einsteins

So Big and I don't spend a lot of time watching television, but we do enjoy catching an episode of Little Einsteins here and there.

I suppose we've watched 20 or so episodes over the course of the last year and, as far as television goes, I think they are fairly enjoyable and at least somewhat educational (although if the one study I read that showed that the Baby Einsteins videos were shown to have had absolutely no cognitive effect on child outcomes, its older sibling has likely even less merit).

If you don't know the gist of the show, it goes like this. There are four kids (Leo, Annie, Quincy and June who are miniature editions of the Today Show cast in terms of sex, race and ethnicity) riding around in a rocket ship going on various adventures. Each episode features some particular work of art, as well as (usually) classical music, by well-known composers. Also, the missions often take the cabal to famous locations all over the world. The music and inspiration of the characters (not least of whom, "Rocket") usually gets Big and I hopping around the room.

However, I have become increasingly agitated by the, as far as I can tell, absolute lack of inclusion of women artists or composers.

An empiricist at heart, I did a brief statistical analysis in an attempt to verify my conjecture.

At the time of this writing, there are 54 unique "regular" episodes of the Little Einsteins, 2 "specials" (one for Halloween and one for Christmas) and two full-length movies.

Out of the 54 regular episodes there are 58 unique artworks featured. Of those there are 13 unknown artists. These 'unknown-author' works fall under the category of "ancient" or possibly "multiple authored" or even under a category that could simply be considered a "cultural artifact." These thirteen works include the following: "Egyptian Heiroglyphics", "Navajo Baskets", "Ancient Greek and Roman Mosaics", "Australian Aboriginal Art", "Pacific Northwest Totem Poles", "German Folk Art", "Chinese Paper Art", "African Masks", "Ice Stones", "Ancient Egyptian Sculpture", "Luxembourg City Scapes" and "Kuna Molas."

As far as I can tell, the only two possible cases in which these unknown artists could be women is in the Kuna Molas and the Navajo Baskets.

That is less than four percent of all of the artists on all of the episodes. And neither of those cases are definitively art produced by women. Certainly not art by a single woman. And most certainly not art that was sold in the market for art, by a single woman.

On the music side, the situation is even worse. Not a single composer is female. You've got several appearances by the usual suspects: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Bizet, Grieg, Vivaldi, and Tchaikovsky and sure, the music is great and highly recognizable, but don't women make music? And hasn't anyone made music since the early 1900s?

As an aside, the art is also heavily weighted toward the pre-modern era (despite appearances by Warhol, Kandinsky and Lichtenstein). Leaving behind the feminist issue for a moment, wouldn't you like to see the Einsteins tackle a contemporary artist like Tino Sehgal? Could June roll around the floor, or jump up and down while Annie sings "This is propaganda/you know/you know!" Or could Quincy and June (or even better Leo!) leap into an embrace resembling the kiss on the beach in From Here to Eternity?

After each show I feel compelled to whisk Big off to the Walker Art Center to show him that women do make art (at the very least that they have and continue to direct the entire center!), and that not all composers are dead white guys.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Walker plug!

So, IMHO, here's a short list of amazing female artists the Baby Einstein folks could/should start working on ... I'm proud to say that most of these artists have been featured at the Walker in recent years.

- Frida Kahlo - see the Walker-organized show now on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and at SFMOMA opening in June!

- Kiki Smith - Eight LOVED the Walker's retrospective!

- Kara Walker - ok, maybe not exactly toddler material here :)

- Diane Arbus

- Sherry Levine

- Cindy Sherman

- Louise Bourgeois

- Eva Hesse

- Lee Krasner

- Joan Mitchell

- Lee Bontecou

- Helen Frankenthaler

- Alice Neel

- Georgia O'Keefe

- Annie Liebovitz

- Adrian Piper

- Yoko Ono - I'd love to see Baby Einstein's take on FLUXUS! The orifice plugs seem somewhat age appropriate. :)

- Mary Cassatt - just popped to mind - this one should be a shoe-in!

Ok, I'll stop now - but I do love the idea of sending a big list to the BE group. I'll keep working on it :)

- HFRM#1

giddings said...

I smell publication . . . . !