Theodore Tugboats Gone.
I Miss Him.
by Annette Najjar
At Calvert Marine Museums Family Days this past May, Theodore Tugboat, the 60-foot character recreation from the PBS childrens series, was to have paid a visit. But just before the event, the Museum announced that Theodore unexpectedly canceled his appearance. Theodores website apologized that hed been ordered back to his home port in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The company that created him, Cochrane Entertainment, was bankrupt.
My sorrow over Cochranes failure was unreasonably deep. But why? I dont know anyone who works there. Theodore Tugboat is just another kiddie show that my toddler inevitably will outgrow. Yes, Im sad that hell also outgrow his Theodore T-shirt and I most likely wont be able to replace it, but so would any mother who gets teary-eyed watching her child grow up.
But I discovered Theodore on my own. He hadnt accosted me in every department store, was not printed on diapers or featured on fruit snacks as are Elmo, Blue, Mickey, Tweety, Clifford and Barbie. I was browsing the kids section at the bookstore, amazed by books on Tonka trucks and Cheerios and M&Ms, when I pulled out one of Theodores $3.25 paperbacks, a story from one of his shows. I had no idea who he was; in fact, I mistook him for Little Toot, the tug of 1940s classic childrens literature.
Ive always thought my Theodore is a cut above most toddlers shows. No one crashes into anyone else on purpose. Lessons are taught gently. Images dont change by the second. A goofy but caring Harbormaster introduces and narrates each story with a distinctive voice for each character then assures us hell see us again soon in the Big Harbor.
Well, for the time being, he wont. Apparently the only way little Theodore can stay afloat is for his license to be purchased by a media behemoth. I shudder to think what will happen then.
Cochrane may simply have been a badly run company. But a line in the press release that announced its predicament rang true to me: The company soon found itself competing for merchandising market share with the biggest brands in the business, trying to hold its own against marketing budgets in the millions of U.S. dollars.
Im well aware that those same marketing budgets take aim at manipulating my tastes, but as an adult I can sometimes shield myself from them. I enjoy picking and choosing rather than capitulating to any logo I wear, carry or drive. But as a parent, I must double my vigilance, for a three-year-old simply doesnt know when hes being coerced.
Am I the only mother who scoffs at Home Depots building books for kids that are prefaced with a plug for the chains tools and materials? Who notices that bookstores are indistinguishable from toy stores? Who doesnt need a Skittles math book to teach addition and subtraction? Who is frustrated that most childrens music comes from movies and television?
Perhaps I can lessen my frustration and have a bit of fun by practicing my own brand of marketing disobedience. Ill tell Barnes & Noble that its job is to sell books, not Cheerios. Likewise Ill praise my local library for not carrying cereal on its shelves. Ill wait for my favorite fruits and vegetables to come into season and buy from the local farm stand, and Ill treat my family to lemonade made from scratch rather than mix Krafts sugar crystals with water. Ill reward with my dollars those grocery chains that dont offer shoppers cards, instead of the other way around. If I do find myself at Starbucks, Ill order a drink thats small (not tall), medium (not grande) or large (not venti).
Ill support the local alternative press and radio, because I believe that bigger is usually not better and I expect from them the unexpected. And maybe Ill just stumble onto another Theodore.
Najjar is host of the childrens program What Will We Hear Today? heard on WRYR 97.5.