Now, it may just be that I am cranky, having had to suffer eight years of the fatuous cartoon. Eight years of horribly forced animal sounds. Eight years of “Say it louder!” and “Everybody scream!” (Have the writers never been in a room with 2-4 year olds? They need no encouragement!) Eight years of painfully dumb questions that allow us to pretend that our children have learned something by the end of each show. After watching roughly three million incredibly educational episodes, my children can answer the following profoundly inane questions:
Does a sloth live in an igloo or a tree?
Can a bicycle float down a water slide?
To dive in the water, does a humpback whale use a diving board or arch its back?
Does a red eyed tree frog have red eyes or purple eyes?
Look out Mensa, here come America’s youth. (Yes, these are actual questions from the show. 1) Though I tried, I couldn’t make up that kind of stupid, so 2) I had to do some research late last night.)
But you know what? Our kids are learning something from the show. And that thing they are learning is deeply troubling on a number of levels.
Each episode follows the same hackneyed storyline: Some animal is in trouble. That animal is helpless and defenseless until Diego, Alicia, and Baby Jaguar fly to their rescue. The natural abilities and instincts of the animal are ignored as the animal rescuers swoop into action. Without the patronage of these benevolent saviors, those poor, helpless creatures would be S.O.L. Yes, in America we like to nurture our savior complex from a very early age.
And this is incredibly problematic if we truly want to address the great ills of our world.
Here’s the issue: this kind of thinking leads us to devalue others and ignore their individuality as we view ourselves as heroes, the ones with wisdom, skill, power, and generosity. We’re the good and noble philanthropists. This is what it looks like: there is a person living in poverty. We take a picture of her (‘she’ because women and girls are impacted disproportionately by poverty). We put it out there for all to see, a call to action, a reminder that “something must be done.” And suddenly, that girl becomes to us nothing more than her poverty. She has a myriad of capabilities—intellect, ingenuity, persistence, hope. But all we choose to see is her need. (For more on this, see this post on poverty porn).
We feel the urge to help her. We have no idea about her context or the ways in which our own manners of doing and being contribute to her marginalization. How we ourselves may play a role in causing her vulnerability. Instead, our savior complex kicks in and we come riding to the rescue, a knight on a white horse. Surely this person can do nothing on her own. Her only hope is me… her great Western hero.
Now, we all know that this is a lie. We know that human beings are so much more than their material circumstances; they are created in the image of God. And as such, they are creators alongside God; they have agency. This means that they bring important gifts to the table, that we must listen to them and trust that they know their circumstance better than you or I ever could. They do not need a great Western hope. They need us to get out of the way so they can flourish. What better approaches look like it is a topic for another post; for now, suffice it to say we often hinder their flourishing, even when we have the best of intent.
Now, maybe I have been too hard on Diego and his friends. The show is multicultural with nonwhite heroes. The work they do is, at a certain level, good. I mean, who wants to poo-poo rescuing cute little animals? And collaborating on a rescue mission sure beats marching off to wage violence against one’s enemies. But if the message is consumed by a Western culture accustomed to viewing itself as the great bastion of morality and heroism, we need more, especially from shows that are engaged in forming the next generation’s foundational values.
So there you have it, an overly technical deconstruction of Go, Diego, Go. Now you know the sound a PhD makes when he has three children between two and eleven. Say it louder! Everybody scream!
David Creech is Assistant Professor of Religion at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. Before taking his teaching post up on the frozen tundra he worked for four years doing anti-hunger education and mobilization with ELCA World Hunger. When he is not herding cats (i.e., spending quality time with his three kids) he posts profound thoughts on Twitter @dyingsparrows.