Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ben and Izzy

Today's New York Times has a story about a CGI cartoon that is presenting an allegory about American/Mideast relations designed for the Cheerios set ("A Children's Cartoon from the Middle East Has a New Mideast Peace Plan"). The story of Ben and Izzy focuses on two boys, one American and one Arab, who must work together despite their personality conflicts.

On the Times website, one can actually view a short clip in which the boys travel back in time and meet a paternalistic Mark Twain, who now seems to specialize in playground conflict resolution. In the clip the famed writer is visiting Petra on a world tour, but manages to take time out from his sightseeing to insist that the youngsters resolve their differences. (Those who want to learn more about Mark Twain could visit the Boondocks website again, since they seem to have gotten rid of their most offensive sexist banner ads.)

Visitors to the show's website can contemplate the "Four Pearls": The Pearl of Travel, The Pearl of Information, The Pearl of Disguise, and the Pearl of Immortality.

The show is partially financed by the royal family of Jordan and has received grants from the Hewlett Foundation as well. These hybrid funding sources create a particularly incoherent form of public diplomacy that is grounded in digital rhetoric. Clearly, real forms of Habermassian informal civic discourse are avoided, since -- according to the Times -- the boys steer clear of topics like the merits of the Bush presidency or theological debates about religious practices or other topics that come up when Westerners meet their Arab speaking counterparts.

Ben and Izzy also indicates something about the sophistication of distance learning initiatives. The series is being produced by the Rubicon multimedia company, based in Jordan, which also specializes in online courses.

Personally, I would rather watch the "C is for Cookie" Sesame Street / V for Vendetta parody, if I'm looking for political children's fare.



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