Cartoon Insights

27 03 2011

One of the great things about an extended Spring Break is the fact that you get to do things you may not otherwise get to do throughout the school year. Our family went on our first big road trip to Southern California to meet with family along the way and spend three days at the “Happiest Place On Earth”. Our school district experimented with a 2-week break this year which meant that car travel was possible. Next year, School District 33 is going back to a one-week Spring Break, so this year we decided it was a great opportunity for us to make the big journey.

Exotic breakfasts, sleeping in or getting up early to watch cartoons are rare and luxurious morning choices in our family, but on several occasions on this trip, our boys got to do just that. One one of our stops, our two little fellas discovered that their aunt had a plethora of channels to choose from and they quite enjoyed plunking themselves in front of the giant T.V., (which I’ve learned stands for “thought vacuum”) and flipping through the channels. Apparently it’s wired into the male DNA that we don’t control the remote to see what’s on – we flip channels every few seconds because want to see what else is on.

A bunch of things struck me as we watched cartoons together. Many of today’s cartoons have a lesson (e.g. good people share, it’s wrong to hurt someone without saying sorry, or it’s proper to be polite and respectful to adults). As superficial as these messages may be, today’s cartoons all seem to have a point to them with a moral lesson to be learned. Good always triumphs over evil and in a 1/2 hour program, things always work out and get restored to the original state no matter how many accidents and messes occur.

When I was growing up, (makes me sound like an old timer now, doesn’t it?) the grainy animated images on KVOS-TV 12 were pretty bad. Violent even. Popeye would get walloped by Brutus, people were getting bonked on the head with cast iron frying pans and that poor coyote had a lot of anvils dropped on him.  How many ACME dynamite boxes exploded in his face? How many times did he chase the RoadRunner and have hard landings from impromptu cliff dives when the road ran out? Cartoons were extremely graphic back then and bullying behavior seemed to be the norm.

Not so anymore. What changed? Cartoons back in the day were terribly aggressive and abusive, but respect for others in real life seemed to be quite high. A shift happened and the cartoons got tamer with moral messages and yet in youth culture these days, there seems to be greater incidences of injustice, racism, bullying, violence and homophobia. Don’t get me wrong, there many GREAT things happening in the classrooms I’m in and so many inspirational young people in the schools that I visit. I’m aware of the good stories. I just want to know what shifted and why.

Could it be that it was our parents that taught us those moral lessons back then and that isn’t happening as much anymore? Could it be that (for some families) it is a struggle just to make it through the day and that intentional moments of what we may have called “good parenting” in the past just aren’t on the front burner anymore? I’m noticing a trend in that there are a lot of “surrogate parents” out there for kids (teachers, coaches, club leaders, youth leaders) and maybe, just maybe, our kids are getting bombarded with positive messages from all angles and that parents no longer feel that their voice is the only one that kids need to hear anymore. But in situations of moral and ethical issues, shouldn’t mom & dad’s voices be the loudest one that rings in our kid’s ears?

Watching cartoons with my boys over the Spring Break sure seemed to raise a lot of questions.

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