When I showed my sister MLP the picture of RJP on this blog (with her troublemaker t-shirt on) she said, “Hey, that’s Little Miss Trouble!” I guess I should have known that, but I didn’t. I decided that I better read this kid’s book. It must be cool, right? A book about someone named Little Miss Trouble, how great is that, right? Well, hmmm…not really.
Here is a recap of the story: Little Miss Trouble likes to make trouble in order to get others in trouble. One day she decides to get Mr. Small in trouble. First she tells Mr. Uppity that Mr. Small calls him fatty behind his back (which is a lie). Mr. Uppity punches Mr. Small and gives him a black eye. Next she tells Mr. Clever that Mr. Small calls him Big Nose (which is another lie). Mr. Clever punches Mr. Small and gives him a second black eye. Feeling rather upset and suffering from two black eyes, Mr. Small visits Dr. Makeyouwell. Dr. Makeyouwell gives him some advice on how to handle Little Miss Trouble. So, Mr. Small tells Mr. Tickle that Little Miss Trouble calls him Pudding Face behind his back (which is a lie). Then, Mr. Small tells Mr. Bump that Little Miss Trouble calls him Mr. Nitwit behind his back (which is another lie). Uh oh. Now Little Miss Trouble is in trouble. Both Mr. Tickle and Mr. Nitwit are so mad that they decide to punish Little Miss Trouble by ticklebumping her for a full 10 minutes. This upsets her a lot. The story ends with Dr. Makeyouwell telling her that she should cheer up because she got a taste of her own medicine.
Little Miss Trouble is part of a series of Little Miss (and Mr. Men) books by Roger Hargreaves. Apparently this series is a big deal…very popular in certain areas–Since MLP lives in Australia I imagine it is big there. I never remember reading them as a kid and I can’t find many of the little books in the local library. After (very briefly) doing some research online, I found this wikipedia site about Roger Hargreaves and Cartoon’s Network’s official Mr. Men site.
Anyway, back to the story. So, how does trouble (and troublemaking) function in this story? Little Miss Trouble is trouble because she does bad, naughty, disruptive things. She is trouble because she gets other people in trouble…and for no particular reason. It seems as if she is, by nature, trouble. It is just who she is. Mr. Small isn’t trouble but, because of Little Miss Trouble’s actions, he is in trouble with Mr. Uppity and Mr. Clever. And, when Little Miss Trouble gets a taste of her own medicine, she winds up in trouble too. So, trouble works two ways: (1) trouble is a description of what someone is…here comes trouble, she’s nothing but trouble, etc. and (2) in trouble is a state of being or a consequence of actions (yours when you do something bad or other’s when they do something bad to you). Either way, trouble is something you don’t want to be or be in. If you are trouble, it means that you are bad and naughty and do mean and hurtful things to others. If you are IN trouble it means that you get big black eyes or suffer through 10 minutes of ticklebumping by others who are really mad at you. Again, I have to ask: Is the only way we should understand trouble and how it works? Can’t we imagine trouble differently, as something we might want to do? As something that has some redeeming value?
Now, I don’t know how to redeem Little Miss Trouble as a good troublemaker (although maybe there is more to the story that we don’t know. Maybe Mr. Small was a really big jerk and liked to say awful things about how Little Miss Trouble was just a stupid, weak girl or liked to harass her by whistling at her as she walked down the street or told all of his friends about how she put out on the first date). Instead, I want to ask: why couldn’t the troublemaker or the act of being in trouble be represented differently here? Why couldn’t Little Miss Trouble be trouble because she kept asking too many interesting questions or because she refused to follow rules that she felt were unfair?
The story about Little Miss Trouble (and my description of it in this entry) reminds me of the first part of my favorite passage by Judith Butler in Gender Trouble. Here is the entire passage with the first part highlighted in italics and bold:
To make trouble was, within the reigning discourse of my childhood, something one should never do precisely because that would get one in trouble. The rebellion and its reprimand seemed to be caught up in the same terms, a phenomenon that gave rise to my first critical insight into the subtle ruse of power: the prevailing law threatened one with trouble, even put one in trouble, all to keep one out of trouble. Hence, I concluded that trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it (xxix).
What does this passage from Butler suggest for Little Miss Trouble and how we (as parents and children) should read this *cute* kid’s story? Well, according to the story, by making trouble (for Mr. Small) Little Miss Trouble gets into a lot of trouble (10 minutes of ticklebumping!). Maybe the moral of the story–because isn’t there always some sort of moral lesson in these kid’s books?–is that we should never make trouble because it will always lead to us getting into trouble. Now, this is fine (or is it?) when we are trying to teach our kids not to lie about others and deliberately be mean and hurtful to them. But, when Little Miss Trouble’s specific troublemaking stands in for (signifies) all Trouble as what one is or the state one is in, isn’t the moral lesson that trouble–which not only is playing dirty tricks on others but is also stirring up the waters, disturbing the peace, challenging the status quo, rebelling against standard practices, rejecting the rules–is always bad and will always lead to no good (and to being in trouble)?
By the way, I just found a youtube clip of the Little Miss Trouble show. More on that in a future entry…