(Michelle’s Note: Today’s guest post is brought to you by my friend Steve Lowe, author of MUSCLE MEMORY and WOLVES DRESSED AS MEN, both available in November. Steve is a very talented (and opinionated) writer, and if you want to read more, you can check out his blog Assorted Shitzengiggles, where you might be surprised to find a guest blog by ME today. Welcome, Steve!)
My children are being poisoned.
No, this is not hyperbole, they are literally being poisoned. They don’t even realize it, either. But I see it, and I know the culprit lives right in our home. That culprit is TV.
Before I get going, rest assured that I’m not screeding on the ills of television and why you should read instead. (And yes, I know screeding is not a word, but in the imaginary world of the Internet, made-up words are perfectly approprienated to my purposes.) Of course you should read, especially my books. (What can I say, I’m shameless…) What I’m talking about is the level of ‘Wuss’ in today’s programming, and what it has done to my kids.
I’m talking about cartoon violence.
Now, I’m not some cranky old whiner yet. At least, I don’t think 35 is old. But just one generation ago, the cartoon violence paradigm began to shift. As a child, I was right in that in-between, when it began. I grew up on the staples – Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry, Popeye – along with the 1980s-centric offerings. For every Wily E. Coyote self-inflicted dynamite explosion, I watched a G.I. Joe episode where people fired guns at each other and blew up vehicles. The difference between the two was the physics.
Bugs Bunny existed in a world where you can run off the edge of a cliff, but you are not affected by the Newtonian laws of gravity until you become aware of them. Only when you looked down did you begin to fall. Or, if your plane was plummeting to Earth and about to crash, but you ran out of gas, you just stopped in mid-air and lived. This world was clearly established by the animators, and as long as they stuck to it, what happened within that framework was acceptable. In other words, we knew it was a cartoon.
But in the world of, say, G.I. Joe, there is no effort made to establish its own reality and physics. It is assumed that the natural order of things is intact, and therein lay the problem. In the world of G.I. Joe, no one died. Their weapons fired lasers rather than bullets, which one would assume would be more potentially lethal than a bullet, but no one was ever fatally struck. And when their vehicles or aircraft were shot down or blown to hell, they always managed to jump out or parachute to safety.
Um… bullshit. You can’t have as many firefights as G.I. Joe had with its arch nemeses, COBRA, without someone getting hit. So, either the lasers, pretty blue and red lights flashing across the screen like mind-numbing strobe lights, have no effect whatsoever on humans, or both sides in these conflagrations were plagued by such poor marksmen that they couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat. That, or the writers assumed kids are stupid as hell and would swallow whatever they threw at them.
This does two negative things: it shreds a child’s confidence in his country’s Armed Forces, and also suggests that bad things won’t happen if you fire your laser rifle at your buddy’s head. At least with Bugs Bunny, you knew if you walked off a cliff you would fall (eventually) or if you stuck you head inside a cannon, it would go off in your face. Yes, Daffy Duck lived whenever a shotgun blast blew his bill to the back of his head, but at least there was a consequence. In the pseudo-fake world of G.I. Joe, the round would fly past you and do no harm. You tell me, which is more potentially confusing and harmful to young minds?
And that brings us to today’s cartoons. Back in my day, you had Saturday mornings and afternoons when you got out of school to catch your favorite shows. Now, Cartoon Network streams them constantly, along with Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, et al. You can literally find cartoons any time of the day. The offerings for the most part are neutral, friendly shows geared toward innuendo-laden humor that tries to shoot over kids’ heads at their parents, or gross out humor that appeals to the lowest common denominator (read: kids’ parents).
I don’t have a problem with this, but I long for the old days, when physical comedy could blend with classic literature or opera to make brilliant masterpieces. Today’s shows won’t be forever remembered like Bugs and Elmer Fudd performing Wagner. Nothing like this exists anymore. It’s all watered-down pap that mollifies and pacifies our generation of kids, like my own. They’ve not considered the ramifications of what would happen if they ran off the edge of a cliff. In fact, they’ve not even had to consider this scenario. They’re too busy sipping Capri Suns and laughing at fart jokes and fat jokes told by indistinguishable characters on shows called Chowder.
Please understand, I love a good fart joke as much as the next guy. But there must be balance in one’s cartoon diet. For every Flapjack, give us a Tom & Jerry. For every contrived scenario in which the silly main character learns a friendly lesson, give us a mindless segment of a meek mouse outsmarting a big, dumb cat by tricking him into biting his own tail. Bring back these shows, or create more in their likeness.
If you’re concerned about your children blowing themselves up with dynamite like Road Runner and Senior Coyote did, then maybe you should put your dynamite away where the kids won’t get it. No, not up on the high shelf in your closet. They’ll find it, trust me. How about just getting rid of it altogether? Maybe dynamite in the house isn’t a good idea.
It’s just common sense.