A few months ago, my daughter bought ten episodes of Morph using an Amazon Fire tablet on which I had neglected to apply parental controls. I punished her by forcing her to watch Morph, even when she wanted to watch something else. It was while supervising one of these punitive viewings that I first realised: Morph is a person of colour.
As soon as I saw it, I couldn’t understand how I’d never seen it before. The only colour-related impression I had absorbed from watching Morph as a child was that Chas, Morph’s antagonistic friend, had a sort of sickly pallor.
Which is to say, Chas looks like me, whereas Morph is a rich, orangey brown colour, like Denzel Washington – and so are his grandfather and his friend Delilah. It’s obvious once you see it. They are a predominantly non-white group, with one incorrigible white member who incessantly misbehaves – a dynamic that appeals to me because I’m a white metropolitan self-loathing leftie.
I immediately Googled, “Morph is a person of colour” to see whether Morph’s non-whiteness was common knowledge, but there were no relevant results on the internet, suggesting that I might actually be the first person to notice.
When my wife got home from work I told her that Morph is a person of colour. She wasn’t convinced. “He’s just clay,” she said, only hesitating when I showed her a picture of Morph standing next to Chas.
I pointed out that Morph isn’t made of clay. He’s made of plasticine, which comes in every colour, meaning that his hue represents a choice made by a person. “Still,” she said, which is code for, “you’re wrong but I can’t be bothered to explain why.”
Resigned to investigating the Morph question alone, I tried to remember how I perceived the character when I was nine. Perhaps I didn’t detect the superficial tonal differences between Morph and Chas because, as a child, I hadn’t been exposed to the wider connotations associated with race in society.
I don’t remember knowing a single non-white child at my primary school in suburban Kent, but according to my Morph thesis it’s perfectly possible that I actually grew up in a vibrant multicultural melting pot and have no memory of this because race is – quite rightly – not worth registering for a child in the way that, say, the ability to draw sharks is (hello Grant Hughes.)
So that’s the explanation for my erstwhile colour-blindness concerning Morph: I watched it before cultural conditioning forced me to perceive race.
Even though noticing that Morph is a person of colour was a clear sign of lost innocence, I was pleased that I had. It made me see the program in a new light. Suddenly Morph was a gently progressive project, depicting characters of all races and types without making their inclusion about race, paradoxically emphasising the irrelevance of skin colour by making it almost impossible to notice, which is how it should be.
Unfortunately, my thesis started to fall apart as soon as I realised that Morph also features a blue character (Gillespie), a character made of tinfoil (Folly), and a dog which is actually a nailbrush. There are no blue or tinfoil humans, allowing for the distinct possibility that the creatures in Morph aren’t supposed to represent real humans at all, even though they are humanoid in appearance.
This would explain why I found Chas mildly nauseating as a child. Morph is the colour of the clay we played with in school, and the clay I dug up at the bottom of my garden. He’s not actually made of clay, but he belongs to a class of mouldable, malleable things of which clay is the archetype. The colour suits him. Chas, on the other hand, is a weird, insipid alien colour that signifies nothing, and alien things are bad (unless, like Gobbledegook – left – they are supposed to be aliens).
Unfortunately, this explanation paints me in rather a bad light. It suggests that as a child I was suspicious of deviation from norms within a category. Just as I spent ten years refusing to eat sausages because I once ate a sausage that tasted slightly different from the other sausages that I had eaten, I unconsciously recoiled from Chas on the grounds that he didn’t look like the idea I had formed in my mind of what a clay person should look like. In other words, I thought like a racist – albeit, in my defence, never about people.
All of which leaves me none the wiser on the question of why I suddenly came to perceive Morph as a person of colour in my late 30s, or why I am evidently the only person to see him this way, though I expect I am unconsciously obeying a tacit instruction by my beloved liberal media to be more mindful about race and diversity.
When I realised that Morph is a person of colour, I interpreted his unacknowledged non-whiteness as a sort of collective racist delusion. People expected a character devised by a white man, appearing on a show in which only white people appear, on a channel overwhelmingly populated by white people, to also be white, and so they assumed he was white in defiance of the visible evidence. I congratulated myself for not falling prey to this delusion.
But you could side with my wife and argue that nobody thought Morph is a person of colour for the same reason that nobody thought Chas is white: because they are both imaginary and made of plasticine.