Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Of Mice and Men

The mascots on a number of the "kids" websites for the federal government have been updated in the past year, despite the fact that most children who go to official pages are seeking information for assigned school reports not fun and game with cartoon characters. Here's a rundown on the new faces in the Beltway that are being offered in lieu of more useful information literacy pages.

1) You can check out the mountain lion family from the kids' page at, who can help you prepare for all your Homeland Security needs.

Rex the dad is an explorer who loves taking his family on adventures. Purrcilla is the energetic and wise mom. And Rory is the strong-willed daughter who loves helping her parents plan for the family's many adventures.

Well, I'm from Southern California, and I like to hike in the local mountains, so when I think safety and security for my tasty young children, I don't think "mountain lion."

To have a government website assure me that something that is -- in fact -- dangerous isn't is a somewhat disquieting experience, particularly when the agency has been responsible for raising the fear level in response to paper tigers in the past. For example, we're told by the website that mountain lions aren't like lions, because they "don't roar ... they purr, just like house cats!" Now I've seen a mountain lion at a wildlife refuge; it looks a lot more like a lion than a house cat or even a bobcat for that matter. Not surprisingly, it seems that the State of California Department of Fish and Game disagrees and characterizes them as wild animals. designer Betsy Baytos is a Disney veteran, who also crafted the corporate image for the Coca Cola polar bears. I'll admit that I'm impressed that they managed to come up with something even worse than their now defunct madlibs page for a terrorist attack.

2) The CIA's website for children includes many howlers, including a paper doll disguises section. Harry and Aerial, the adorable spy pigeons, are lower down on the page, now that tots can enjoy a newer mascot in Ginger's CIA Adventure, which features a blue bear with a wistful expression. (I hate to give away the plot line, but the climax is Ginger's visit to the paper shredder.)

3) The National Security Administration's CryptoKids are old hands at entertaining the youngsters by now. Their crew includes a whole cast of characters from Aesop's fables: an eagle, a turtle, a cat, a rabbit . . . you name it. I like the fact that one character declares, "When a secret needs to be kept, you have to find a way to protect it!" while another says, "Carpe Diem!" I suppose that's typical of the mixed messages from the intelligence community. Notice also that a number of the characters now are ostentatiously trademarked. I don't know how that jibes with their claim that they present "public information" that can be "distributed or copied."

4) Robots seem to be a popular choice for representing government agencies, which is perhaps an unfortunate pick, since that would suggest to children that civic institutions are -- well -- robotic. The Centers for Disease Control has "KQ, the Techno-Health Wizard," the National Reconnaissance Organization Jr. Page features Corey Corona, the lovable spy satellite, and NASA has an entire turning-the-pages robot storybook.

At least the 9-11 commission web pages don't have a kids' mascot, and now that their work has been halted, and their website is frozen in time at the National Archive, we won't be seeing one any time soon.

Personally, I'd like to design a lovable character for my favorite federal office, the Government Printing Office? Any suggestions?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liz, My mother used to say, "You find out something new everyday." Well, today it was you who opened my eyes to new info I was totally unaware of!! Thanks

3:54 PM  

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