No Caillou, Bald is Not the New Black.

This post was chosen as one of BlogHer’s 2014 Voices of the Year in the Op-Ed category.

I was selected for VOTY/PhOTY 2015


CA_FanClub_caillou01

“Mommy, why is Caillou bald?” Akeyla asks. I get kind of excited because, hey! I can Google that right now and find out! Isn’t the internet wonderful? My kid wants to know why a cartoon character has no hair, and I can KNOW THIS within seconds.

When I type into Google “Why is Caillou” these are my suggested searches:

why is caillou baldI’m shocked, really, that his baldness comes up before his seemingly endless ability to annoy.

Chouette Publishing, distributor of all things Caillou, has actually dedicated a page to this apparently popular question. (There are also FAQ pages on other burning Caillou-related questions: “Why are Caillou’s parents so perfect?” and “Why is Caillou grumpy so often?“)

I read “Why is Caillou Bald?” and I’m speechless:

“Caillou stands for all children. He doesn’t have curly blond hair, a carrot-top, brown hair, glasses, or ethnic features, because he represents all children. We wanted to make Caillou universal so every child could identify with him. And they do! Caillou’s baldness may make him different, but we hope it’s helping children understand that being different isn’t just okay, it’s normal.”

Let’s parse that a bit:  Caillou stands for “all children.” He has no “ethnic features” because he “represents all children.” Ergo, he is “universal.”

Um, no, Chouette Publishing. Caillou actually does have ethnic features. He’s white. He is a Caucasian child. He is, more specifically, a Caucasian boy. He’s a Caucasian boy in a white two-parent, middle class family. You don’t get to make him “universal” by making him FUCKING HAVE NO HAIR.

A hairless white boy does not equal “EveryKid.”

And who is this relatable Universal Child surrounded by?  Apparently, The Other. You know, kids with ethnic features. Caillou has a veritable rainbow of diverse friends if for no other reason than to teach about various winter holidays – Clementine is a black girl whose family celebrates Kwanzaa, Leo’s Jewish family celebrates Hanukkah, and Sarah’s family celebrates Chinese New Year. Unlike our so-called ethnicity-free protagonist, Clementine has a large nose, and Sarah has slanted eyes. If he’s supposed to represent everyone, am I to assume they are not?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled to have even supporting characters of color on any cartoon. Akeyla’s eyes lit up one day after she had her hair freshly braided: “Mommy, Clementine has braids just like I do!” Just don’t try to pass your white main character off as some kind of archetypal everychild. Making Caillou bald does not make him “universal so every child [can] identify with him.” It makes him a bald white boy.

Why does this piss me off? Well, for a publisher to suggest to my children of color that a bald white boy is the best way to represent a universally relatable child is the worst kind of clueless white privilege.

And having children of color not just as secondary characters — but as protagonists — in media created for children matters. By 2014, census numbers show that over half of the children in the United States will be non-white. (Even in supposedly lily-white Canada, where “Caillou” originated, minorities are projected to make up one-third of the population by 2031.) In contrast, a 2012 study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that less than eight percent of children’s books were about people of color.

It matters because the majority of children will have few books filled with children who look like them doing the everyday things that children do. The importance of this sort of modeling cannot be overstated. But it goes beyond simply having a mirror for non-white kids to look into.

It matters to white kids too.

They will be growing up in a world filled with kids of all different colors and you know what? It’s important that they see brown kids doing the everyday things that all children do too. It matters that we show human children other human children in all the shades of humanity, so that maybe, just maybe, the next generation will be able to see humanity in all the people around them.

And maybe, just maybe, we won’t be scraping the corpses of our black boys off the sidewalks of America, because they look scary, because they look different. Because they are Other.

Maybe, it’s a place to begin.

Akeyla, her question still unanswered, is impatient with me now. “Mommmm! I asked you why Caillou is bald!” Well, clearly I wasn’t going to be feeding my black daughter a line of Chouette Publishing bullshit about Caillou’s universal relatability. Luckily, she’s still in the “I Accept Tautologies as Answers” phase.

“Because he has no hair, sweetie. Want some more milk?”

******************************

Update! I’ve learned a lot about Caillou since I posted this. From my friend, the children’s book illustrator Stacy Gray Illustration, I learned that the original illustrator and author, Helene Desputeaux, drew Caillou as bald because it was based on her baby, Caillou. Who was bald. Like babies are.

On further research, I learned that Chouette Publishers – maker of the absurd statement about Caillou’s non-ethnicity that I blogged about above — proceeded to screw her out of profits and put her through a 10-year legal battle until she was so stressed she couldn’t draw and ultimately settled.

On her current website, where she still offers illustrated books about Caillou, I found this book, about Caillou’s grandma:

She’s black.

Guess what? On the show, she’s white.  I suppose they thought that would make her more “relatable to all children.” Sigh.

I want everyone to click on that photo and buy Helene Desputeaux’s adorable book about a mixed race family. I’ve not done research, but I’m guessing one can count on one’s hands the number of books about black grandmothers and their white grandsons. This is the world my kids will live in. This is the world I want to see modeled in children’s media. It’s only $7.95 in Canadian dollars. I think that’s, like, practically free in the U.S. I’m not sure.

***********************

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About Cindy Reed

I hate pants.
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62 Responses to No Caillou, Bald is Not the New Black.

  1. Cris says:

    I think your family would be excellent models for children books.

  2. Erica M says:

    So well written, so well said.

      • Erica M says:

        The update makes everything make so much sense. Yes, why couldn’t they just say he was based on the son of the poor lady we drove to drink and talk to herself?

        Do you guys have any Ezra Jack Keats books? I think Peter, one of his lead characters, was my favorite person in the world next to Mr Rogers when I was four years old.

        • The Reedster says:

          I have my originals from when I was a kid of “Peter’s Chair” and “A Letter For Amy” (which always guts me, for some reason) and we love Snowy Day. I think Peter might still be one of my favorite people.

  3. Larks says:

    Wow. I can’t believe that bull. Amen to everything.

    Also I wonder if in the heads of Caillou’s publishers Charlie Brown was the original “every child?”

    • The Reedster says:

      Well, of course I had to Google that next. Apparently, Charles Schulz didn’t consider him bald. “Though this is often interpreted as him being bald, Charles M. Schulz has explained that he saw Charlie Brown as having hair that was so light, and cut so short, that it could not be seen very easily.” http://peanuts.wikia.com/wiki/Charlie_Brown

      It’s not bald. His hair is INVISIBLE. (You’re welcome.)

  4. I like your answer much better. Great post Cindy.

  5. gem says:

    So well said. I agree with you. My county is majority Hispanic and it is beginning to represent it, which is nice. But bald white Caillou is just that. I had to laugh at him being universal. But then maybe my hatred of his whiney voice adds to my laughter.

  6. Right on. I want my white Jewish-ish kids to see their whole world populated with all kinds of people. Including in their books. I think I might be a freak because I don’t think calliou is annoying. What’s wrong w me?

  7. Man, that is disturbing. The idea that he’s somehow non-ethnic, like white is what’s normal and everything else is an ethnic variation on what we’re supposed to look like. That’s a really sick, scary attitude to have. Caillou does not represent every child, and the things he apparently stands for are not welcome in my house.

  8. Sam Merel says:

    I don’t have kids, so I’ve never seen this Caillou character. I just googled him to look at a picture, and I think he has the most Caucasian features he possibly could. Like, the only hair that would possibly fit with those features is something blond and straight. Definitely not “every child.”

  9. Stacie says:

    Such a good post Cindy! Right before you launched into it, I had the same reaction – what are you talking about? Caillou is WHITE! Fortunately, I’m Caillou-free for many years now. I had no idea he was supposed to be “anychild,” I thought he was white. It was the whining I couldn’t stand.

  10. Stacy Gray says:

    The real reason Caillou is bald is that he was created by Illustrator Helene Despeueaux (http://www.desputeauxaubin.com/about-us now a facebook friend of mine! Woohoo! Illustration hero!) when he was a hairless baby. I think the rights were purchased by Chouette and then by Cinar and then by Cookie Jar Entertainment (my old employer). He then evolved into the whiny 4 year old he is now and they kept the bald head. I got to draw him many times when my company borrowed the Caillou license rights, and that is not just any circle, it has nuance, and they have a strict style guide for that little bald head. Caillou head shape aside…you are right about the main characters needing more kids of diversity! Caillou is also Canadian. Does that count?

  11. I declare you the queen of opinion posts.
    It just fits so well with your blog and it’s always wrapped up in something bigger.
    Caillou must be the nemesis of many parents, I know I was glad when my kids grew out of watching the little fucker.
    I saw your follow-up on your Facebook page about the author – I like her explanation better, of why he’s bald: because her kid looked that way when she wrote the book. Makes sense…
    Also – Canada is not lilly-white! I live in an area where the white people are the minority, there are lots of Native Indians here! I also hesitate to call them a minority Canada-wide (even though the numbers probably say they are), since it’s really their country…

    • The Reedster says:

      For some reason, I always think of Canada as “Minnesota-North.” And when I grew up in MN, it was lily-white. Not anymore, of course. And thanks for the kind words!

  12. #1. Caillou is my nemesis (no, I don’t have children, but I nannied for seven years). #2. What the what??? In what way does Caillou NOT look like a bald white boy? I thought maybe he had cancer or something (I didn’t pay much attention to the storyline, I kind of read magazines while the kids watched TV). This is such an excellent post, Cindy, even if finding this out pissed me off… 😉

  13. just another reason caillou is annoying. perfectly put.

  14. Amazing what can be discovered with just a little googling….wow.

  15. My Noah James is half-black but my ex-husband was asked to leave so he could be with his future wife full-time when Noah was five. Anyhooo, now he’s adopted by my white husband (Italian and Irish) and if you were to ask Noah what his ethnicity is, Noah would tell you, “Nothing.” He doesn’t ‘identify’ with any ethnicity. I do have black friends who take him out and explain things he has heard and help him understand what being black means, because others DO see him as black. What do I see? I see an olive-skinned curly-browned haired teenager in the winter who becomes a golden brown blonde-haired teenager come summer. He has blended features, he has rhythm, and he has long lean muscles. He’s just Noah James.

    • The Reedster says:

      I seriously don’t see race (most of the time) with my girls either – certainly not in the day to day around the house stuff we do. It’s only in the context of the outside world that race becomes this social construct. And my girls will tell you they are part Irish, because their daddy’s family is 🙂

  16. Well golleee, I bet you’re the kind of person who gets all het up at the idea that “history” is about more than just wars (fought almost always by men, mostly of European descent). I mean, next thing I know you’re going to be all like history should be inclusive and examine all ranges of experiences and that there’s more to history than just war & conquest. And *then* you’re going to start saying that the white male experience is *not* the universal experience? Jeez.

  17. mamarific says:

    I hate Caillou even more than Barney, and that’s saying a lot. And I’m dumbfounded at the explanation of baldness = every kid. Well argued point-of-view.

  18. mistyslaws says:

    I am happy to say that my kids have never watched a minute of this annoying boy on TV. At least, not with me around. I have heard many a story of the annoyingness of this show. It is also why Barney was banned in my house.

    One of my kids favorite shows is Doc McStuffins. A little girl who is black, in a black family. They love it, and I’m sure do not see any color, as it should be. I think it helps that our extended family is mixed race, and 2 of their cousins are pretty dark skinned. For them, that’s just how people are. Of all colors and types. I hope they remain this way and that the world doesn’t ruin them with its stupidity. Great post!

  19. You know, we always wondered why he was bald but never thought to actually google it. Their explanation is the biggest load of horse doody imaginable. So ridiculous and no, they sure didn’t think that one through. Great post. And oh hell yes, Caillou is annoying!

  20. Wow, just wow. If they wanted to make him like “every child” they should have made him Han Chinese. (A while back a project compiled loads of statistical data and composed an image of what the most common human would look like: it was an 18-year-old Han Chinese man). They would have been much better off if they stuck with the author’s original story.

    Oh, and the Canadian dollar has been pretty much on par with the US dollar for awhile now, last I checked. 😉

  21. zoe says:

    Nicely done. Consider it bought. Coming from an ethnically rich family of multiple races I totally get what your saying and I always wanted my kid to know the kind of world the original Callou comes from.

  22. Christina says:

    W O W. i’m astounded at their reasoning. just one more reason to keep that show from airing in my home (besides the incessant whining of course). I would LOVE to buy the book, but i’m not see how to go about doing so! 🙁

  23. The Cutter says:

    I hate the show Calliou. Everyone responsible for that show should be beaten to death. The fact that the show’s creators ripped off the author and “whitewashed” him makes them even worse.

  24. Ok I learned more about Calliou than I really wanted to know by reading this. Great Opinion Post.. you owned that 31dbbb assignment..

  25. Jo in AK says:

    Howdy! Thanks so much for the update about Caillou’s grandma!

    Here’s my two cents about age-appropriateness in tv shows. I always cringe when I hear people say how much they HATE tv shows that are designed for toddler/preschool/early elementary kids. Adults look at these programs sort of like how little kids view fine cuisine–through their own filter–and they don’t appreciate the show/characters for what they are. Kids’ shows–the themes, dialogue, music, colors, pacing, etc.–are all carefully designed to fit and educate their target audience: very young children.

    You may never like and probably will NEVER enjoy watching early-childhood-age programs, as they can be very annoying to you, the adult. Let your kiddos watch them; there’s so much learning and enjoyment in them for the very ones they were designed for.

  26. Great post. I thought I hated Caillou before I read this post, but now I am 100% confident that I do!

  27. Devan says:

    My daughter does not know anything about race…she is as white as they come, blonde hair blue eyes, but the girl right next to her, no matter her color or shape or size, is no different than her. Doc McStuffins is her favorite show of ALL TIME (she just got sheets and blanket set with her on it) and she has never even mentioned that she is black or brown or different at all…because she’s not. I love it…love fresh eyes that have not been tarnished by stupidity…yet.
    Great post Cindy, I can’t stand Caillou, the show.

  28. dorothyadele says:

    Well said, you persuaded me. I wonder what a character would look like if he/she represented all children.

  29. I think it’s really sweet of those publishers to consider all the red heads who wouldn’t relate to blonds or curly hair who wouldn’t relate to straight. Wait… what? It’s like they had to come up with an answer to the “why bald” and quick and just forced it into … oh… multi-culturalism is trendy,,,, yeah, let’s go with that. Weird. But sad to see your post script about the author. : (

  30. I’ve only recently discovered this lil character or at least my toddler did on YouTube. The song is still stuck in my head. I did wonder why he was bald! very informative write up and you are right just because a person lacks certain distinct feature doesn’t mean they represent everyone.

    Kids to notice difference but they will not place the same meanings to it as adults do, this is they learn. The idea of making character represent every child may be a bit much for little ones, seems to me its more about the adults. Kids meet each other and play, they may notice difference and ask about it or look and observe. The are blank canvases and its we the adults that show them colour to it in. Is it not better and more relevant to show things are they are rather then try to ‘tidy’ up and be politically correct?

  31. gold price says:

    While my 3-year-old seems to enjoy this show, I think it may be very bad for him to watch.Among the many problems I have is the child character’s constant bad behavior, mostly his complete lack of manners, I have yet to hear a Thank you or please (often it is “I want”).. this could be a cultural difference with the French.The episode in which he gets scared of monsters at night, rather than helping my son; inspired him to become scared of monsters (he never thought of monsters being in his room until he saw this show).I often see many safety issues brought up in the show, in one episode Daddy leave a newborn baby (Rossie) unattended on a change table.The “world view” of the show is too politically correct and homogeneous to the point of encouraging conformity in children. In fact I find the nonwhite characters to be portrayed ina very disturping way, bordering on racism… the Chinese family eats only Chinese food, visits China on vacation, has a house decorated in Chinese decor.. in fact every part of their life we see is completely enshrined in Chinese culture; as if they have no identity other than being Chinese. In another episode a Mexican family has a birthday party, and of course it is a fiesta! I hate children’s shows that only define multicultural people/families by their race/nationality as if that’s ALL that defines them; it is an ignorant view of our world.

  32. michel aubin says:

    bonjour !

    To children, desputeaux+aubin offers albums, like so many hugs and kisses, that portray the colourful little world of Hélène Desputeaux, the creator of Caillou.
    In 2006, because of never-ending legal hearings concerning her baby Caillou that lasted ten years, and after having seen her graphic universe transformed in a multitude of reproductions, of which she will probably never know the nature and quantity, Hélène Desputeaux set up, with Michel Aubin, her own production house: desputeaux+aubin.
    Since then, holding brush and pencil, Hélène Desputeaux has been creating new books with her genuine baby Caillou, her little Mella and a string of endearing characters! In 2011, to celebrate its fifth anniversary of truly true creation and to simply make us dream, desputeaux+aubin produces a skipping dance of words and colors for the big-toddlers and the wee-toddlers!
    but … in 2012 Hélène Desputeaux wait after her royalties from cinar/cookiejar/dhx and she always don’t know what they do with her graphic universe … with her Caillou … and finally she learn by canadian press that Caillou was sold again !
    and so … in january 2013, again by press, it’s a « wagonload of Caillou license deals » … always with her graphic universe … with her Caillou !
    a wagonload of suprise !

    Voilà !

    merci
    au plaisir … et salutations du Québec !

    M i c h e l A u b i n
    http://www.desputeauxaubin.com
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/desputeauxaubin/130855643658958
    @DesputeauxAubin

    • The Reedster says:

      Thanks for visiting! I love the books on your site and I am so sorry for what has happened to Helene.

      • michel aubin says:

        merci à vous pour vos critiques et vos commentaires … et à Stacy Gray pour les informations …
        le “Caillou” de cinar&cie sera toujours une supercherie …
        and for cinar&cie he’s bald simply for the marketing !

        merci encore …

  33. So appreciated this, Cindy. I got so annoyed with Caillou the other day when, at an amusement park, my kid refused to ride any ride that went off the ground. Why? I asked him. I am afraid of heights. He answered. How’s that? I asked as that’s something we’ve never talked about and sometime he saw some Caillou episode where Caillou was afraid of heights. We got to the other side and onto some rides after a good conversation, but I thought, “Caillou’s out at our house.” Now, the exploitation of a grandma and the magical thinking around race/ethnicity just confirm. And as a woman of color, I will tell you that I have never desired for someone NOT to see my ethnicity as my ethnicity has greatly flavored my life. What I desire is for someone to see it and not attribute their meaning to it. Again, thanks for the thoughtful reflection.

  34. PERFECT! I was annoyed the other night that he has no nipples. So I made a little video song about it. This post is MUCH more awesome. And WOW, that really sucks that they screwed the writer out of her money!!! Yikes. Love this.

  35. KRoe. says:

    I just googled this very question of his baldness, and I raised my brow at the thought of this “universal” junk. Thank you
    author for your excellent breakdown of their foolish explanation for why he has no hair.

  36. Youre pathetic says:

    And im sure that this is coming from a parent who isnt “white” seriously, shut up

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  38. michel aubin says:

    last news from Hélène Desputeaux …
    Caillou’s real mother sues Les Éditions Chouette and Christine L’Heureux
    http://www.raav.org/pls/htmldb/f?p=105:39:0::NO::P39_ID_NOUVELLE,LAST_PAGE:53550,34

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  40. Sarvster says:

    Hallelujah! You said exactly what I was thinking.

  41. Bree says:

    It doesn’t say that under their FAQ section at all. It specifically says his character was created as a bald, nine-month old infant and adding hair made him unrecognizable. They explain the traditional home and family as well. I don’t understand why you were so negative.

    • The Reedster says:

      Bree! I’m so glad you commented. I hadn’t revisited the show’s website for some time and I am THRILLED TO LEARN that they have changed their description of why Cailliou is bald to match what Helene Desputeaux envisioned. I hope that this post and the commentary and sharing of it had some impact on that decision.

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