If you had mentioned Peppa Pig to me three years ago, I wouldn’t know what you were talking about. But now, this British children’s cartoon series, with its five-minute episodes centred on the eponymous four-year-old talking pig, Peppa, are a dominant presence in our home. These days, I cannot imagine daily life without Peppa Pig on TV.
What is even more disturbing is that a few months back I found myself lost – for hours and hours – in an Internet search about it.
I had a sudden realisation after watching the ‘Funfair’ episode for perhaps the fifth time, that all the animal kids had alliterative names – Candy Cat, Suzie Sheep, Zoe Zebra, Rebecca Rabbit. All except for Peppa’s little brother, George. It made no sense to me.
I delved into the recesses of the Internet and found a world of parenting forums where similarly sad and slightly desperate parents had posted this and many other questions about Peppa Pig. I did feel at least vindicated that I wasn’t the only person out there using up quality time in her day hunting for answers about something so pointless and exasperating. But in the midst of it I started to think – why do we all care so much?
Fall Down Laughing
I mean, when I first started watching Peppa Pig with my toddler, I could not for the life of me see what the big deal was. In each episode, Peppa does an activity or goes somewhere with her family or friends – say to the public swimming pool or for a picnic – and then at the end of the episode all the characters fall down laughing.
That is it.
There is barely an attempt at any sort of narrative arc, and the animation is not sophisticated and everyone is a little bit mean about Daddy Pig.
Yet last year, the company behind Peppa Pig reported annual sales of $1 billion – cue lots of “bringing home the bacon” headlines. Most of the revenue comes from merchandise – an estimated 12,000 products have been given the Peppa Pig treatment. She is everywhere – on lunchboxes, toys, games, and even my one-year-old daughter’s second hand stockings.
The TV show has been going for over ten years but as the episodes are only five minutes long, there is less than 20 hours of TV responsible for this global success. It is screened in over 180 countries and if you visit the UK you can now take the family to Peppa Pig World – its very own theme park. Projected earnings are set to double to $2 billion in a few years and more theme parks are planned.
Although it has been described, fairly indelicately, as ‘toddler crack’, it is not our children who are the frenzied consumers of anything Peppa. It is not our children having heated debates on parenting forums. It is not our children building theme parks. Peppa Pig has taken over the world. Why?
Apologies if the talk about wads of cash, rampant consumerism and addictive drugs seem abhorrent, but I feel like this is worth digging into.
Firstly, there is the emotion hypothesis: you either love or hate Peppa Pig. You can even dislike it and come to love it, as I have. Or you can like some of the episodes but get annoyed at how mean they all are to Daddy Pig. Or think that Peppa is mostly a delight but sometimes quite naughty. But the point is, no one says ‘Oh, Peppa Pig – I can take it or leave it’. Anything that invokes a strong emotion is bound to stay in your mind when out shopping.
Secondly – the mystery theory. Peppa Pig brings up more questions than answers. Not only is George not called Peter or Paul, but there are many other unanswered questions. Like why are all the parents called Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig, even by their bosses? When the show is about talking animals, why is there a doctor and a vet? And what the heck is that Mr. Potato thing? If you start down the questioning line, you will fall in a well that you will never clamber out of – right down to why is George voiced by TWO actors when all he says is ‘dinosaur’? All these unresolved questions stay in our consciousness and are still around when our child’s birthday is coming up. Add this to 12,000 products and you have a success equation that adds up big time. A little bit of mystery goes a long way.
Next is the simplicity proposal – maybe the extremely short episodes, uncomplicated story and basic sketches are not negatives at all, but instead what makes Peppa Pig so addictive. In a world where I never feel like I finish anything, watching an entire five-minute episode of Peppa Pig is something of an achievement.
Or maybe, just maybe, it is so successful because it is so joyful. As it is from the perspective of a four-year-old, it projects a kind of youthful joy that invokes a comforting nostalgia. Who doesn’t remember how much fun it was to jump in muddy puddles? It is mildly humorous in a very British way. I dare anyone not to smile in the ‘Hide and Seek’ episode when George is found in Daddy Pig’s newspaper.
Alliteration and Addiction
I never did find a satisfying answer to the alliterative names conundrum. In fact to make matters worse I found out about one other character with a non-alliterative name – Joey the baby Kangaroo – which makes the anomaly even more infuriating.
But occasionally, Peppa Pig does come through with an episode that alleviates some curiosity. It was a good day when I stumbled across the episode where Miss Rabbit gets awarded for all her hard work with a medal from the Queen. I had been wondering for ages how Miss Rabbit can do so many jobs. That wasn’t exactly answered, but at least it was acknowledged.
Whatever the reason for its worldwide success, there is no denying Peppa Pig is not just ‘toddler crack’. There is a worrying addictive element for us grown ups as well. I know this because our daily bite of Peppa Pig has been replaced with Emma (five minutes of the female Wiggle). And although Emma’s smile lights up our TV screen, I am having Peppa Pig withdrawals.
When an object you desire is no longer around, you tend to obsess about it even more. Maybe write an entire blog post about it. Mmmm, perhaps I need to get out bit more.