In mid-January 1971, the national public service broadcaster in Denmark aired an animation film aimed at three to six year-olds called Cirkeline on Holiday.
The main character is the elf Cirkeline who travels to Spain with her friends, the two mice Frederik and Ingolf. Here they meet some Spanish mice, who tell them about Franco, a cat who hunts, tortures and kills them. The cat is black, wears shiny black boots, and his best friend is the orange cat Don Carlos who wears a golden crown. The entire episode is an explicit critique of Franco’s dictatorship and the king’s support of it.
Cirkeline on Holiday is an example of the explicit politicization of media products for children in Scandinavia, even media directed at preschoolers, which happened in the wake of ’68. In the years prior to 1968 there had been a ferocious reaction against the view that had dominated in the previous decade, in which children’s culture and children’s media had been idealized as a neutral area of political consensus.
The idea that “everything is political”, even children’s culture, had gained momentum at Danish, Swedish and Norwegian conferences on children’s literature in the mid-1960s. Thanks to the influential Swedish publication Trash Culture for Children (1968), by the author, critic and television producer Gunila Ambjörnsson, this idea spread to the areas of children’s film, television and theater. Ambjörnsson’s main idea was that all children’s culture was political, because even if a book or a play only wanted children to be good and do as they were told, this would help to preserve the status quo and thereby support the existing social norms and values. To make politically explicit media products for children was thus to help children understand how political everything they were told (by adults) was.
Ambjörnsson’s book was hotly debated, but its overall thesis – that children’s culture had to be taken seriously and discussed in the broader public sphere – was widely accepted, even by those who opposed her call for a politicization of children’s culture. A sign of this widespread acceptance was the Nordic Council’s official symposium ‘Children and Culture’ in 1969, where broadcasters, playwrights, critics, authors and educators from Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland participated and agreed on ten guidelines that instructed everyone working with children how to improve children’s culture and their lives in general.
One of the outcomes of the many debates about children’s culture was a much greater diversity in topics that could be represented. Politics now became part of children’s television programmes. There was no ordinary news broadcast for preschoolers, but programmes like Cirkeline on Holiday addressed inequality and the misuse of power very directly, and linked them to political events in the real world. The programme was criticized by the Danish broadcasting corporation’s board of directors, because it openly criticized foreign heads of state, and in later reruns the cats’ names were changed. The episode that was produced and planned to air the subsequent week, in which Cirkeline travels to the US and meets the Black Panthers, was never aired. The fact, however, that these productions were made and met with little disapproval until they reached the board of directors, show how accepting many producers of children’s television had become regarding the communication of politics to preschoolers.