Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Is what you are watching actually a cartoon?

Disclaimer: What you are about to read may seem weird, but what the hell, I am hypothesising it to be true, so who knows...

Cartoons are basically meant for kids. The main reason elders prefer letting the kids watch them without their supervision is that they need not fret over the incidence of X-rated content in it – namely content that concerns that famous three-letter word or violence. I suggest that we re-examine this mindset of ours (as someone who has grown up watching the very cartoons that I am about to damn, I have mixed feelings as I type this.

Consider the following list: Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd/Yosemite Sam, Tweety and Sylvester and Coyote and Road Runner. These are cartoons which we would definitely not squirm about before letting a toddler/child watch it. These cartoons are hilarious, have palatable themes; have caricatures that look cute (I am yet to come across a girl who hates Tweety). Tom and Jerry, for instance, was once even voted the most popular cartoon in history; its TV reruns stand testimony to its long lasting popularity. However, beneath all that humour, the sarcasm, the cuteness, the mind-boggling illustrations and their haunting soundtracks (viewers are likely to forget the characters but not the twirl of a guitar prior to the commencement of a Looney Tunes cartoon) is the underlying theme of violence, and if I may add, sadism.

Yes, you read it right. Cartoons, in my opinion, neatly package violence in a graded manner, almost undetectable, just as the nurse at the hospital injects a syringe in your vein to draw out a blood sample. The reason being killing a character is intrinsically woven into the plots (at least in the cartoons listed above), though it never happens. Tom seeks to either eliminate or make a meal out of Jerry; Elmer Fudd/Yosemite Sam brandish a gun all the time, wanting to shoot Bugs Bunny; ditto with Sylvester and Tweety and Coyote and Road Runner. Aren’t we indirectly implying that it is okay to kill a mouse or shoot a rabbit? Since humour is an effective masking agent, we do not worry about the content the kid may be watching. When an air gun misfires on Elmer Fudd, blackening his face, and Bugs Bunny standing beside him asks in a nonchalant manner, “Gee, what’s up, Doc?” we instinctively clap, laugh or at least smile; quoting a line from The Matrix, I’d say that we are hard-wired to do so. It is as if killing Jerry is Tom’s birthright, and in turn, harassing Tom being Butch’s pastime. Even the mythology-inspired cartoons running on Cartoon Network, Chota Bheem and Little Krishna, pay attention to the confrontations the characters have with demons. The superhero range of cartoons – The Mask, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, to name a few - bring with them, almost justifiably, violence. Haven’t we not come across reports of children dying while trying to imitate the antics of Shaktiman?

Those worrying about their children watching explicit content would hardly pay attention to what is packaged in a cartoon. I am no psychologist to suggest that children get excited violently and turn into a Conan the Barbarian after watching such cartoons; neither do I have any scientific studies to assert my claims. You can call me a pessimist, or someone who does not know how to enjoy watching cartoons, but of late I have been unable to put this stream of thought out of my mind.

Please feel free to comment on what is right or wrong with our cartoons, or whether I am getting paranoid.