A childhood of emotional programming

It's taken years, but the origins of my childhood tantrums are finally revealed -- on television.

When I was young, I was what some people might call a "disturbed" child.

My tantrums from age two to six have became legendary among my extended family.

The most notorious episode was my third birthday party, which has been recorded for shameful posterity. In what remains my only large family celebration to date, I spent the whole affair sulking in the corner and hissing at those family members who attempted to sooth me.

Since returning to Abu Dhabi after two decades away, I have often been gleefully reminded by relatives of my escapades. All I have been able to do was use temporary insanity as an excuse.

But I am glad to announce I may have found the reasons behind my erratic behaviour. In fact, I have found them numerous times on my television screen.

There are the dozens of melancholic dirges that serve as opening theme songs for the Arabic children's shows I watched as a child, many of which are still repeated every afternoon.

I discovered this disturbing pattern last week while channel surfing at 4pm.

One channel showed a cartoon from the mid-1980s about a lost princess. The opening tune was a tortured piano ballad about unrequited love.

A few further clicks of the remote revealed a show from the same era about lost teenagers, and again we have sad strings and heart-rending vocal pronouncements of bravery and courage.

Disturbed, I conducted my own musical study on YouTube, and listened to more than 30 opening themes of old children favourites, with depressing results.

In Ra'ed the Giant, about a mechanical superhero and its young teenage pilot, the opener by a baritone singer is performed so mournfully it could pass for a Leonard Cohen outtake.

In TawTaw, about a gentle panda's adventures, the song's delicate refrain of "here lives TawTaw, the small panda" is enough to haunt rather than enchant children.

While in Little Faris the Brave Teenager, about a young boxer who wants to be the world champion, the melodramatic violin and acoustic guitars are more suited to an REM album than a children's classic.

This emotional manipulation extended to preschool children's programmes as well. Sesame Street is known globally for its upbeat and catchy opening number. But in old episodes of the Arabic remake, do we have ecstatic horns and joyful keyboards? No: we have the sad wistful plucking of an oud instead.

Now, it is easy to banish these musical missteps to a former era, but some of these programmes continue to be shown as reruns and risk producing another generation of sulky kids.

Since this discovery I have been looking forward to defending myself over my childhood behaviour. I no longer use insanity as an excuse. I blame a princess, a panda and the cookie monster instead.

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