Sunday, November 15, 2009
People focus on the violence in cartoons, but often overlook the sexism portrayed in Disney cartoons.
Sternheimer, Karen. (2003). It’s Not the Media: The Truth About Pop Culture’s Influence on Children. Cambridge, MA: Westview Press.
Kirsh, S. J. (2005). Cartoon violence and aggression in youth. Genoso, NY.
Kirsh, S. J. (2006). Children, adolescents, and media violence: A Critical look at the research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Ledingham, Jane E., Ledingham C. A., & Richardson, John E. (1993). La violence dans les médias: ses effets sur les enfants. Retrieved October 28, 2009, from http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/H72-21-91-1993F.pdf
Sternheimer, Karen. (2003). It’s Not the Media: The Truth About Pop Culture’s Influence on Children. Cambridge, MA: Westview Press.
Strasburger, Victor C. (1995). Adolescents and the Media: Medical and Psychological Impact. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
By: Josephine Florendo, Daniel Burden, Jordan Dry, and Rachel Soles
Researchers have found violent cartoons can increase violence amongst children. Initial studies had separate groups of children watch either violent or nonviolent cartoons. Results showed children who were exposed to violent cartoon images had increased tendency to act more aggressively toward their peers.
Children were more likely to imitate aggression from cartoons depicting violent characters whose actions were praised and justified instead of being punished. A study by Ledingham (1993) showed aggressive reactions in children were no different when watching either cartoons or live-action violence. Another experiment by Ledingham (1993) suggested the result of viewing violent cartoons was overestimated because there is a mixture of violent and nonviolent cartoons. The experiment only gauged the children’s reactions after viewing either only a violent or only a nonviolent cartoon (Ledingham, 1993). Children who believe violence is a solution to a problem such as wanting a toy another child has, or justified in some way such as a “he/she hit me first” scenario, are more prone to violent acts than children who are not exposed to cartoon and media violence (Ledingham & Richardson, 1993).
Comical cartoon violence disillusions children to the negativity of violence. The popular comedy cartoon, “The Simpsons,” frequently portrays the obnoxious son Bart Simpsons making a rude comment or practicing in mischief. His punishment is usually being strangled by his father Homer Simpson (see Appendix A). After a short sequence of bulging eyes and lolling tongue, Bart is completely fine and the comedy continues. A similarly violent cartoon is “Family Guy.” The most violent character is an infant named Stewie Griffin. Stewie is portrayed as a genius, inventing many strange and destructive devices. During many episodes Stewie will attempt to kill or maim a member of his family. Even after being brutally beaten with a baseball bat or shot with an automatic weapon (see Appendix B). The Griffins are perfectly fine a few minutes later. Both of these violent cartoons portray violence as being comedic, and having no serious or permanent negative effects. Cartoon violence presented as a form of comedy removes inhibitions that a child might have towards violent actions (Ledingham & Richardson, 1993). This increases the likelihood of violence from children towards siblings and classmates, based on the belief that violence is either humorous, or is only temporarily damaging to the victim.
Japan is the only country in the world with nearly as much entertainment violence as the United States (Strasburger, 1995). Strasburger asks the question “If media violence contributes to real-life violence, why isn’t Japanese society more affected?” The portrayal of violence in Japanese anime is different than the portrayal of violence in American cartoons. The violence is more realistic and there is a greater emphasis on physical suffering, for example the consequences of violence are emphasized (Strasburger, 1995, 32). In the popular Japanese anime, “Elfen Lied,” the killing machine Lucy decapitates heads, chops of limbs, and severely injures other characters. When these characters die or become injured, they stay dead and chopped off body parts don’t miraculously grow back (see Appendix C). Despite the abundance of violence in this anime, it has emotional undertones that overcome the physical violence. The plot moves because of the emotional and heart-wrenching story behind each character, violence is just a side-show, and the theme of the anime is love and friendship. Take a look at the popular American cartoon, “Tom & Jerry,” where a cat and mouse literally chase each other and attempt to severely hurt or kill the other. That’s the whole plot of the cartoon, a cat trying to eat a rat and a rat trying to kill a cat. When one does inflict pain on the other character, they just get back up and continue their chase (see Appendix D). In Japan the “bad guys” commit most of the violence and the “good guys” suffer the consequences (Strasburger, 1995). The exact opposite happens in American cartoons. “In this context, violence is seen as wrong, a villainous activity with real and painful consequence, rather than as justifiable” (Strasburger, 1995, 33).
In an article, Peters and Blumberg (2002) brought up the social issue of whether cartoon violence is detrimental to preschoolers and what effects watching violent cartoon programs have on children’s actions. Despite the common notion that violent cartoons produce violent children, it is possible and now practical to believe that these TV programs may not be as harmful as we think. There is no question that cartoons display large amounts of violence incorporated in their story plots, but it is becoming evident that preschoolers may actually be too young to pick up on it (Peters & Blumberg, 2002). According to Peters and Blumberg (2002), there is evidence that preschoolers do learn some behaviors be observing others’ actions, but a belief has started to emerge that preschoolers have a “fairly sophisticated understanding of moral violations, such as physically harming another individual” (Peters & Blumberg, 2002, 146). Therefore, even after viewing violence via television, they may actually have the moral capacity to know that they shouldn’t recreate violence from their cartoon fantasy, into their daily lives. Although much of this is speculation, the article provides much evidence that watching cartoons that contain violence isn’t harming these young adolescents as much as the media publicizes it to. Instead of avoiding the cartoons all together, a valid tool called “co-viewing” could be helpful (Peters & Blumberg, 2002). This involved parents watching the cartoons with their children, so they can help them interpret the story plots and violent actions that may arise. By helping the preschooler to better understand what they are watching on television, little room is left for them to misinterpret the unrealistic actions they are watching; therefore it is less likely they will act that way in real life (Peters & Blumberg, 2002).
In researching the effects of cartoon violence on children and how it relates to their health; the only major effect was how it influenced children’s emotional behavior. The first violent cartoons were “Popeye the Sailor” and “The Flintstones” from the 1950s (Kirsh, 2006). Since then it is obvious the amount of violence and graphics have changed in the cartoons children watch today. In the older cartoons violence contains comedic elements. For example, “The Road Runner Show” and “Tom & Jerry” cartoons. Those cartoons always contain comedic relief and not so much graphic detail such as blood; this in turn makes the violence in these cartoons seem more obscure. Cartoons with comedic elements and those without comedic elements are still perceived to be less violent than live-action forms of media violence observed by children. Experiments have shown in the past that aggressive behavior is a lot higher after children watch non-comedic cartoons such as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “X-Men” (Kirsh, 2006). One thing that differentiates these types of cartoons is perceived reality. In non-comedic cartoons the characters seem more unrealistic and the acts or abilities are more fantasy like. For example, turtles who are ninjas and characters with powers like becoming invisible or X-ray vision. A child’s ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality impacts the control on aggression.
Children most affected by acts of violence in cartoons and more likely to act out are those diagnosed with a mental disorder. By active intervention with children telling them the forms of violence they are watching is not tolerated and wrong, will decrease the chances of them having high amounts of aggression and acting out on those types of violence (Kirsh, 2006). Research on the effects of cartoon violence on children varies. It’s proven that cartoon violence does affect children’s behavior. Some studies show comedic cartoon violence increases the likelihood of violence from children towards their peers, based on the belief that violence is either humorous, or is only temporarily damaging to the victim. Whereas, in Japanese anime violence is more realistic and there is a greater emphasis on physical suffering.
Despite the common notion that violent cartoons produce violent children, it is possible and practical to believe that these TV programs may not be as harmful as we think. There is no question that cartoons display large amounts of violence incorporated in their story plots, but it is becoming evident that preschoolers and younger children may actually be too young to pick up on it. There is evidence that preschoolers do learn some behaviors by observing others’ actions, but a belief has started to emerge that preschoolers have a “fairly sophisticated understanding of moral violations, such as physically harming another individual” (Peters & Blumberg, 2002, 146). Even after viewing violent cartoons, young children actually have the moral capacity to know that they shouldn’t recreate that violence from their cartoon fantasy, into their daily lives. Although much of this is speculation, Peters and Blumberg provides much evidence that watching violent cartoons isn’t harming these young adolescents as much as the media publicizes it to. Instead of avoiding the cartoons all together, a valid tool called co-viewing is helpful. This involves parents watching the cartoons with their children, so they can help them interpret the story plots and violent actions that may arise. By helping the preschooler to better understand what they are watching on television, it leaves little room for them to misinterpret the unrealistic actions they are watching; therefore it is less likely they will act that way in real life. Cartoons do not deserve the bad reputation society gives them; instead families should use co-viewing to their advantage. By watching the shows with their children, they can monitor the reactions of the children. Also as children have the ability to easily draw relations to the scenarios of the characters in the show, another useful tool is for a parent to compare a child’s reality to the cartoon fantasy as a way of teaching a lesson.
There are many ways to respond to the violent cartoons viewed on television; with such strong evidence of cartoon violence resulting in aggressive and violent behavior in children, parents and other influential individuals should take a more active role in screening what their children watch. Non-violent movies are alternative to violent ones, and utilizing parental controls on both television and internet, can help reduce the amount of exposure to animated violence. If parents are concerned about what shows their children are allowed to watch at their friends' house, or at school, they should make a point to contact the teachers and parents about their wishes, and even let them know about the negative side-effects of allowing children to view those types of shows. Prevention is the responsibility of the teachers and parents who have a say in what kind of media their children view.
The public focus on violent cartoons is overwhelming: “Critics complain that cartoons are violence-filled, exposing young children to more violence than other forms of media” (Sternheimer, 2003, 85). However, people ignore stereotypical portrayals of race and gender that also take place within children’s cartoons. People need to remember, cartoon violence “is often slapstick in nature, more comic relief than an anger management tool” (Sternheimer, 2003, 86). Children may be young, but they aren’t completely ignorant and oblivious to morality. They have the intellectual and moral capacity to differentiate between reality and animation, right from wrong. Few people criticize the Disney films and cartoons, which reflect xenophobia, racism, and sexism (Sternheimer, 2003, 89). Parents are too comfortable with Disney. They are so familiar with it; oftentimes they unknowingly turn a blind eye to the stereotypical race and gender portrayals of Disney cartoons. The apparent racism and sexism in Disney films can be another research topic, but it’s worth mentioning in this essay because the huge focus on violent cartoons is so ridiculous that people forget other “problems” in cartoons. Disney films like “Snow White” and “Cinderella” have sexist undertones, where the heroine is always in search for the companionship of a man and without marriage she is nothing. In “The Little Mermaid,” Ariel must surrender her voice for the love of a man: “Clearly it is not necessary for a woman to have ideas of her own here, as the prince falls in love with her appearance” (Sternheimer, 2003, 103). It is ironic how the very same people who choose to overlook issues of inequality are often the same ones who fear children are strongly affected by violent cartoons, and the children who view these cartoons will inevitably copy what they see (Sternheimer, 2003). If children inevitably copy what they see in the cartoons they watch, then perhaps that’s the reason why racial and gender equality still persists in this day and age, alongside violence. As Sternheimer said: “It is dangerous to only criticize what we dislike and let things we enjoy slip away without scrutiny” (2003, 99).