(This opinion piece starts in media res. For visitors, you should know that LazyTown is a children’s television program produced in Iceland by fitness guru Magnús Scheving. It was originally exported to the US last year, and has since become popular worldwide, finally being broadcast in its home, Iceland, in 2005. Mr. Scheving plays the hero of the show, Sportacus. Our opinion writer compares Sportacus to Gillzenegger, a character loosely based on Arnold Schwarzenegger, circa 1978, without the pesky id or IQ. )
As it turns out, the real menace of LazyTown is not Robbie Rotten (is he related to Johnny, by the way?). The character most dangerous to the moulding of young children is the character they call Sportacus. The most obvious complaint against him is the blatant commercialisation of his popular TV program. Following the show’s popularity he’s started to push products with the LazyTown trademark in a manner that would make Ronald McDonald envious. There is the LazyTown shoe line, the LazyTown dolls, LazyTown bottled water and, curiously enough, the LazyTown vitamin supplements, available from any official LazyTown merchandise dealer.
There is even a special LazyTown economy working in Iceland. According to the LazyTown website, the idea is to help educate children about the true value of money and the importance of a healthy and nutritious diet, coupled with regular and consistent exercise. Lofty goals indeed. In practice the economy is based on children taking money to their bank, and receiving ‘LazyTown money’ in exchange, which can be used to ‘buy’ certain products from selected companies sponsoring the project. In other words, it is a business model that facilitates consumption by using young pre-school children as pegs to move a product. Son, you must understand what capitalism is all about…
Another blatant form of pushing products to the extremely young is the LazyTown Energy Book, which is basically a dietary journal, where kids from 5-9 are asked to keep a record of what they eat. Again, according to the LazyTown website, the inspired goals behind this nifty idea are to educate children about how to stay energised all day and the importance of eating right. In reality it is another scheme to reach an easily influenced group of young children with subliminal messages of the quality of selected products sponsoring the project.
And I have yet to say anything about the morality of asking a five year old to keep a dietary journal. Is it really healthy for a five year old, or even a nine year old, to be consumed with worries about their calorie intake? Is this something we want to encourage? Can you spell anorexic? If Magnús Scheving is concerned with improving the diet of our children, he should educate the parents and the employees responsible for school and pre-school lunches. They are the ones who are responsible for the children’s diet. Kids this age do not prepare their own meals, or do the grocery shopping.
Furthermore, I’ve become increasingly worried over the content of LazyTown, which revolves around prejudice and stereotyping. We should all be more like the spunky little Stephanie, full of energy and joy, always up for another somersault. She is what all girls should aspire to be. Boys should mould their persona in the image of the over-energetic Sportacus, who has an aversion to walking, apparently because that does not burn enough calories, opting for the underrated flip-flopping travelling style instead.
Being like the other children, that is just plain bad. Especially if you are like Ziggy, he is fat and (therefore) stupid, or Stingy, who is kind of moody and therefore boring. And don’t get stuck on computer games like Pixel. He’s so far down that rabbit hole that he has trouble with everyday communication. Instead you should just exercise and be happy.
There is another character on Icelandic TV, touting a similar, if not the same message, except that his show is not directed at children. They call him Gillzenegger. He is the mindless git who maintains that the only thing of importance in life is being beautiful. Exercise, tan and get a haircut every two weeks and you are guaranteed to find happiness. This is the adult version of Sportacus. I’ve come to believe that they might even be one and the same man. The difference is that while Gillzenegger is held out for ridicule and laughter, Sportacus is celebrated as a role model for young children.
Is that really a positive development?