Last week I talked about the death of the Comics Code Authority, and to a lesser degree, about censorship in general. I wanted to touch on cartoon violence, but figured the subject really deserved a post of its own. So consider this an appendix on the last blog post.
Now, keep in mind, I am an Old Coot, so I’m talking specifically about the cartoons that were popular in the 80s or early 90s. I realize that Saturday morning cartoons aren’t really a thing any more, but I assume that things haven’t changed all that much otherwise.
A lot of people aren’t even aware that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were originally a comic, but they were. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird developed the title from a concept that was born from a doodle on a napkin back in the early 80s. Despite the silliness of the overall concept, the comic could get fairly gritty. These weren’t the skateboarding, pizza-eating cliches that became so popular later, but an angsty gang of vigilantes who battled — and killed — real people.
In the cartoon, which became so ubiquitous, the turtles’ main antagonists, the Foot clan, were turned into an army of robots. This allowed the turtles to eviscerate them and no one had to get hurt. Whenever a Foot clan soldier was injured, it was clear from the sparking gears and wires inside that it wasn’t actually a person.
Another popular cartoon of that era was G.I. Joe. This was a show about a paramilitary organization that fought an army of terrorists. There’s bound to be some death and destruction in a show like that, right? Nope! Joe and Cobra would stand toe-to-toe shooting laser rifles (that ejected shells?) at each other all day, and yet no one was ever hit. The only casualties of their battles were the airplanes and helicopters, but whenever one of them was hit, the pilot always ejected just before it blew up. Every single time.
On shows like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or Thundercats or Thundarr the Barbarian or a dozen others that I can’t think of, the hero had a giant sword that somehow never cut flesh.
All of these shows were limited, I’m sure, by a mandate that they not show violence. But I would say that they had plenty of violence, but no consequences. There were sword fights and shootouts, but no blood, no pain, and no lasting injuries. Which is worse? Surely, this was intended to protect impressionable children, but if it had any impact, it was to teach them that guns and swords are harmless. That war is as safe as it is fun (and always comes with a simplistic safety tip at the end).
I am definitely not saying that cartoons should be more violent. I’m just saying that if you are going to show violence, do it right: show the consequences. If you aren’t willing to do that, then don’t do it at all. Stick with Smurfs or Care Bears.