Putting the ‘corporate’ in corporate rock

A week or so ago, my kids and I were invited to a press event for a new series of animated shorts designed to teach kids about money. YO and I went along mostly for the free food, and because we were curious – we don’t usually get invited to these kinds of things. But now of course I kind of feel obligated to write about the program, I mean YO and I did get decent cheeseburgers on the day. So here’s my two cents about ‘Cha-Ching’:

The show is for an English-speaking Asian audience, aged 7-12, and airs in three-minute bursts on Cartoon Network Asia. Each episode is built around a song about say, how to be an entrepreneur or where money comes from. The kicker here is that it was created and produced by Prudential Corporation Asia after the company surveyed parents around Asia about their children’s perceived ‘money management skills’ (from the official website). Prudential found parents were quite concerned about how little their kids knew about managing money (surprise, surprise!) and decided they’d bring in an educational expert to create a platform for teaching money smarts i.e. ‘financial literacy’ in corporate-speak. Here’s a sample:

So right away you know that this show is really for parents, not kids, which is a huge strike against it from the get-go. You can see it in the show’s earnestness, complexity and utter lack of zaniness and a good groove. Makes me want to ask if any insurance folk have ever heard of Phineas and Ferb and The Backyard Beach. Profit and loss for seven-year-olds? What’s next: dealing with small-business regulations? I also wonder if Prudential’s survey uncovered what expenses our children are actually responsible for? YO earns a bit of pocket money each month and we do encourage her to divide it in to three sections: savings, spending and charity. But all she needs to worry about is donating money on school dress casual days and saving for books or sweets. In that respect, the Family Budget Manager, which I downloaded, is just too complex – a waste of time quite honestly – for children in this age group. EO is in her first year of secondary school and she’s just now learning how to manage a small budget we give her each week for school lunches, public transport and the occasional frozen yogurt.

The next drawback to the whole premise is that the cast of characters are in a band called ‘Cha-Ching’ (get it?) and, I quote again from the official website: “Originally friends from music class at their school, the group’s passion for music sees the band growing in popularity, quickly attracting a loyal fan-base around town.”

Let’s be honest here, we don’t need another kids’ show about being in a band! This whole notion of striving for celebrity – whether it be on Victorious or Big Time Rush or JONAS – is just toxic and tiresome. Maybe I’m getting off base a little here, but judging from the name and the quality of the tunes, I’d say Cha-Ching’s passion lies with making money not, in the immortal words of Jack Black, ‘sticking it to the man’. Because in reality, if Cha-Ching were an actual tween band in a ‘medium-sized town in Asia’, they’d have to be completely subversive. At that age, and with the expectations facing today’s kids, you’d better believe it. What do you mean you’re performing in a show instead of going to Kumon class! You rebel!

I just don’t know if the band concept works in Asia that’s all. So why not make them regular kids who deal with regular things, like wants v. needs, and who want to learn about how they can make more money or how much a new pair of Crocs cost or why their friend gets more money than they do when the tooth fairy visits.

Some final comments:
1. THANK YOU for not rapping.
2. YO thought the episodes were boring but did enjoy the games (which is probably where the future of Cha-Ching lies).
3. The official website is surprisingly slow, videos are much easier to watch on YouTube.
4. I’m sorry but Zul cannot sing. “It’s Got To Be Earned” is more like “It’s Got To Be Excruciating”.

In all things educational and musical, I must now defer to the gold standard of kids’ music. For quality, melody and pure catchiness you can’t get any better than Schoolhouse Rock. From the early ’70s all the way to 2009, musical director and jazz musician Bob Dorough led a Schoolhouse team that crafted some of the best, most informative songs for kids, ever. I played some for YO and EO last night and already had YO going off to bed singing, ‘Lolly, lolly, lolly’.

So check out Cha-Ching and let me know what you think, but have a look at Schoolhouse Rock for the real deal.

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