On Toon Patrol
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
On Toon Patrol
Patricia A. Muraoka
Does cartoon violence contribute to adolescent aggression?
Does the negative portrayal of women and minorities mold social attitudes and perpetuate stereotypes?
Is Bart Simpson the antichrist?
To answer these questions, I thought I should go right to the source and get a good dose of children's programs under my belt before venturing any guesses, which of course would be tainted by forty-year-old memories of Popeye and Olive, Donald and Daisy, Mickey and Minnie.
As I opened a TV Guide one recent Saturday morning, the first thing I was struck by was the sheer number of shows set aside for kids. Just from 6:00 A.M. to noon, the count was 79 time slots for channels 3-36. There were also 21 slots for the Nickelodeon and Toon channels, and 12 more for the Disney station. That's 56 hours of unrestrained kid media!
Next, I lay on a pillow on the floor in front of the TV set. I wanted to make sure the position was right to get the full kid-like impact. Well, they sure don't make floors like they used to. It wasn't five minutes into the foray before my wrists and shoulders began to protest my new angle of repose. So, with 56 hours of programs to choose from, authenticity gave way to comfort. Sitting on the floor, back against the sofa, notebook in one hand, TV remote control in the other, I was ready to venture into sometimes new, sometimes just forgotten, cartoon land.
Well, wasn't I the lucky viewer? My first Saturday on TV toon patrol and I hit the jackpot with a Nickelodeon channel Nicktoons marathon with old favorites like Rocky and Bullwinkle and Yogi Bear and unfamiliar names like ToonHeads and Animaniacs. And, if that were not enough to light my animated fire, I could stay tuned from noon on Saturday to 6:00 A.M. on Sunday and catch the Toon channel's Scooby Doo marathon. Who needs sleep when the celluloid is running?
My cartoon fare started out on familiar ground. Fred Flintstone fakes a headache to avoid attending a violin concert, so wife Wilma's very handsome high school sweetheart volunteers to take her. Fred lies, spies, gets caught, and apologizes. Nothing new there.
Next on the menu was the Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck Hour. Relentlessly hunted by Elmer Fudd, these two anthropomorphic renderings manage to get shot repeatedly at point blank range and yet come out with nary a whisker or feather out of place.
Following Bugs and Daffy was an all too familiar lineup of celebrities like Spiderman, Chip 'n Dale, Winnie the Pooh [my favorite], Goofy, Tom and Jerry, Sylvester and Tweety, and the ever popular Huckleberry Hound. They all seemed innocent enough. I remember watching many of them with my sons. Some I remember watching as a child myself. Hey, I think I may be on to something. Someone's making money recycling forty-year-old cartoons! Am I the only one who's discovered this treason, this sell out, this gold mine?
But as innocuous as the old cartoons seemed to be, there was a number of new editions to the Saturday lineup that gave me pause. In Dexter, a junior Einstein brat calls his sister "stupid" and "clumsy fool" for dropping Dad's trophy. At the show's conclusion, the announcer pleads for the viewers to "tune in Monday through Friday to see sibling rivalry at its best." Filial love this is not. In Mad Jack, the pirate tells toilet paper jokes to his imprisoned friend, Rat Snuck, then begins a joke about two fishermen and a nun, but, lucky for me, he is interrupted. In I. R. Baboon, the star of the show has a huge cherry red behind and pilots a yacht named The Flaming Weenie. Need I say more?
Two of the cartoons on the morning schedule seem to be caught up in bathroom humor. In Oggy and the Cockroaches there's a big green cat with a red nose who chases, catches, and dismembers his prey. This is probably the first time I've felt sorry for a cockroach, but not for long. After a commercial break, the three cockroaches are back, taping sticks of dynamite to the underside of a toilet seat on which a large blue cat sits, eating a box of chocolates.
In the second cartoon, Cow and Chicken, the chicken is ordered to take a bath. As he defiantly sits in an empty tub repeating "I ain't taking no bath," the man and lady of the house and the cow all need to use the facilities. Cogent expressions from the crossed legged crowd ring out in the hall as to the urgent need to, "shake hands with the president," "water the flowers," and "peel the onion." Finally, under great pressure, the cow's udder explodes, unleashing a torrent of milk, flooding the house. What is it with the preoccupation with bodily functions and toilet humor?
Well, if these last five gave me pause, three prime-time cartoons stopped me dead in my tracks. They are Beavis and Butthead, who also star in their own feature length movie; South Park, where one of the adolescent characters dies in a different way every week; and Ren and Stimpy, a dog-type creation and his literally snot-nosed sidekick Chihuahua. I don't consider myself a prude, and I do understand the importance of freedom of expression, but the only word that comes to mind is "disgusting."
Recognizing that cartoons are an integral part of a child's life, some important questions do deserve to be asked.
Is there a causal relationship between violent cartoons and aggressive behavior?
Does TV impede children's social interactions, stunting emotional development?
Is the TV an electronic babysitter, or a dysfunctional teacher?
After only one Saturday and a few evenings surfing the cartoon channels, I reluctantly must admit to having no definitive answers, only more questions.
Jeffrey Kaplan states that TV "permeates children's senses, shapes their knowing, and colors their perceptions" (16). Assuming this is true, why would we, as watchful parents and guardians striving to protect our youth, allow violent, psychopathic, animated creations masquerading as entertainment to enter our homes, our children's minds?
The least that should be done is to teach critical viewing skills at an early age, so children have the tools to distinguish fact from fantasy, farce from filth.
And how to begin this task, this responsibility? There is only one reliable way: Pull up a pillow, next to your child, in front of the TV. You may be surprised at what you learn.
Kaplan, Jeffrey S. "And Now a Word from Our Sponsor!" English Journal 86.4 (1997): 15-16.