“Shaun the Sheep” as Psycho-Linguistic Utopia

Shaun the Sheep was a favorite of my first daughter, which means I’ve watched every episode a dozen or more times. Now, since my youngest recently became addicted to it, or “sheep!…好” as she calls it, I’ve been going through the episodes noticing all sorts of strange things. Basically it’s like this: Mossy Bottom Farm is the utopian, pastoral fantasy space of a being known as Shaun. It’s his show, after all, so we can say he corresponds to the Freudian ego or governing consciousness of the series. Plus he’s more clever than everyone else. Meanwhile Bitzer, Shaun’s best friend, obviously represents the superego: he is in charge, the one who leads the sheep, fixes things, and manages the farm. Also he has that clipboard, a watch, and the all-important whistle which he uses to keep everyone in line. And then there’s the Farmer, the overweight, pleasure-loving bachelor who is pretty obviously the force of id–i.e., that part of this world that only wants to sit around and eat donuts, play video games, and enjoy a variety of aimless hobbies.

All this is pretty obvious, but it’s interesting to notice that the charm and appeal of the show (for my kids anyway) is the almost total absence of verbal language, which nonetheless plays a central role in everything that happens on the show. What I mean is, while the Farmer gives Bitzer (unintelligible) verbal commands quite a lot, he never tries to directly communicate with Shaun or the other animals in any language, even though Shaun is the one who solves most of the problems and minor crises that constantly crop up around the farm. For the Farmer, then, Shaun is just a ‘dumb’ animal and Bitzer is following his orders while he eats donuts and enjoys himself, thinking he’s the boss. This is all a great allegory for the way the unconscious works–the Farmer and Bitzer are opposites but in constant communication, and meanwhile Shaun is the one thinking creatively and seemingly coming up with plans to cope with the chaos that mainly they create. This is why Shaun and Bitzer are best friends too, because both are at least trying to keep the utopian space of Mossy Bottom safe and sound for all the sheep. Strangely, it is the Farmer who is the most “animal” (and dumb) of all the creatures on the farm, insofar as he has no purpose or motivation (other than pleasure) to keep going in/for this world, and this is partly because his relation to tthe farm is limited to his interactions with Bitzer–whereas the other animals fraternize, fight, and interact as a community using whatever ‘language’ they can.

Laurence Sterne at archive.org

It is my pleasure to teach Laurence Sterne’s brilliant and incomparable A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (only the early sections) next week, so I looked it up in Archive.org – turns out they do have this 1774 edition of the work, in excellent condition, and I think that is amazing. I will try to update this post after I teach it, next week. Love this passage


“It will always follow from hence, that the balance of sentimental commerce is always against the expatriated adventurer: he must buy what he has little occasion for, at their own price;—his conversation will seldom be taken in exchange for theirs without a large discount,—and this, by the by, eternally driving him into the hands of more equitable brokers, for such conversation as he can find, it requires no great spirit of divination to guess at his party—

This brings me to my point; and naturally leads me (if the see-saw of this désobligeant will but let me get on) into the efficient as well as final causes of travelling—

Your idle people that leave their native country, and go abroad for some reason or reasons which may be derived from one of these general causes:—

Infirmity of body,
Imbecility of mind, or
Inevitable necessity.

The first two include all those who travel by land or by water, labouring with pride, curiosity, vanity, or spleen, subdivided and combined ad infinitum.”