The Power of Children’s Cartoons

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“Who would have thought that child could win a children’s card game?”

— Seto Kaiba, from Episode #11 of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series

I think a lot of people underestimate the power inherent in children’s cartoons.  When they hear the word “cartoon,” they picture something light, fluffy, and utterly vacuous, filled with loud noises and sight gags. Or they might think of the painfully awkward and cheerfully grating tones of newer “edutainment” shows, most of which are not nearly as good as classics like The Magic School Bus or Wishbone.  (Or maybe that’s just the nostalgia talking.)  Either way, cartoons tend to serve as a kind of temporal placeholder to keep little kids occupied while the grown-ups go do important grown-up-things.

This woefully misrepresents and denies the kind of narrative impact that cartoons can possess.  After all, cartoons are a staple of childhood, often giving kids their first real taste of serial storytelling.  Obviously different age groups will be drawn to different types of shows; one can’t expect a two-year-old to have the same attention-span as a six-year-old.  And to be fair, there is a place for cartoons comprised of stand-alone episodes and humor, both physical and verbal, like Looney Tunes, Rocky & Bullwinkle, or Tom and Jerry.  Such cartoons don’t require a viewer to invest a lot of time in order to get the payoff, and with no over-arching plot to worry about, it’s very easy to introduce newcomers to the show.  But I do believe that longer forms of story-telling can and should be presented to children at a young age so they can come to appreciate the art in all its forms.  Unfortunately, animated story-telling gets ignored because a lot of people still think that anything drawn, and in some cases even CGI, as a “cartoon” and therefore “just for kids.”  I have heard people refuse to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of the greatest TV shows ever made (in any style) simply for the sin of being animated.  And that’s a real shame.
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Dangerous Stereotypes: Scientists

I’m going to tackle some stereotypes present in modern fiction that I think are dangerous when used irresponsibly.  Any entries part of this series will be labeled as “Dangerous Stereotypes.”  The next entry on this topic is about the Bad Boys stereotype, which can be read here.

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Professor Hojo (via Final Fantasy Wikia)

There is a nasty and detrimental stereotype in fiction:  the depiction of scientists.

In most instances, scientists are portrayed as too smart for their own good, too naive for their own good, or outright diabolical.  The threat in the story often arises from the hubris of scientists messing with something they either don’t fully understand or think they can control.  In such cases they are often called “mad” or “obsessed,” driven to complete their work, no matter the cost to themselves or to others.

Or, if the scientists aren’t deliberately malicious, they end up being naive to the extreme, not understanding how their research or experiments could be used to malicious ends.  Even if the scientist realizes his mistake (for they are almost always male), he tends to keep going “in the name of science” or is totally ineffectual at stopping the misuse of his work.  And if the scientist himself is absent from the story, the technology he created, often a robot with artificial intelligence, remains a danger, such as Superman’s foe Brainiac or HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The examples of the evil/mad scientist stereotype are myriad:  Hojo from the video game Final Fantasy VII.  Rotwang from the movie Metropolis.  Victor Frankenstein, creator of the quintessential monster in Mary Shelley’s masterpiece.  Almost any antagonist in superhero comics.  Pick a 1940s or 1950s horror or science fiction film and you’ll find that the monster or threat is, more often than not, the result of science gone wrong.

Even real people, including teens and children, who are not certified scientists, but who have an interest in that direction are often stereotyped as strange, anti-social, unattractive, and ultimately dangerous individuals.  They are often marginalized or bullied until, in a fit of childish pique (or well-planned retribution), they fight back the only way they know how:  with science and technology.  And in the end it’s up to the handsome, charming, muscle-bound male hero to save the day by blowing things up.  Seems like a bit of a cheap shot to me.  But why haven’t we moved beyond this rather lazy piece of character creation?

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