The messages kids receive
posted 2007/05/08 at 16:32

Hamas "Mickey Mouse" wants Islam takeover (AP via Yahoo! News)

I kind of wonder why this is necessarily news. I mean, I certainly don't catch every television broadcast in every country, but the idea of countries using cartoon characters to indoctrinate children into certain ways of thinking is hardly a new one -- just look back to the racist propaganda Bugs Bunny and the gang were spouting back in World War II (as much as Time Warner tries to make everyone forget about that page in Looney Toons history) -- and I doubt that it isn't going on in other countries even as we speak. I find it hard to believe, for instance, that there weren't anti-American cartoons being broadcast in Afghanistan before 09.11, or in Iraq before the US invaded there, or even in modern-day Iran. As far as I can see, the only reason why this particular children's show is generating so much press is that the main character is a fairly close (though hardly perfect) approximation of Mickey Mouse. Even at that, I'm not sure the story is necessarily the rip-off of an American children's character as it is the stealing of that specific character. Disney certainly puts forth a lot of effort to make all their characters as big a part of our cultural legacy as possible, if not synonymous with animation itself.

What's bothering me most right now, though, is how little investigation we do of the messages contained in our own children's programming. Certainly we don't have anything as bad right now as Bugs Bunny affecting a deliberately bad Japanese accent, but given how impressionable children are, you have to be careful about every little thing that happens in a show. I know that looking back on the cartoons and shows I watched when I was younger, a lot of them were portrayed a very heteronormative world, or a world in which heterosexual activity is seen as "normal" and homosexual activity, even if it was portrayed as being "okay," was still portrayed as fundamentally different. It is good that there have been more openly homosexual characters on television in the past twenty years, yes, but there's a world of difference between having a "gay character" and "a character who happens to be gay." The gay male couple in American Beauty is a good example of the latter; yes, they're openly homosexual, but the fact that they are is pretty much irrelevant to the entire story. You could substitute a heterosexual couple in for them and the story would not change in the slightest.

I'm not trying to suggest here that children at the age where they start watching characters like Mickey Mouse should be taught about homosexuality or even sex in general. What I am saying, though, is that in a lot of the cartoons I saw when I was growing up -- and I gather this is still the case today -- all the married parental figures were in opposite-gender couplings, and if young characters ever expressed anything approaching what could be called "love," it was love for someone of the opposite gender. This is something so commonplace, and something that we all grew up with, that I can understand why people take it for granted. Still, if all the television you watch as a child portrays the idea that Snow White and Cinderella and Prince Charming and all of those characters can only fall in love with someone of the opposite gender, that's going to influence you later in life when you are confronted with homosexual people in the real world, because it's going to fall outside of what you've learned to be "normal" activity. (I mean normal in the sense of being acceptable, not the statistical definition.)

Comment by Blogger joepet at 8/5/07 17:49:
A lot of the cartoons we watched as kids were already censored from their original format. But those cartoons only became a "kids show" when they were syndicated on televisions. The Bugs Bunny cartoons as they originally aired, like "The Flintstones", were actually intended for adults, not children. So it's really a bit unfair to paint Bugs Bunny cartoons as a means of brain washing children.

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