The announcement by the ABC today that they are axing Bananas in Pyjamas is a reason to pause and reflect on this culturally significant show about bananas who wear pyjamas.
The show is based on a nursery rhyme about bananas in pyjamas called Bananas in Pyjamas. The protagonists of the tale are bananas who wear pyjamas:
Bananas in pyjamas,
Are coming down the stairs.
Bananas in pyjamas,
Are coming down in pairs.
Bananas in pyjamas,
Are chasing teddy bears.
“Cos on Tuesday they all like
To catch you unawares!”
As we all know, bananas cannot wear pyjamas. As such, we are compelled to look for the actual meaning of this metaphor — the most likely candidate being Asians. When the song was popular, it was common to refer to all things Asiatic as being ‘yellow’ (after Linnaeus’ classification) and to characterise the fashion sense as being like pyjamas.
Notice the militancy with which bananas in pyjamas march: ‘in pairs’. This is a nursery rhyme championing yellow peril. Asians sit to the north (up the ‘stairs’) and will, with militant ruthlessness, proceed down the stairs towards us (noting that it’s ‘coming’ in the rhyme and not ‘going’. This indicates a motion towards the narrator).
The rhyme calls for us to be alert, lest we are caught ‘unawares’ but also makes a subtle hint to the regularity of the threat — we know that they like to attack, but our complacency allows us to be taken unawares.
It’s difficult to make sense of the ‘teddy bears’ reference. The television show based on the nursery rhyme appears to suggest that they represent children (teddy bears are a popular children’s toy). Although we could see this as a literal hunt for children, it could also be read as an ideological hunt for children. Although derogatory, the bananas in pyjamas label also makes them seem attractive to children (bananas are a popular food for children).
This allows us a neat segue into a discussion of the show itself. Characters of the show included three teddy bears (representing the viewpoint of the children who were hunted by Asians), two bananas in pyjamas who were indistinguishable to the audience except through the labels printed on their shirts (because all bananas look the same), and a rat in a hat.
The Rat in the Hat is clearly a reference to shonky Asian businesses. When the song was first written by Enid Blyton’s nephew in the 1960s, Asia was mostly closed off and under the thrall of Communism. Between the time of the song’s popularity and the television show being produced, Asia had begun to open up its markets. This resulted in a flood of shonky goods flooding the market from Asia’s sweatshop factories. For a while, ‘Made in Japan’ was a reference to poorly made goods, but this soon swapped to ‘Made in China’, ‘Made in Korea’, and ‘Made in Taiwan’. The cheap goods from these markets was permitted with the acknowledgement that they were inferior goods. The Rat in the Hat is clearly a knock off product of the American Cat in the Hat. In many episodes, this shonky character attempts to scam the teddies and the bananas. The scams often end in the bananas and the teddies becoming closer friends, representing the reaction of ordinary workers in Asia to embrace Communist values as a result of Capitalist failures.
Although the nursery rhyme is clearly menacing, the show represented the bananas as bumbling, good natured, friendly characters with whom the audience (children) felt safe. This twist on the original rhyme (sung on the Australian television show Play School) demonstrates the extent to which the ABC has become a pro-Communist broadcasting organisation.
The axing of the show leaves a space in the ABC lineup for more appropriate, pro-Capitalist children’s shows such as Old Mother Hubbard (who can’t afford welfare handouts to her dog), Rub-a-dub-dub, Three Men in Tub (which is all about suppressing your individuality in favour of your occupation), and Atlas Shrugged (which is clearly unadulterated propaganda).
(In case it isn’t obvious, this is a joke. Vale Bananas in Pyjamas).