Friday, May 13, 2005


Recently we participated in “Turn Off Your TV Week” (or whatever it was called). It went surprisingly well. But since then TV has come back with a vengeance. And the cartoons are bothering me more.

Cartoons are much better than they were when I was a kid, just past the Flintstones and Jetsons era, when the medium went into a steep decline whose only enduring achievements are Scrappy-doo and the Superfriends. Today, the writing is often clever and the animation styles are interesting. “Samurai Jack” on Cartoon Network is downright beautiful, with astounding imagery and a lush color palette. But many efforts are loud and annoyingly fast-paced, with two levels of jokes – one for kids, one for parents making 15-second transits through the living room.

But cartoons are also getting more gross. Gross-outs are of course now ubiquitous in pop culture, the lamest way to an easy, lazy laugh, dating to around the time the Farrelly brothers turned semen into hair gel. “South Park” makes a point of taking gross-outs to absurd levels. But now gross-outs have migrated into kids’ cartoons. This morning my son was watching “Ed, Edd, ‘n Eddy,” sort of a preteen “Three Stooges.” One of the Eds was allergic to rabbits, and when he encountered one he swelled up to 10 times his normal size and grew giant pustules all over his body, which the other Eds tried to treat with various home remedies, hoses and brushes. On “Fairly Oddparents” the day before, a bully got stung by a scorpion and then a swarm of bees – then swelled up to 10 times his normal size and grew giant pustules all over his body. (Maybe Nickelodeon should sue Cartoon Network, or vice versa.)

Yuck. Curly’s nose got twisted a lot, but he never needed Benadryl.

Bathroom-and-booger humor is standard fare for the kindergarten set. Cartoon violence has been around for decades. But does the preschool crowd, or those a few years beyond it, really need this? With its theme of the body going grotesquely awry, it cuts a little too close to reality, skirting cruelty in the process. You'd think the real-life details of potty training and pinkeye are enough for a kid.