Sunday, March 11, 2012

Click Clack Moo Cows That Type - A model for peaceful resistance


Sometimes I like to analyze the media we provide to our kids.  See this post for more of that action.
We recently got a copy of Click Clack Moo, and Gabe likes us to read it to him at least once a day.  It's a silly story about some cows who find a typewriter.  They use it to demand blankets for themselves and the hens.  The Cows and Hens go on strike, refusing to produce, until the farmer gives in, trading them blankets in exchange for the cows giving up the typewriter.  There is a twist at the end, and the ducks end up with the typewriter, demanding a diving board for their swimming pond.

In reality, this story is somewhat of a parable.  Farmer Brown, as the old white man in charge of the farm, represents the status quo holding down the working class (the animals on the farm).  Imagine his surprise at the cows getting ahold of a typewriter!  They now have a voice, and begin challenging the powers that be.  Much like the 19th century women who were relegated to the sphere of domesticity and prevented from speaking in the public sphere on account of their biology, the cows can only speak moo, and thus are not offered a seat at the table as to how the farm is run.  The typewriter gives them an outlet, and represents the power of the oppressed to refuse to be ignored.

Not surprisingly, the cows begin demanding their rights.  When the farmer refuses them even basic material comforts, they respond with the only tool they have available, withholding production.  The chickens join in, forming a unified group against the dominating power.  The farmer is incredulous.  "You are cows and chickens, I demand milk and eggs!" he responds.  The powerful use cultural structures to keep the oppressed from questioning the nature of their oppression.  The caste system in India, or the biblical justifications used by southern slave-holders, rest on the idea that certain groups of people are destined to fulfill certain roles.  The cows aren't valued as persons, only as a means of supplying the farmer.

In a deal with the devil, the cows and chickens agree to give up their voice in exchange for their comfort.  Once again they will do the farmers bidding and stop questioning, so long as they have blankets to keep them warm at night.  In making this deal without the consent of the other groups that aided the cows in their struggle, they betray their cause as a whole.

In the end the ducks, who recognize the power of words and who gained no advantage from the cow's betrayal, took the power for themselves.  Instead of serving as mediators to the deal, they secretly steal the typewriter and begin issuing their own demands.  Thus the struggle continues, and those in power begin to be held accountable for their actions towards those that they govern.

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