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The children’s show ‘Bluey’ is a balm for stressed, childless adults


Joining a fandom is not always voluntary. If the people TikTok thinks you have a lot in common like something, chances are the app will try to get you to like it too.

A snippet of a show you’ve never seen pops up all the time on your TikTok For You page, the endless, (mostly) algorithmically selected feed of short videos that most users default to. Or maybe the creators you follow all start using an audio clip from that same show to make their own videos until you hum it to yourself, “Poor little bug on the wall.” ding ding!”

This is how Laurel Hiatt, a childless 25-year-old in Georgia who is currently working on their doctorate in human genetics, became a fan of “Bluey.” The Australian animated children’s TV show – which streams on Disney Plus and airs on Disney Junior and Disney Channel – follows the lives of the Heelers, a dog family consisting of Bandit the father, Chili the mother and their children: sisters Bluey and Bingo . (The dogs in the ‘Bluey’ universe usually walk on two legs and age in human years).

Each short episode is a snapshot of life as the Heelers play games and learn new things. And while some of the educational themes are typical of the kids’ show genre — how to be a good friend, how to be nice — “Bluey” also tackles some much deeper topics. There are episodes that deal with loss and grief, infertility, fear and standing up for yourself. It’s a wholesome and often funny show based on a deep appreciation for self-kindness. Perhaps that’s why more and more adults, including those without children, see it as stress relief.

Clips from the show appeared on Hiatt’s For You page in December. They soon turned into full episodes, generally lasting seven minutes. Hiatt watched. And looked. And looked. Soon their feed was turning up “Bluey” memes and remixes, cosplayers and fan art, little of which appeared to be the work of young children or their parents.

“I especially like the dramatic edits,” Hiatt said. A memorable one sets the antics of Muffin, a particularly chaotic toddler and cousin of the two main Heeler sisters, to a track by nu-metal band System of a Down. Hiatt now describes himself as a Bingo stan.

Getting spammed clips from a kids’ show into your social media feed until you decide to watch it is, in many ways, a superficial online experience. TikTok’s recommendation algorithms are constantly creating cultural trends, sometimes fueled by accounts that know how to maximize attention with minimal effort.

Spammy, anonymous TikTok pages grab clips from TV shows and place them in a split screen, where the bottom half of the vertical video shows the gameplay of any mobile game, a format that – inexplicably – garners tons of views on the app generates as people keep watching them. Before “Bluey,” some of these accounts posted clips of “Family Guy” or “Rick and Morty.” After the “Bluey” shine fades, they move on to something else.

But things like “Bluey” are also becoming popular because they are meaningful.

In a viral “Bluey” clip, the kids put on a play for their parents. Things take a sudden turn when a balloon pops, leading to a wordless exchange between Bandit and Chile that hints at a possible miscarriage before Bluey was born. In another episode, Bluey must deal with feelings of loss after a new friend, made on a camping trip, can’t properly say goodbye before their family packs up and drives away.

The creator of ‘Bluey’ wasn’t surprised that these moments resonated so deeply with adults.

“A story is a story,” Joe Brumm, the show’s creator and showrunner, said in an email. “I grew up with ‘The Simpsons’. I watched it as an 11-year-old as adults gathered in bars to watch new episodes.

And yes, the target audience of ‘Bluey’ is slightly younger than that of ‘The Simpsons’. But his motivation stems directly from what he thinks “The Simpsons” does at its best, to “tell a good emotional family story using adventure movies.”

“Bluey” revolves around the importance of play: the Heeler parents throw themselves into their children’s imaginative play, accepting and expanding their made-up worlds. In the episode “Escape”, Bandit and Chili soothe Bluey and Bingo’s fears of spending a day alone with their grandma while enjoying a child-free rest by turning the whole thing into an elaborate imagined chase scene as the parents try to to avoid. the kids. At some point in the game, the kids pull out their secret weapon: the dream house car, a giant dream house on wheels. The car is of course pulled by butlers and contains 11 civilian shops, 20 bedrooms and 40 toilets.

Hiatt kept watching “Bluey” because the show remains fundamentally friendly, even though it acknowledges the full range of emotions a person can feel. The Heelers experience disappointment, joy, embarrassment, fear, love and sorrow, sometimes directed at each other. But those emotions are always, always embedded in a deep mutual concern.

“It’s fun to engage with something that has a solution in five minutes, where the conflict is whether or not to get ice cream and the message is that you should care about other people,” Hiatt said.

While “Bluey” has reached parents and young children far beyond Australian shores since it aired there in 2018, the show quickly became an established fandom for childless adults and teens, thanks in large part to TikTok.

Bluey’s official social media channel has also grown “rapidly” over the past six months, said Devin Johnson, a BBC spokesman. A video on their channel — of Bluey’s dad asking her to use her “inside voice” after singing “can we get the bill” at a restaurant — has been viewed nearly 15 million times. The sound itself went viral, as other accounts used the audio clip to create their own videos. It has been used by other creators in over 177 thousand videos on TikTok.

As with any fandom, it has its own toxicity and dangers. A quick search of Archive of our Own, a popular fanfiction repository, yields some truly unspeakable NSFW stories featuring “Bluey” characters. There’s also some pretty intense debate about TikTok: a subset of adult and teen fans seem locked in a never-ending, impassioned discussion about whether Bandit is a “toxic” father, for example because of the way he teases his kids.

But the vast majority of the “Bluey” fandom is, well, sane. Bluey’s composer Joff Bush created his own TikTok account last week to connect with fans of the show. His first video on the platform has been viewed almost 200,000 times. Another scene from “Bluey” is currently fast becoming a viral sound: Bingo, the youngest Heeler, sings a cute song about an insect.

“Many of the adults we hear who watch ‘Bluey’ and don’t have kids of their own say they come home from a crazy, stressful day at work, and it’s only seven minutes of uplifting,” said Mary Bolling, the co-host of the “Bluey” focused Gotta Be Done podcast.

Before the TikTok wave of attention, “Bluey” already had a devoted online fandom, mostly made up of parents trying to dissect why the hell this kids cartoon had such depth. This question prompted Bolling and Kate McMahon, both former Australian journalists, to launch their podcast in 2019. The title ‘Gotta Be Done’ refers to the phrase Chill and Bandit often say to each other when it’s time to do adult things like cleaning the living room.

Margaret Thompson, whose YouTube videos featuring the “Bluey” theory get hundreds of thousands of views, was similarly attracted. As an Australian living in the United States, she originally created her channel to help non-Australian parents understand some of the nuances of the show. they may be missing and to join some of the theorizing and Easter egg hunts that are already happening on Facebook groups for parents watching “Bluey” with their kids. But recently, she’s noticed that teens and childless adults are more interested in her content.

“I had someone on my livestream say they were bullied at school because they liked ‘Bluey,’ which broke my heart,” Thompson said. According to her channel’s analytics, about a quarter of her audience is between the ages of 13 and 17. Another 50 percent are between the ages of 18 and 35. She decided to ask her followers: For those who aren’t parents of young children, what is it about “Bluey” that attracted you so much?

The post had more than 300 comments.

“I was so shocked by some of the answers,” Thompson said. So many “people who responded saying, ‘I had a really bad upbringing and this is healing my inner child,’ or, ‘I’m currently struggling with my parents and seeing this kind of gentle parenting is really helping me get through it.’ “

For Hiatt, watching “Bluey” is part of how they deal with stress.

“When the pandemic hit, I was actually studying infectious diseases in medical school and basically went on lockdown,” they said. “My partner works in news and spent all day editing videos to remove dead bodies.” To help fix herself: “I set up this media rule for myself, which I called ‘no bad vibes.'”

And this is exactly the role that “Bluey” plays for them. “I’ve probably used up several lifetimes of irony at this point.” Watching “Bluey”, on the other hand, is “kind of a breath of fresh air, I think, to engage in something pleasurable”.

This is a central paradox of internet culture: lighthearted stories about a cartoon dog show that appeal to depressed, childless millennials who spend too much time online are Also sometimes about healing trauma. The rise of “Bluey” on TikTok is due in part to the continued popularity of stolen content and junk food from For You Page that pollutes and overwhelms the more you consume it.

There’s, as always, an episode of “Bluey” that resonates here, where Bingo, Bluey’s quiet, sensitive younger sibling, practices her latest gymnastics move in the kitchen of the Heeler house. As she does, a fugue of activity ensues around her – other kids chasing toys, a little bulldog boy building a tower of blocks, the Heeler parents preparing food for a party, Bluey racing around the house with a friend.

In this loud, overstimulating chaos, Bingo tries to get someone, anyone, to stop and watch her handstand. She is sad and sad because those around her get distracted just before she succeeds every time. Like all ‘Bluey stories’, the ending of this episode is filled with warmth and kindness.

You just have to watch to find out how.

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