Dr. Ruebert Saturnine III presents a lengthy case study on the adverse effects of cartoons on children.
Opinions and idea expressed in this article do not represent the opinions of AWN Inc., its staff or its affiliates.
In light of the recent Super Bowl debacle, the harmful effects of media on children have once again become a hot topic in this country. One of society's most important and sacred responsibilities is to mold the future leaders of the U.S. during their impressionable years. Janet Jackson's breast baring has awoken America and moved legislators to remove lurid material from radio and TV. I recently testified in front of the House of Representatives to push for increased fines against broadcasters that air and performances that contain unsuitable content.
However, what the mainstream press is not discussing is the adverse effects of animation on children. Kid friendly channels like Cartoon Network are no longer safe with its "adult" programming. Like the use of the cartoon character Joe Camel, children and their parents see cartoons and think safe product. But as we have learned that its harmful to give cigarettes to six-year-olds, we need to address the dangerous effects of Space Ghost and Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law on our children as well.
Cartoon related injuries are a serious topic that America has been avoiding for years. Dozen of our children each year fall prey to being over stimulated by crazed and/or super-powered characters. How many times will children be hurt under the guise of "having fun?" It is a note to AWN's balanced coverage of the animation community that it is willing to publish my case study on the adverse effects that cartoons have had on our youth. What you read may be disturbing, but as a concerned parent, grandparent or court appointed guardian, this article is a must read. Afterwards, hopefully each of you will join my call to ban all harmful cartoons.
The first reported "toon-related" incident occurred in 1914, when a 9-year-old upstate New York boy fell from his pony while pretending to be Winsor McCay atop Gertie the Dinosaur. The prep school student was already an experienced rider, but was distracted during a routine trot by fanciful thoughts of bare-backing a brontosaurus. After the release of Steamboat Willie in 1928, the number of cases of toon-related injuries skyrocketed. Strangely enough one of the most publicized "Willie ward" cases -- as the hospitals use to call them was from the same upstate New York town that the aforementioned Gertie fiasco occurred. Many scholars in the field of toon-agedies have looked into the susceptibility of the New England states to toon-related occurrences. Some have linked it to harmful levels of cod in the groundwater, but others feel it's simply due to the region's loose liberal attitudes.
In the fall of 1928, young Dickie Johnson decided to take the family yacht for a spin around the lake. Unfortunately, the small boy was not yet an accomplished sea-fairing captain and he crashed the family heirloom into the dock, ruining his sisters otherwise splendid cotillion.
This incident spurred the first toon-related injury lawsuit. Dickie's father, Gaylord Johnson, filed the case against Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks on charges of corrupting a minor and inciting mischief. When Dickie took the stand in the summer of 1929, he told the jury, "I thought if a lowly, common mouse could drive a boat, surely I could too."
In other damning testimony, the boy's mother, Mrs. Virginia Johnson said, "After seeing that crazed mouse in the theater, Dickie became a hellion. He just wouldn't stop tormenting the cat. He even fashioned his fathers ascots into a nest!" Disney, not one to flinch from adversity, stood his ground. The case is officially still on the books. Luckily, after a short institutional stay, young Johnson grew out of his Mickey Mouse fixation and ended up founding the hugely successful Orkin Extermination franchise.
Such cases grew and grew, as animated shorts became a staple in movie theaters around the world. However, a large spike in reported cases can be seen in 1937 with the release of the first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. As chronicled in the Journal of Modern Psychology, hundreds of reports of children being poisoned by tainted apples during Halloween came flooding into police stations across the United States. Grumpy, Doc and their animated housemates were now unhinging the fragile minds of the mentally unstable. The film also garnered the distinction of gaining the first reported toon-related injury to a young girl. That up until this point, only boys had been traumatized can be attributed to the fact that most parents did not let their daughters leave their rooms until the start of World War II, when they went to work in munitions factories.
In 1938 after viewing Snow White, 16-year-old Isabel Hart was inspired to take laudanum in a deluded attempt to secure a date to the fall formal. Subsequently, the teenager slipped into a coma for a week. Her mother, Rosie Hart, told the The Local Paper, "I don't know what she was thinking. Me and her step-mom wouldn't have let her go to the dance anyway. She has chores to do."
Like young Dickie Johnson, Isabel was rehabilitated after a four-year stint in the Lehigh County Metal Institute. After her release she went on to gain a solid job as a social worker helping neglected children. Undoubtedly, her toon-related incident spurred her desire to help other afflicted youth. Years later, Hart sued the Walt Disney Co. for copyright infringement on the feature film, Cinderella.
Cases of toon-related injuries persistently increased each year after. However, yet another great rise in the number of incidents came in the dawn of television animation in 1956. For the late part of the 1950s, children didnt begin speaking at a normal age, directly attributed to Gerald McBoing Boing. Many professional psychologists and government officials feared that it was a secret Communist plot to under-develop American children's minds.
Former Senator Joseph McCarthy even re-ignited his Communist fight against UPA and CBS -- the show's broadcasters -- soon after the series started airing. In an interview shortly before his death in 1957, McCarthy said in the magazine Capitalists' For a Better Tomorrow, "It's got red inked all over it. You know what UPA really stands for? Undemocratic Pinkoes for America."
After McCarthy's passing, many "Boing-busters," as they were called, fought to have the show removed from airwaves. The group later lobbied against all harmful television productions. One of the groups 1960 promotional pamphlets stated that, "the avante-guard imagery in TV cartoons is clearly hallucinogenic and will inspire ruthless and care-free behavior in our young children when they grow older. Plus, theyre not funny."
This idea later grew more prominent as the group compiled volumes of evidence against cartoon makers, showing thousands of examples of "beat-nick" behavior within many theatrical and television characters. The Boing-busters later discovered proof linking the entire "hippie" movement of the 1960s and 1970s to mind altering cartoons. Mina Joyless, president of Boing-busters during those turbulent years, in her plea to the U.S. congress in 1969, said, "We can directly link this new generation's confused sexual identity to Looney Tunes shorts. Bug Bunny often gleefully without shame cross-dresses. In one such short, Bugs Bunny marries Elmer Fudd, who wears a white wedding dress. The homoerotic undertones are obvious, but what is more disturbing in the prevalence of bestiality." The case against animation was weakened once a liberal study released at U.C. Berkeley presented the notion that the U.S. school system was a far greater factor in the under-development of American youth than anything seen on television. Though the scholars were later discredited by allegations that they drank wine in a hot tub, unfortunately, the damage to The Cause had already been done.
Though they failed to rid television and movie houses of damaging cartoons, Boing-buster did however, bring toon-agedies into the public consciousness. No longer could animators hide their willy-nilly leftist thoughts under the guise of "children's entertainment." America was taking note of the harmful mental and physical damage that cartoons were producing. However, with everything good comes some bad. Films like Fritz the Cat, Yellow Submarine and Mad Monster Party? were now free to say, "Okay you figured us out" and make cartoons with no shackles of self-restraint.
Luckily, the conservative Reagan administration of the 1980s created a more sterile environment in America. Brilliant marketing by the Boing-busters made U.S. audiences disregard liberal art animations as "flower power frivolities," rendering them "uncool" to the younger generation. Cartoons like The Care Bears and The Get-A-Long Gang acted as sedative elements in children's lives, counteracting the detrimental effects of Woody Woodpecker, Tom Slick and Tom & Jerry reruns.
However, the decade did see the most publicized toon-related injury case ever brought to court. The complex lawsuit was brought against all the major cartoon studios for years of continued "mental anguish," "reckless endangerment" and "inciting criminal acts." This court case was the first brought against a cartoon creator by an adult who was first afflicted as a child.
The family of Devin Grimm filed the suit against Walt Disney, MGM, Universal, Fox and Warner Bros. for years of mental abuse. The case rested on the foundation that between the ages of 2 and 17, Devin had watched approximately 20,956 hours of animation. The daily toon onslaught had left Mr. Grimm mentally unstable, socially inept and tragically unhip. Like many other caring modern parents of the atomic age, Devins mom and dad thought the TV would raise their kid to be a useful member of society like many scientists of the time believed. Instead, their son was turned into a reclusive and dangerous lunatic.
By age five, Devin's parents Mac and Beth Grimm, noticed that their son had developed strange speech patterns, pronouncing r's as w's and ending sentences with "beep, beep. He would only speak seven phrases -- heavens to mergatroid," "What's up doc?," "That's all folks," "Exit stage left," "No need to fear. Devin is here" and "This program was brought to you by the rich chocolaty taste of Ovaltine." His parents were generally unconcerned, finding the behavior rather cute.
However, his seemingly innocent cartoon-induced impersonations turned into a nightmare overnight on the first day of kindergarten. Much like any number of famous cartoon characters that flashed through his brain Devin came unglued. If he wasnt sitting in the corner pounding his head with a large mallet or defiantly trying to disprove the laws of gravity, he was perched atop a row of tall file cabinets screaming, Ah, ah, ey, ey, tookie, tookie!
Throughout his elementary school years and into his tweens, Grimm was kicked out of school after school. This is the period where his superhero obsession took hold. So convinced he had superpowers, he would refuse to take off his cape and eat his mother's meatloaf, running away from the table screaming Youre trying to rob me of my powers with that insidious Kryptonite log. He suffered minor burns one night trying to summon the powers of Greyskull with a metal spatula thrust into an exposed light socket. Moreover, signs of a split personality surfaced, when he began maniacally tying female classmates to cafeteria benches, then leaping back to save them later after changing into various odd leotards in a nearby janitors closet.
As Devin reached his teens his behavior became more deviant and more violent. At age 13, Devin started smoking -- corn cob pipes exclusively -- and muttering cocky statements under his breath. No female student teacher was safe from his wolf whistles, howls and screams of Aoogah! In 1984 at age 15, soon after his parents' divorce, Devin became very reclusive and began watching more and more cartoons, refusing to watch more normal teenage male programming like sports and sitcoms like Charlie's Angels or Mr. Belvedere.
During the trial Mrs. Grimm observed, "This was the time he began sawing the furniture and speaking in a Canadian accent. We thought it was some kind of teen fad."
Grimms obsession with animation had by now grown into a full-blown addiction. Much like a junky, Grimm had to feed his need for the most obscure animated programming at any cost. At first, he just borrowed money to purchase bootlegs copies of films like Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, Thank You Mask Man, and Private Snafu's Booby Traps. He left a trail of worthless IOUs all over town. He started devising irrational schemes to gain cash. He was once found at a Williams Sonoma frantically rubbing a copper kettle screaming, Its mine -- all mine, all mine! In another incident, he threatened to shoot chickens in the frozen foods section at a local supermarket with a Super Soaker filled with BBQ sauce if they didn't lay a golden egg.
Unable to show his face at any of the towns video stores, Devin hatched a plot to get his hands on a complete collection of Krazy Kat. After eating three cans of spinach and painting anchors all over his face, Devin hid out all night on the roof of Bobs Video store, where he had hoisted an anvil by a rope and lay in wait for the owner to open up shop.
At 9:00 am the next morning, as the owner approached, Devins ill-fated plan went awry. Not realizing the rope was also wrapped around his foot, he let go of the anvil too soon, which landed 10 feet in front of the owner, pulling Devin off the roof and onto the rear bumper of a nearby Pinto, causing a tremendous explosion, which burned the hair off all the cats in the adjacent pet store's window display.
Grimm was institutionalized after he was ruled not fit to stand trial for the assault. Dr. Buster Mirth took Devin's case and soon learned the extent of damage cartoons had inflicted on the teenage boy. After two years of extensive counseling, Dr. Mirth urged the Grimms to file suit against the animation community.
The case went to trial on March 7, 1989. Once, Devin took the stand the trail hit a fever pitch. After two hours of cross-examination the lead lawyer for the defense, Dean Gulberry, asked Devin, "So Mr. Grimm, you can't maintain adult relations or hold a steady job. Are you blaming this all on cartoons?"
Devin replied, "This doesnt look like Miami Beach! I musta taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque... I mean in adolescence and it has led me to this state, varmi't. Race, Dr. Quest, quick, get the transfibulizer!"
Soon after, several of the studios settled out of court. 20th Century Fox continued on and was eventually acquitted. It seems that so few people had ever seen a Fox cartoon that no one could prove they had any real negative effect on society. Disney finally forced the lawsuit to be thrown out after convincing the judge that Grimm's lawyer had stolen inflammatory animation cels from the company's dumpsters.
At the age of 24, Devin was released from the mental institution. However, like most addicts, getting clean and going straight was just too much for him to handle. In 1992, after drifting in and out of halfway houses and homeless shelters, Grimm took a job as a writer on the USA Network animated series, Duckman.
As the 1990s rolled in, toon-agedies reached an all-time high. The appalling effects of such irreverent cartoons as The Simpsons, South Park and Pokemon, have been so well documented I will not delve into them here. Pepe LePew cartoons have been linked to teen pregnancy, Goofy shorts to careless extreme sports injuries and Snorks to scores of teen suicides.
When will this stop? We must follow the example of Turkey and take broadcasters of detrimental cartoons off the air. Future generations need to be free to grow up unabated from the tyrannical thumb of cartoonic oppression.
Dr. Ruebert Saturnine III is a professor at the New Jersey Online University and is the current vice-president of the Boing-busters. He would like to wish you all a happy April Fools Day and thank iStockPhoto.com for the use of its images.
Home Sweet HomePrevious Post
Growing Possibilities: Mobile Gaming 2004