Skip to comments.Bad Cartoons Make Bad Citizens
Posted on 05/27/2004 7:25:15 AM PDT by qam1
Bad cartoons tend to make bad citizens. And my generation suffered from the worst cartoons of all. Pity the poor male children of Generation X: there we sat, on Saturday mornings in the '70s and early '80s, clutching our bowls of Count Chocula and enduring the soul-sucking monotony of ugly Filmation cartoons populated by heroes who fought without actually fighting. You could watch cartoons for hours and never see a superhero actually sock a supervillain in the gut, or a commando pump hot lead into a live non-robot terrorist, or a ranger thrust a pointy-sharp arrow into some dragon's malevolent guts. Preachy mini-sermons abounded, though; the Super Friends couldn't lay a gloved fist on Lex Luthor, but they could sure manhandle those sugary in-between-meals snacks. ("Super Friends," they called them, instead of the Justice League. The difference tells you everything you need to know about the seventies.)
Consequently, we Gen Xers grew up achingly bereft of simulated mayhem and destruction. We turned to cap guns, stick fights, and dodgeball to meet our aggressive needs, but it wasn't the same. We craved red meat, but our cartoons served up tofu.
I always assumed that the threat of litigation had driven violence from Saturday morning. After all, if you show Superman frying a supervillain with his heat vision on Saturday morning, then, sure enough, some idiot kid in Dubuque will fry his little brother with heat vision one fine Saturday afternoon, and then everyone loses except the lawyers. But I was wrong. Federal regulators, rather than nervous trial attorneys, wussified Saturday morning TV in the early seventies. Uncle Sam made our cartoons insipid, in the hope that a nice stiff dose of cultural chloroform would deaden our proto-male violent tendencies and transform us all into prissy poindexters who would eat our vegetables, sit still in our seats, and eventually vote for French-speaking politicians.
That same castrating impulse informs much of our society's approach to violence among teens. God help the poor kid who puts a butter knife in his lunchbox, if he attends a school with a zero tolerance weapons policy. If you squirm in class too often, mouth off too regularly, or act like a boy during mandatory androgyny intervals, expect Uncle Ritalin to move in for a permanent stay in the mischief-making corners of your mind, courtesy of America's peerless public school system. Guns? Behold the spectacle of Rosie O'Donnell at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, exhorting kids to "never touch a gun," lest they get bullet cooties or something. And what about violent video games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City? That game alone is surely responsible for the surge in motor-scooter car-jackings and golf-club assaults on prostitutes, committed by thugs who dress like Ralph Lauren and talk like Ray Liotta.
In each case, the real or proposed government "solution" is the same: outlaw the offending "violent" matter or regulate it to death. And in each case, the result is the same: violence, the forbidden fruit, is marginalized and thus glamorized, and young men start to suspect that civilized behavior is for girls. Thus the state ties itself in knots trying to fight human nature.
The fight against teen violence often degenerates into a proxy war against young men. Don your bureaucrat-colored glasses and behold teenage males: surly, under-socialized, and enamored of physical mayhem, they're a bad influence on the other genders, and probably ought to be outlawed. No one worries about hordes of marauding teenaged girls holding up 7-11s and shooting up high schools. The problem is boys, says the state; crush the social origins of their boyishness, and solve the problem.
Little boys are aggressive, not because their cartoons make them so, but because their Creator saturated them in testosterone. Is ham-fisted state-sponsored nannying the only way to make citizens out of the little hooligans?
One author has a better idea. In his superb and unfairly overlooked 2002 book, Killing Monsters, former comic book author Gerard Jones proposes that society needs an entirely different approach to the issue of violence in children's entertainment. He suggests that children respond strongly to violent entertainment because the violence mirrors their own feelings of aggression -- and those feelings of aggression are legitimate and worthy of expression. Rather than struggling hopelessly to eliminate childhood aggression, we should teach children to harness and employ aggressive feelings in socially useful ways.
Innumerable examples confirm Jones' point. Consider guns again. Each year, thousands of teenagers learn to employ deadly assault weapons for the explicit purpose of killing people in the most efficient way possible. It's called basic training -- and basic rifle marksmanship is part of basic training for every branch of the military. Does that training and exposure to weapons make teenagers criminals? Obviously not. The discipline attached to that training allows soldiers to use rifles in the patriotic defense of their nation and its values. If our society struggles with teen violence, perhaps the fault lies not with our guns but with the inadequate discipline and malnourished moral imaginations of the teens holding them.
Consider also violent video games. According to Jones, most children know perfectly well that video games aren't reality. Kids understand video games for what they are: caricatured representations of a mock-reality, not reality itself. It's true that some notorious teen monsters (like Klebold and Harris from the Columbine tragedy) enjoyed violent shooting games - but so do most teenaged boys. Most likely those savage young men turned to video games as an outlet for the chaotic impulses that they could not control. Perhaps we should be grateful for games that transform adolescent rage into harmless electronic depictions on a screen. Perhaps transformation can succeed where suppression fails.
Male teenage aggression is a fact, not a problem. And that fact is an embarrassing reminder that sex differences don't permit us to choose everything about ourselves, or about our children. If the aggression of boys is scandalous, then it's easy to see why society is tempted to pretend that teachers and bureaucrats can bind the boyish heart with rules and restrictions. But if we accept that sex differences are something to be celebrated, not denied, then we can get back to the age-old task of taming - but not breaking - the male spirit. If the government wants to help this process, it could start by butting out. Raising men is a job for men, not bureaucrats.
Despite our bad cartoons and the spineless regulators who required them, my generation is finding its way. We produced Pat Tillman. We produced the brave men and women keeping Iraq safe. And we produced Batman, Superman, and Justice League cartoons wherein heroes pound the snot out of bad guys, and damn the FCC. Our cartoons have learned to use violence to promote the greater good. Perhaps we've learned that lesson, too.
Ping list for the discussion of the politics and social aspects that directly effects Generation-X (Those born from 1965-1981) including all the spending previous generations (i.e. The Baby Boomers) are doing that Gen-X and Y will end up paying for.
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And he's right.
Cartoons in the late 70's were awful. Mostly an extended commercial for "Strawberry Shortcake" dolls or "Power Rangers"
( Of course, I like Sponge Bob. What do I know? LOL! )
Good stuff! Bump.
He should'a watched this show:
But now, just try to find an unedited version of BB on TV anywhere, you won't.
Race should have killed that rotten little dog, though.
"Speed Racer" was cool too, plus there were times that people actually died, usually the bad guys, for their actions.
Hey, Saturday mornings in the late 70s and early 80s were my formative ones. :) I spent many a happy hour watching Super Friends, Godzilla, Dynomutt, Richie Rich, Pac-Man, Fangface, Valley of the Dinosaurs, Lassie's Rescue Rangers, Emergency+4, Drak Pack, Speed Racer, Ultraman, Gilligan's Planet, Josie & The Pussycats, Scooby-Doo, Laff-A-Lympics, Monster Squad, Krofft Supershow, Land of the Lost, Fantastic Four, Captain Caveman & the Teen Angels, the New Schmoo, the Archies, Shazam/Isis, Jabberjaw, Ark II, Bugs Bunny, Pink Panther, Speed Buggy, Space Ghost, Frankenstein Jr., Plastic Man, Fat Albert, Thundarr, Hong Kong Phooey, Space Stars, Spider-Man, and looooots more. :^)
Go Speed Racer,
Go Speed Racer,
Go Speed Racer Go!!!!!
Are the unedited versions available on tape/DVD? I recall seeing an extremely rare WWII Bugs cartoon, with some really horrific caricatures of "the Nip" and the Nazis (getting seriously Owned by Bugs, naturally).
I should say I don't think G.I. JOE was a bad cartoon, it was one of my favorite ones.
That and HE-MAN!
Yeah, but Sponge Bob lives in Bikini bottoms now THERE's an idea.
Are you aware that the current version of "Jack and the Beanstalk" has Jack inviting the giant to his house for dinner? I despair for the coming generation raised on this pap when they will be faced with the greatest wickedness in our history.
Faster than a rocket, quicker than a jet....
They have substituted nasty humor for cool cartoons.
I could never understand something about that show. Johnny Quest's sidekick was named "Hadji" (meaning, a Muslim pilgrim), yet he was obviously a Sikh because of the turban he wore.
Yeah man. I was a big JQ fan. It actually had pretty good plots, and kept little guys like me glued to the tube for the full 30 minutes. That is one cartoon where the writers seemed to actually care about the quality of the product.
Have you seen the new version of "The Little Red Hen"? After all of the work and the laziness of the others, she lets them join her for dinner anyway...
Yeah, well what about Transformers?!
Ach! Beat me by 30 secs!
Hmm. The argument, as I understand it, is that violent games and TV don't make the child more inclined to commit violent acts as it desensitizes them to killing. If they do get into a situation laden with potential violence, they are more likely to respond with lethal violence.
Perhaps this guy has a better grap on it:
Well, there may be something in it. I was brought up on Rocky and Bullwinkle and I've been addicted to double entendre and sarcasm ever since.
stupid title, great article
Please add me to you ping list!
Maybe Jack plans to put a leash on the neck, and women's panties on the head of the giant.
I am a late boomer, but discovered RoboTech -- the best amimated series ever.
Inter-racial couples, unvarnished war, real death and VIRTUALLY ALL THE HEROS GET KILLED.
My favorite show as a kid was Starblazers.
He just has PENGUIN LUST!!!
and he is on The Far Side where I am concerned.
Who is cooler,
or Race Bannon?
More importantly, the Justice League 'toons these days don't have the wimpiest of the SuperFriends as a member: Aquaman. . .
No contest. Racer X.
GI Joe had A-Team violence though, nobody ever got killed, infact they wen out of their way to show that everybody lived. Blow up the bad guy's flying base and out would pop hundreds of parachutes, people crawled out of the wreckage of every vehicle that blewup.
If anything that kind of "didn't hurt" violence is, IMHO, worse for kids that realistic violence where peole actually suffer some consequences from being shot. If kids are learning something from their cartoons (other than which new toys to demand from mum and da) then what they learned from GI Joe was that every car crash, no matter how firey, no matter how big a rocket caused it, is not only survivable but WILL BE survived with nary a a scratch. At least in Warner Bros when somebody got hit with a frying pan their face got flattened for a while and the kids learned that it hurt.
I still remember the theme song to Starblazers.
I also liked 'Eek the Cat'. That show was great, especially Shark Dog and the cuts to the dinosaurs and cavemen.
Eek: "It never hurts to help."
Yeah I think this author is off on the timeframe. The late 70's/Earl 80's had some great cartoons. It wasn't until the late 80's/early 90's that cartoons had to have some kind of positive PC message.
It started with He-Man, When at the end one of the characters would come on and tell you the lesson you were supposed to have learned.
I say Race Bannor is more cooler simply because he's a real leader and doesn't hide behind his mask. He knows Judo and takes care of a professor, his kid, and some other kid named Hadji (gotta love that). Race knows how to drive just about anything with a steering wheel, can scuba, is a weapons expert, and crack shot to boot. All Racer X does is run away from his past, chop a few bad guys once in a while, drive his car. He is a great mechanic, you gotta give him that - but still, RACE IS THE MAN!
I like it. But there's a crowd here on FR (the ones that blame MTV's Jackass every time a kid busts his head doing something stupid) that couldn't disagree more. But he's right, agression needs to be worked out, part of growing up is learning how to vent your agression in socially acceptable ways (like watching Daffy Duck get blown up) and not socially unacceptable way (like Columbine). A society that doesn't let its youth vent it's agression constructively (or at least non-destructively) is forcing that agression down a very bad path.