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 Writer's Desk 

June 6, 2005
Vol. 3, No. 8



Tara Harris Not even cartoons and make-believe escape culture wars

By Tara Harris

The recent furor over the supposed advocacy of homosexuality by certain cartoons -- specifically SpongeBob SquarePants and PBS's Buster the rabbit -- caused me to reflect on my childhood. I started to think about the cartoons my brother and I watched and what affect they had on us. In the great scheme of things, our parents were the stronger influence. Despite the gratuitous violence prevalent in most of the cartoons I watched growing up, I never got the message that cartoons were some font of wisdom. If anything, they offered object lessons in what not to do.

Tom and Jerry were probably my favorite cartoon characters as a child. Their show indulged in some of the worst cartoon violence. Tom the cat was split in half, sliced into bits, had his head flattened with various implements, was chased and bitten on numerous occasions by Spike the dog, and generally humiliated by Jerry the mouse. Jerry was chased by Tom and various other cats, caught in mouse traps, nearly eaten, swatted, stomped on, split in half, and generally harassed by Tom. Together they flooded and froze a kitchen, harassed Spike, stole food from humans, and generally engaged in the worst possible behavior.

Hatchets, mallets, knives, and giant mousetraps figured greatly in their universe and there were few problems that couldn't be solved with a baseball bat.

Loony Tunes was my close second favorite and no one does violence and mayhem better than the folks at Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny and his pals bombed, shot, flattened, boiled, ran over, and set fires with wondrous abandon, and I rarely missed an episode. Daffy Duck getting a face full of buckshot from Elmer Fudd is a riot, and the "Barber of Seville" operetta is cartoon nirvana. Looney Tunes had a stable of characters whose sole reason for being appeared to be causing as much bodily harm to various antagonists as possible. I can't think of a single nonviolent episode.

The other cartoons I watched weren't much better. Woody Woodpecker, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Superfriends, even Scooby-Doo began each episode with a crime.

If cartoons had even a remote impact on me, I should be a homicidal manic by now. I saw more violent acts in one afternoon than are shown in a season of "Law and Order." Yet, no matter how much my older brother annoyed me, no matter how many times I wished he didn't exist, I never considered resorting to the type of violence I saw on my favorite cartoons. Much as I liked Woody Woodpecker, a mallet never seemed the appropriate solution to my childhood problems.

I'm told we're in the midst of a culture war. How sad that it has invaded the world of cartoons. It appears that the right and the left have decided that even the world of make believe has to conform. How troubling that the people who are condemning cartoons often have never watched the programs they are declaring anathema. The Rev. Jerry Falwell had never seen an episode of Teletubbies when he declared Tinky-Winky a homosexual for carrying a purse. Of course, if Falwell had watched even a single episode of the Teletubbies, he would have realized that no one even knows what the heck the Teletubbies are, let alone what their gender is. As for the purse, in the Teletubby universe, such things are magic bags.

I love cartoons. I enjoy watching many of the new cartoons. "The Powerpuff Girls" are among the cleverest cartoons around and "Samurai Jack" nearly qualifies as high art. "Arthur," the cartoon Buster's show was spun off from, is a gentle show that details the life of a young aardvark and his friends. There is nothing remotely threatening about the characters, or any of the plot lines. SpongeBob SquarePants is probably the stupidest creature in animated existence. Forget the threat advocating homosexuality; the real worry is the show will turn your little one into a drooling idiot.

The truth is children learn most lessons from their parents. Children are bright enough to discard most of what they see on television. If you want them to accept children of other races, make the effort to have friends of other races. If you want them to avoid certain types of people, avoid them yourself. Cartoons are not going to turn your preschooler into a poster child for gay pride, nor will it turn them into a mealy-mouthed bigot; that's your job. Cartoons may teach them that maple syrup comes from trees, and, at least in the cartoon universe, you can live in a pineapple under the sea.

Cartoons may even foster critical thinking skills. After all, who didn't wonder why Wily Coyote never bought himself a roadrunner? Now there's a question for the ages.

Tara Harris is assistant to the NCR editor. Her e-mail address is tharris@ncronline.org.

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