How responsible is the treatment of violence in cartoons? And what is the bigger cultural impact of this? The Animation Pimp takes a swing.
Monthly provocative, drunken, idiotic ramblings from the North
Touch wood. No one close to me, except a dog and maybe a cat or two, has died. There was a sort of momentary grade 9 gal who I tried to ball once whose family and best friend kicked it in high school. When Alzheimers took over my grandmother, I was devastated, but shes still, technically, alive. Death scares me to no end, less because Im at HOPEFULLY the half way mark (35) than because Im a parent now and I want to make damn sure Im here for my son until hes ready to go it alone. Just writing that makes me quiver with fear. Naturally theres an element of arrogance thats connected with the rise of the industrial age and the shift from state to individual control. And the notion of NOT being assumes being is essential -- important. Every once in a while I slip into BAD FUNKS. Standard dark stuffthat often involves an INCREDIBLE head buzzing PANIC that I could die at any moment. The last time it hit me was mid-June. And right in the middle of the damn death funkthis St. Louis baseball player goes and dies. Hes 33. Clogged arteries. FUCK. I slept so poorly that weekend. By Monday I managed to crawl out of the dark, demons momentarily gone, back to writingthen later that week I hear that the Whos bass player, John Entwistle died (ironically his few song contributions often dealt comically with death). Its silly to you, but The Who were the bible of my youth. (I felt better when I later learned that despite a heart condition ol' Thunderfingers was snorting coke) Soright back into the dark. Now Socrates helped me a bit. As he was about to drink poison, he talked about death and the stupidity of fearing what you dont understand. Hey, a valid point, but maybe its a fear of losing what we have/are. Then againhopefully...itll be so quick that itll be a moot point.
Meantime I was watching this new Justice League movie from the Cartoon Network and suddenly noticed that despite guns, villains, ships, bombs and all manner of crazy violence, there was an absence of deathand ya ya yaI KNOW OKAYtaint nothing new. Thats the nature of Hollywoodall the MEANS without ENDSall the CAUSE without the EFFECT. Just do it. It was the same thing with The Powerpuff Girls Movie (another Cartoon Network production). The girls violently and swiftly destroy an entire city (with apparent pleasure), but miraculously they manage to avoid murdering anyone. And okay sureits probably some latent adult release via the creator, but these movies are made for and aimed at kids. Ironically, the films of Plympton and Don Hertzfeldt, which regularly feature pretty gruesome violence, at least SHOW the results (hell, they slobber over it!) and are probably BETTER for kids than these other hypocritical cuds.
We seem to have devolved into a world of fuggin TOYS (bizarre given the, Oh people like us do die, reality of September 11th)I cannot remember one action animation series (let alone live-action -- and as a chum reminded me -- remember those A Team shows where Murdock would fire a huge bazooka into a jeep and not manage to kill anyone!?) where people are shown dying -- the natural friggin desire/result of firing bullets AT people. Now mark this down folks, cause you wont hear it often, but Ive always respected Disney for Bambi and Dumbo and even The Lion King because death is at least addressed, confronted, out and open. Beyond animationHomicide had a brilliant episode with Robin Williams all from the p.o.v. of a family whove just seen their wife/mother gunned down while on vacation. And helleven Buffy dealt with it (according to my gal). Okay, its one thing to have Daffy, Bugs and Elmer beating the tar out of each other with no causeclearly these are caricatures, exaggerations, dark comedies (for KNOWING adults)but this action hero nonsense is set in the natural world.
Consequences DO Exist
Now I dont give a hoot about the issue of entertainment influenced violence (I grew up playing toy gun related games and have YET to kill anyone). This isn't a so-called bleeding heart liberal call for the reduction of violence in entertainment. I got a brains and two hands, I can turn the damn television offnowhat Im baffled by is the utter lack of common sense/logic. Im talking mindset/philosophy here. ITs not just cartoons...remember all those pretty greenish bombs dropping all over Iraq back in the early 1990s? Man they were beautiful. Do you remember the images of the results of those bombs? The decapitated heads of children? The burned women and men? Of course not. Because we are never shown this material. Even after September 11ththe truly graphic images were, THANKFULLY, not shown (although I did watch that ABC documentary by the French guys and Ill never forget the sound of the thumps as bodies fell).
Im not saying we need to see all these corpsesbut then again maybe we do? Maybe thats a way of driving into the heads of many of us that firing guns, dropping bombs, gutting, slaying, etc. actually have CONSEQUENCES, that is DEATH, loss of life, pushing up daisies, ground ZERO. Aside from the planesI remember the image of the lifeless fire dept. priest and that AWFUL AWFUL medium shot image of people at the windows/ledges of the WTC building after a plane hit. But we dont see it. All we see are tears, dirt and U.S. flags. Thats not enough. And hey, lets turn to Afghanistan, Sudan, etc. where the U.S. has killed hundreds of innocent people. How many reports did we get about lost families? Did we hear from any heartbroken wives over recent lost husbands? Did we see any footage that suggested human loss? No, of course not (at least in the mainstream news), cause that might actually make us question the actions of our countries.
(After I wrote this section, I heard an incredible story on the news that some Canadian police were asking kids to turn in toy guns because they felt that not only were the guns looking more realistic, but more to the point, they were contributing to a gun culture mentality. That is an astonishing and courageous thing for a cop to say today.)
Take A Serious Look
Now there have been some interesting takes on death in animation -- but naturally it comes from the indie side. Caroline Leafs The Street (taken from Mordecai Richlers book) addresses the death of a grandparent from a kids p.o.v. Pierre Heberts Souvenirs of War is a blunt depiction of the deadly results of war. Estonian Heiki Ernits made a funny piece called Jacob and Death (1994) in which a man convinces death to let him live forever, only to find that when everyone else dies and the world changes, he finds himself very alone. In the end, he virtually begs death to end his life. And boy the Aussies are obsessed with death. Check out Uncle, Dads Clock, Sarah Watts filmI cant remember the title...but its about losing a child and specifically Dennis Tupicoffs heart-wrenching films The Darra Dogs and the recent, Into the Dark.
Theres just so much blatant hypocrisy going on here: violence without responsibility, violence without effect, denial of death.
Why on EARTH would these producers/executives permit such extreme displays of violence in Batman, Superman, Justice League and Powerpuff Girls BUT not permit ANY hint of the results of these actions (beyond destroyed buildings), especially considering the HUMAN damage we saw done by the relatively recent destruction of three buildings in REAL life? How is this justified as RESPONSIBLE? Is this to ensure that children grow up continuing to believe that guns are cool so they remain easy prey for Armed Forces recruiters? I dont know about the U.S. but before almost every feature in Canada there is this stylish, fast cutting Canadian Armed Forces ad that claims that its all about responsibility, technology, learning and teamwork As my Asian friend Arnold once said, BAHAHAHAHAHA.
A Dose of Reality
Well, writing this ain't making me feel a whole lot better about the prospect of not breathing anymore. At least with all this mass media nonsense, I can use my brain and hand to just switch the television off. Sure it bothers me to come across the asinine shows or to see my 4-year-old suddenly fixated with the war toy section, but hey, I got a choice. If producers, creators and executives ain't gonna pull their heads out of their ass/wallet then thankfully there are logical parents who can actually speak with their kids and explain the consequences of these toys and that particular cock driven alternative lifestyle choice. Ya know what? Why start or stop at toys? Go get the kid a real gun, take him hunting or to the firing range. Let him fire off a few rounds at a frog or the family pet, or better still, if theres a terminally ill (or close to it) loved one around, load her up and let the kid give granny or Uncle Charlie their peace (and yours!)or lower the enrolment age for the armed forces. Ever see Ivans Childhood about the kid soldier? That was great. Theyre small, flexible and unmarried. Sure they can be a bit undisciplined and wild, but once potty trained theyre pretty low maintenance. Best of all, I bet theyre phenomenal with guns cause morality ain't really creeped in yetand heck, given recent events, some of these kids are gunnin' to go so theres very little emotional baggage involved. Plus, lots of other countries are doing it!
Death was-is-will be. No amount of denial, repression or cinematic rejection is gonna change the fact that were gonna bite it. Thinking/talking/showing death ain't a bad thing because you are at least acknowledging its existence and in doing so are better stirred to get off your ass and live the life that gives you pleasure before you dont have that choice.
Chris Robinson is but a man. His hobbies include squirrel taunting, goat thumping, meat dancing and elderly peeping. You can find the results at http://asifa.net/robinson