This is another instalment in my occasional series on history and children’s TV, following blogs on Thomas the Tank Engine and Teacup Travels. Which may give the reader an insight into what is mostly on our screen at the moment…
Our five year old is currently obsessed with Go Jetters on CBeebies. (His older brother has graduated to CBBC, home of Horrible Histories, but that has been widely dissected elsewhere.) Go Jetters is colourful, fast-paced and funky. In the curricular world of CBeebies, it also has several educational functions. It introduces the topics of geography, problem solving and – most interestingly from my point of view – history and heritage.
The plot of each episode is as follows. The four young Go Jetters fly to a famous landmark with the paternal Ubercorn, a disco-loving unicorn. This is sometimes a natural feature such as the Grand Canyon, but more usually a historic structure such as the Colosseum or the Eiffel Tower. Ubercorn then gives them three ‘funky facts’ about the history and significance of the location. They fasten their seatbelts and head down to explore.
When they get there, the site will invariably be ‘glitched’ by their nemesis, Grandmaster Glitch. Glitch is the best thing about the show. He once dropped out of the Go Jetter Academy, and this has apparently turned him into a narcissistic megalomaniac, since he likes to embellish famous landmarks, usually with large amounts of rusty metal, in order to create vast statues in his image.
The Go Jetters instinctively know that this is bad, so go about rescuing the heritage site. They are superhero conservators, with high-tech materiel including robot suits, jetpacks and high-powered magnets. In no time the heritage site is saved so everybody can enjoy it – there are usually lots of tourists with cameras, who are sad when a site is glitched and happy when it is saved. Grandmaster Glitch is foiled (‘grimbes!’) and the Go Jetters take a ‘souvenir selfie’ with the landmark in the background.
The programme therefore encourages children to think about historic sites as heritage sites. They are sites that have to be preserved, both for their own sake but also so that ordinary people can experience them, photograph them and consume them. The Go Jetters are essentially taken to a heritage site by their guardian, who attempts to enthuse them about it – like many a family at the weekend.
In Grandmaster Glitch, there is a humorous critique of the insensitive developer, who has no regard for a site’s historic value or the right of the public to access it. Or perhaps it is drawing attention to the folly of some of the heritage sites themselves: how is Glitch’s desire to erect huge statues of himself any more pompous than, say, Nelson’s Column or Mount Rushmore?
My personal favourite episode is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Go Jetters rush off to visit it without hearing Ubercorn’s funky facts, so don’t realise that the tower is supposed to lean. They therefore fix the tower, only to be greeted by disgruntled tourists and souvenir sellers. Perhaps there is a warning here to the overzealous conservator.