You Know, For Kids

Age appropriate content seems to change in cycles for cartoons.  What was fine for kids to watch and enjoy one decade is taboo the next.  This may become irrelevant in the next few years, but for now it's worth discussing.  I first noticed this trend during the late 90s to early 2000s.  I was still young, but also old enough to pick up on at least some of the humor intended for adults.  This was also the point in my life when I became aware of other cartoons that existed before I ever watched TV.

Cartoons started out as pre-movie shorts meant for general audiences.  These included shows like Looney Tunes, Tome & Jerry and Popeye.  But once television became popular and commonplace, a shift towards child friendly programming occurred.  Hanna-Barbera can be said to be at the forefront of this.  Most cartoons from that era were decidedly more tame than the cartoons shown at the movie theaters back in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

You have to volunteer to go see a movie, TV shows are broadcasted.  Censorship helped play a part in the beginning, and it didn't take long for networks to develop formulas to mass-produce "kid's shows," to appease to anyone who did not want their children being exposed to certain content.  It also allowed companies (I'm looking at you, Hanna-Barbera) to cut costs of animation, because kids don't know what's good.

Now that their was a concern about what kids were watching, and now that there was a cheap way to mass-develop content, new, age-appropiate content was cranked out at an alarming rate.  Well, alarming to me.  If it's not clear by now, I don't much care for Hanna-Barbera, and they were all over the place during the 60s, 70s, and a lot of the 80s.

Yes, I'm off topic a bit.  Sorry.  My point is we went from cartoons being for all viewers, to cartoons all being meant for kids, and this one, large shift has spawned many smaller ones, which have all occurred in last few decades, starting in the 1980s.

I don't what it was about the 1980s, but a lot of changes happened with cartoons meant for kids, especially the shows meant for boys. Transformers, G.I. Joe, He-Man, etc.  All of the sudden kids were inundated with action-packed cartoons.  For much of the 80s, all kids focused on was the intense battles all their favorite heroes and villains took part in, and with all that focus on violence came the almost obligatory backlash.  From the back end of the 80s to mid-90s, we saw another shift towards kid safe media, especially due to that times's panic over kids doing drugs and performing acts of violence.  There was also a push to teach kids about political topics such as environmentalism.  All the favorite shows essentially became commercialized PSAs to teach kids about avoiding drugs and not doing crime, and creating new cartoons like Captain Planet (Captain Planet... I mean, seriously?).  So in short, these kinds of cartoons became boring.

The next transition took place in the early-ish to mid 90s, when cable networks like Cartoon Network and Nicklelodeon became popular, stable venues for new content.  This was the era when the shift towards catering towards a general audience returned.

I suppose it took a while, but the cartoonist finally remembered how to make cartoons that were safe for kids to watch, but still were full of subtle humor that the adults could appreciate.  Examples of cartoons such as these would be Rem & Stimpy, Johnny Bravo, and Rugrats.  Any member of any age range could find something to laugh at in cartoons like these.

This shift was the longest lasting since the original days of the Looney Tunes.  The next shift would not occur until close to a decade after the new millennium started.  It is also the trend that happening now.  This could be the "Internet Has Taken Over" era, because many kids shows have forgone playing it safe, at least for the most part.  The creators of the shows know that, thanks to our modern society and technologies, kids have other options for entertainment, and are not as (unfortunately) naive or innocent as they once were.  That is why certain cartoons now address subject matters that used to be glanced over or ignored, such as death and divorce.

This trend may or may not last for much longer.  The shows have not included any content that would be seen as too extreme for children's programming, but some cartoon creators continue to push the boundries.  All there is for us to do is watch for someone cross the line, and to see if there is any backlash for doing so.

Do I have a point in all of this?  No, not really.  I just find it interesting how cartoons have changed over the years, and how they are at the mercy of social acceptance.


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