I dont think it matters how old I live to be. I will
always love cartoons and comics. From the editorial
page to the Sunday funnies and from Saturday morning
fare to major feature films, I'll always have a special
affection for these mediums. I'll also harbor a pet
peeve related to them- the concept that all these things
are to be outgrown because they are childish. The
belief by many adults that all animation and comic art
is only for children is, I feel, the basic reason there is
any kind of problem with childrens entertainment.
This blanket judgement causes parents to be un-aware
of a multitude of pluses and minuses affecting the
attitude and behavior of their kids everyday.
The low end of the spectrum here would be comics.
There are governing factors with comics that make
them, by nature, less of a potential problem. For
starters, at least one kid has to come up with the cash
to buy a comic book, the store has to clear them as old
enough to buy it and then the ability to READ starts to
figure in. Since the comics in the paper must adhere to
a much more G-rated content, they pose less chance of
exposing children to cartoon humor that is
inappropriate for their age. This is also true of cable
channels like Cartoon Network and ToonDisney . They
are geared towards providing a generally acceptable
range of programing for all children.
There are two huge problems that cause
controversy and misunderstanding in the animation
arena. Both are possible only because so many parents
adopt the outgrown it attitude.
First, the one that started everybody talking-
South Park. This show, (which if you dont know from
at least reading angry letters in the paper) is the about
the adventures of four young kids who, basically, swear
and talk about sex and wierd stuff. Well, thats the
common angry parent definition.
Actually, its a satire, the angle being the honest
portrayal of the way many kids act when their folks
arent around, and the way they misunderstand what
the adults are doing or saying. I will grant you that
profanity and toilet humor tend to appeal to the
teen-age and young adult markets. The thing to
remember here is that a cartoon can be aimed at adults
only, and if it only appears on one station or never
before ten oclock in the evening, its safe to say its
for adults only.
Very few parents probably ever even knew about
Duckman on USA. This foul-mouthed character was
absolutley an adult attraction. I dont seem to recall it
playing before ten-thirty at night. The thing is,
it never generated the nation-wide controversy that
'South Park' has. Small kids just didnt get it, and I
would imagine few of them actually stayed awake trying
to watch it.
So why is there a problem with little tykes from
Colorado? Because the idea that animation is only for
kids gets implanted in kids, too. If we hype it up big,
their curiosity alone will drive them to watch. Just
knowing about a cartoon thats on late is enough for
many kids to try to stay up late to see it. If you think
the kids arent banking on you ignoring the show
because its a cartoon, youve just missed the boat.
There is no delicate way to say this. If your kids
are seeing 'South Park', they must be watching cable or
satellite TV, the internet or a VCR without you
around!!! If they have these things in their room,
they will try to watch it. They know they're not
supposed to. Thats why they want to. Theyre curious,
and since they're so young, they dont get it.They are
only giggling at the farts and dirty words, just as if
someone said a bad word anywhere else. Theyre just
being themselves, and its up to us to pay attention to
what theyre exposed to so that we can edit, explain
and, hopefully, give our kids the perspective that
makes such nonsense less important.
There is, after all, a much larger problem.
While we have been arguing about decency in
cartoons ( ever since Fritz the Cat) the animation and
broadcast industries have undergone some frightening
changes. The first signifcant development was the rapid
growth of cheap, vapid, underscripted childrens shows.
Shows that didnt even try to play on more then one
level. Shows that make Barney look like
Shakespeare. They abound on syndicated TV, and are
practically impossible for an adult to sit through, much
less pay attention. So, the parent stops watching. Bad
idea. Heres why. During every childrens show on a
commercial station, your kids are going to see two
things that you CANNOT control.
First, the commercials themselves are, by my
opinion, way more fast-paced and high-energy than
necessary. The idea that our kids are faster paced today
is alot of bunk. We are forcing kids to be faster by
throwing things at them as fast as technology allows. As
video editing reached each new abilty to do more, faster
and flashier, kids ads got more and more complex.
Increasingly, ads have become written by the special
effects machines. Now the idea that an image cant stay
on the screen for more than 3 seconds is an unwritten
rule for many producers.
This includes a tendency, along with the overly
accelerated pace, to pander to kids through the content.
Burger King is the offender that comes to mind here.
Awhile back, their Kids Club campaign, featuring an
assortment of tykes in unpleasant situations escaping
to Burger King, outraged me. I could not believe that
people were so upset about South Park, and totally
unconcerned that the same age child was being shown
hundreds of times a day zapping off to Burger King in
the middle of a chore, with NO PARENTS IN SIGHT.
Twenty years ago, the person who came up with this
campaign would have been fired if the spots didnt end
with Burger King being the REWARD for STAYING.
(McDonalds has taken the high road here with 'Ronald',
but they seem to be the only one.) The idea of enforcing
responsibilty in kids through entertainment has, I
regret, become passe. Shame on us.
Since we are turned off by the bad shows, we revert
to to the outgrown it attitude and stop watching. So,
we miss shows like Animaniacs and Hysteria, shows
written wonderfully on many levels. We are not seeing
the atrocious commercials that our kids are watching
very intently because of the bright lights and big
sounds. Not only that, but these same kids are also
watching sex-ridden promos for rerun shows like
Melrose Place, Beverly Hills 90210, Baywatch and of
course, the talk shows. All this happens during the
average cartoon show, everyday, all across America.
There is no self-governing of ad and promo content
anywhere except the kids only stations. Even then,
only the sexy promos are gone. Only the Disney
stations feature ad-less, wholesome promo breaks in
So what can we do about it? Well, we can try a few
things to at least get the ball rolling.
- Control the channels. Read the listings. Change
the station to something that you recognize. Expose the
kids to things you know and can be sure of.
- Watch the shows before they do, if you can. Then
you can be prepared to grab a different channel with
something better on. Be aware- the local stations will
insert inappropriate promos for shows as often as the
- When you watch with them, try turning the sound
off during the promos and talk about the show with the
kids until it comes back on. Often the kids attention to
a picture is enticed by the sounds. They may ignore the
promos and join the discussion.
-Tape the shows ahead of time. Reviewing them this
way will keep you abreast of what theyre seeing. You
can play the approved, tapes for them, speeding
through the promos, or you can rent or buy the uncut
video-tapes, if available.
The main thing is that we shouldnt wait for
something extreme to get us looking at what
children are being exposed to. We need to watch, think
and comment. Tell a company or a station when their
content is inappropriate. Boycott companies that spread
iresponsibility by being caustic for the sake of it. You
can demand quality and integrity from the
You are not limited to what they offer unless
youre not telling them what you really want.