Rastamouse, the real hero of 2011

This year has lacked iconic figures. We’ve seen a decade’s worth of news packed into the last 12 months but, while there have been individual acts that triggered major change, there is no obvious roll call of “faces of 2011”.

President Obama is increasingly unpopular despite doing what George W. Bush never could by hunting down bin Laden. Boris Johnson could have “done a Giuliani” after the summer’s riots, but instead he goofed around with a broom. Wills and Kate offered some light relief in April but, sensibly, they’ve gone quiet.

And the only other big names of 2011 are the dead ones: Steve Jobs, Amy Winehouse, Colonel Gaddafi and the News of the World. It’s been the year of the crowd, from the Arab Spring to the student protests, to the riots and the Occupy movement.

But the year has brought one recognisable hero. “Mi tink da philosophy of always tryin’ to make a bad ting good is someting everyone could learn from,” Rastamouse tells the Spectator Arts Blog.

The crime-fighting star of children’s TV has achieved a rare thing: cult status among grown-ups as well as kids. He even played Glastonbury with his reggae band, The Easy Crew, but remains unfazed by the adoration.

“Mi tink it might be cos me an’ da Crew have some bangin’ adventures… an’ den mebbe cos we drop some proper cool riddims when we jammin’ an’ ting.”

Rastamouse began his rise to fame in the 2005 books Rastamouse and the Crucial Plan and Da Bag-a Bling, and his eponymous programme is the UK’s first animated series to feature Jamaican-Caribbean characters. At first, the show made white middle-class parents nervous: they worried that their five-year-olds proclaiming ‘Irie man!’ at nursery might be seen as mocking or even racist.

But they shouldn’t have fretted. Rastamouse soon became a national hero, ticking diversity boxes alongside the gay one in the Teletubbies and the physically imperfect Raggy Dolls who laid some of the groundwork in the 1980s and ‘90s.

“Mi tink if ya are a proper role model to young people chances are ya probably never really stopped to tink ‘bout it,’ Rastamouse explains. ‘Ya jus’ live ya life carin’ an’ sharin’ an’ lovin’ an’ overstandin’.”

Rasta declines to comment on the London riots, which created a (mercifully brief) debate about the influence of ‘black culture’ on Britain’s young people. (It turned out the desire for new trainers had no racial boundaries.) So what’s Rasta’s advice for the youth of today in an ever-bleaker era of joblessness and spending cuts?

“Put ya best paw forward… be honest, hardworkin’ an’ enthusiastic… an’ if ya can do someting ya love, den it will never feel like work…:

Fine advice from the closest thing we have to an icon of 2011. Now pass me the cheeseboard and get dem riddims rollin’.

Anna Doble

This article first appeared in the Spectator Arts Blog, December 2011

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