Animation World Magazine, Issue 3.4, July 1998
Animation Land: Adults Unwelcome
by M. Cedric Littardi
Editor's Note: Since this article was written, the trial that it is about has ben postponed until February 16, 1999. Mr. Littardi is seeking letters of support and advice from people in the animation community. He may be contacted through Animation World Magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On June 23, 1998, M. Tibor Clerdouet, M. Yvan West Laurence and M. Cedric Littardi (myself) will be judged at the 17th chamber of the equivalent of the High Court (Tribunal de Grande Instance) in Paris. The charges: all three of us have been in previous years publishers and/or editors in chief of the French magazine AnimeLand.
AnimeLand is an eight year-old magazine dedicated entirely to animation. It was created at a time when Japanese anime was broadcast on French television and seen by many young adults who were, on the whole, ashamed to watch because of the general belief that animation is for children. The magazine has since its birth focused on two ideas which until then were considered opposite: reaching the general public, rather than purely professionals, and keeping them interested with highly specific and often technical features.
During the past eight years, AnimeLand has constantly grown and recently reached an average of 30,000 copies printed and disseminated through France's general press distribution network. For a time the magazine focused on Japanese anime, then grew step by step to a more general perspective, bringing the readers along. It has become a privileged partner with many organizations working in the animation arena, such as various publishers and the Annecy festival. We have run a great number of lengthy articles on a variety of subjects such as: the making of animation, the treatment of death or other philosophical and mythological matters in various cartoons, technical interviews with people working in the field, etc. If it is true that the magazine has been known to talk about cartoons both violent or erotic in nature, this has never been the major focus.
So what is this whole issue about? The answer is: law 49-956 billed on July 16, 1949 about "publications aimed at youth." The text concerns "publications, periodical or not, that by their nature, their presentation or their aim, appear as mainly intended to children and adolescents." There is hardly any jurisprudence about this law, and the only legal interpretative text we are aware of, states that "these publications will be easily recognizable".
Law 49-956 details various administrative obligations, like sending various administrative organizations, including a control committee, a certain number of copies of each issue beyond those already sent by any "regular" publication. The staff checks that these publications, "Do not include any illustration, any tale, any chronicle, any heading, any insert presenting under a favorable light banditism, lies, theft, laziness, cowardness, hate, debauchery or any act qualified as crime or offense or of a nature to demoralize childhood or youth or to foster or keep going ethnic prejudice." The penalties for breaking this law are a standard one year in prison and a $5,000 fine.
One year ago, AnimeLand caught the attention of the state prosecutor. We answered his letters with a list, justifying why AnimeLand was not to be considered a youth publication. This proved not to be sufficient, and all three of us were then seen by the police for a deposition. We have stated that the magazine has been created with the scope of establishing animation as an artistic genre and not a commercial by-product for kids. As such, the editorial staff decided that it was an ethical issue for the magazine not to be considered a publication aimed at children. Furthermore, the government officials were provided with all the available statistics about our readership, which clearly demonstrated that fewer than one third of them were under the legal age of 18, with very few under the age of 15. This clearly places AnimeLand in a category where it is less read by youth than several other types of magazines (hard rock, skating) that do not fall under this legislation. Again, this did not prove to be sufficient, and the prosecution went on surprisingly quickly for the French judicial system. All three of the accused were notified of the trial in May, leaving hardly any time to organize a defense. Whatever the outcome of this trial, it will have been costly in both effort and legal consul to everyone involved. However, it might well be worth the pains since whatever the result, it will become part of legislation.
Is This Modern France?
Of course, the whole issue probably sounds surreal to most of us. How is it possible that nowadays, with the numerous efforts by the animation industry to aim productions toward a larger and more diverse audience, the authorities in place still consider animation to be a kids-only media? It is almost like going back to the darkest periods of the Comics Code Authority censorship. Old prejudices die hard...
It isn't by sheer chance either if this is about children. Authorities and parents always think they can decide what is for children and what isn't because they know better. But do they? Several cartoons already broadcast in France have clearly not been aimed at children but, apparently, powers in place considered them to be, by the simple fact that they were cartoons. The best example of this is probably the Japanese cartoon, Hokuto no Ken (Fist of the North Star), which was too violent to be fit for children, but aired nonetheless.
Astonishingly, there is no similar law concerning broadcasts. However, CSA (Superior Council of Audiovisual), a surprisingly influential organization, has strong censorship powers, even if theoretically they are only consultative. If the general public really feels that animation is only for children, then any channel wishing to broadcast more adult-oriented cartoons will be threatened by repercussions, as has already been the case with TF1. In the early 1990s, TF1 was airing a lot of Japanese anime, exposing them to serious problems with the CSA. Finally, they had to stop airing the shows. Furthermore, channels such as France 3 use a strange strategy since they know there would be problems, not from the children but from the authorities, if they broadcast new adult shows. Therefore, they rebroadcast old Japanese series (Captain Harlock, Rose de Versailles) so as to not bear the brunt of the risk.
If this is happening in France, it could happen anywhere in the years to come. Adult-oriented animation is apparently, perhaps hopefully, becoming more and more of an issue, because it seems that not everyone is ready to accept it. It is our sincere hope that the results of this trial will be in our favor and contribute toward a tide to make the general public consider animation in a different light. After June 23, the issue will probably reach its conclusion in September, when the final judgement will be handed down...however the fight against prejudice will go on.
Cedric Littardi is one of the founders of the AnimeLand magazine in France and has worked as a specialized journalist in various European countries. He created the first japanese anime label in France (KAZE Animation) and now works as a consultant in all graphic and animation areas.
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