Sunday, April 12, 2009

BAAAD Influences

Here's the kind of report that always makes me tingle.

Classic Disney cartoon films are giving children the wrong message about how to deal with "stranger danger", psychologists have warned.

... [Psychologists] studied 47 animated feature length Disney films, released between 1937 and 2006. In ten of them, they found examples of "unwanted personal contact" or scenes which show child characters in "risky situations".

In their analysis, six films – Robin Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, The Sword in the Stone, and A Goofy Movie – depict children and adolescent characters experiencing unwanted personal contact.

A further four films – Snow White, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland and The Jungle Book – were found to show childlike characters in "risky situations" where strangers approach them with "hidden malevolence" and promise rewards in exchange for their compliance.

The films were reviewed several times, often using the pause and slow motion features to fully capture the content. Child characters could be human, fantastic or an anthropomorphised animal ...

Dr Wendy Hovdestad, the lead author, said: "The depictions of child and adolescent characters being grabbed and kissed against their will by adult characters is particularly problematic for the boy characters Wart (The Sword in the Stone), Flounder (The Little Mermaid), and Skippy (Robin Hood), because the context in the film is humorous.

"The treatment would probably be upsetting if it happened to a real child, and treating it as humorous is directly contradicting sexual safety education that teaches children that they get to decide who touches their bodies."

I'm not one of the folks who pooh-poohs the influence of films, television shows, and video games on impressionable young minds.

But I am one of the people who believes that most under-age homo sapiens survive and live to tell the tale. Many even go on to prosper.

A bit of history: There were like, no animation story departments, zero, that had psychiatrists on call when those departments were cobbling screen stories together before and long after World War II. 'Toon story departments were mostly filled with male artists who smoked and drank too much, and beat their heads against storyboards trying to come up with The Funny any damn way they freaking could.

Nobody had heard about psycholigical correctness, political correctness or any of the other correctnesses. It just didn't cross their minds.

And I've got horrific news: Pinocchio has a poop-load of inappropriate story points happen to him in the course of his feature film. So do a lot of other fictional cartoon characters in other films. (So do a lot of fictional live-action characters. Look at the controversy surrounding Observe and Report.)

Face it. There are plenty of features, both old and new, that send negative messages and make you cringe. (Birth of a Nation and chunks of Gone with the Wind make me climb walls to this day.) But let's get our heads screwed on tight. No parent can protect her or his kids from every bad influence. Little Dora and Johnny will be hearing multiple f-bombs explode on the school playground; they will use cell phones too much and risk brain cancer; they will eat fatty foods and not wear sufficient sunscreen. They will cross Main Street without looking ... and a chosen few, sadly, will get greased by a fast-moving car.

And some will view old, unenlightened animated cartoons and be psychologically warped with the wrong message for hours, weeks, and months ... sometimes years.

But the good news is, even with all the hazards, all the nasty media influences, most parents will raise and mold their kids well enough so that most will reach the same functional adulthood as billions of kids before them.

Some will even become cartoonists dreaming up inappropriate gags and character interactions. Despite all those horrid Disney movies.


Dennis S. said...

My suggestion is for the government to address this "problem" by providing a budget for public service commercials that educate the public, especially the children, about "risky situations" and "unwanted contact".

Of course these commercials should be ANIMATED and should be an ongoing series throughout the years (quarterly renewed?) so that the audiences would never get tired of the same old thing being shown over and over again.

I think that would make a lot of those psychologists/psychiatrists happy :) (not to mention a few out of work animators)

Anonymous said...

If priests don't get kids, cartoons will!

Anonymous said...

How completely moronic. You'd think people would have better things to do than watch classic Disney cartoons and worry about what's in them. Most of those films - if not all of them - provide warnings to kids about strangers; Pinocchio gets in trouble TWICE because he doesn't successfully avoid the Fox and the Cat. I can't think of any Disney film that imparts any kind of bad message. If anything, a good Disney film does more than entertain - it builds character. Jeffrey Katzenberg described it as "moral resonance". All studies like the aforementioned do is confirm that psychiatry is a junk science.

Anonymous said...

To the above commenter, psychiatry is a branch of medicine. The cited study wasn't conducted by psychiatrists, it was conducted by psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists at a Canadian university.

Anonymous said...

Of all the movies mentioned here, not one is a documentary. Aesop's fables are rife with cringe-worthy things that happen to children. Let's burn Aesop's fables, too. Not showing inappropriate behavior in animated films isn't going to make inappropriate behavior go away. The reality of life on this planet is that unacceptable behavior exists in society and shielding children from it by not showing it or its consequences in a cartoon isn't going to make it not exist. In fact, showing it and its consequences in a cartoon may actually prepare a child for recognizing it and learning how to deal with it. Without that early learning and preparation those unfortunate children may grow up to be lawyers and psychologists who make a career of trying to figure out what went wrong in their childhood and finding someone to blame. Maybe if they'd watched cartoons when they were kids they would have learned something.

Anonymous said...

Save our precious little snowflakes from the cartoons!!

robiscus said...

Someone give give Dennis S. a cigar, because he presented a simply stellar suggestion.

Tim said...

Back in 1999, we received a similar report while I was at Disney. But instead, it tracked all the uses of alcohol & tobacco in children's films. (Pinocchio, Dumbo, 101 Dalmations, etc.)
We were told not to have any more in upcoming films. So we had to remove the bad guy's cigar in the short "John Henry". But the edict was short-lived. "Tarzan", "Atlantis", "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille" all had appearances of the demon rum & friend nicotine.

Loves kids, hates stupidity said...

The most ludicrous and pathetic thing I have read as pertains to our industry in a long, long time.
There IS a limit for proper caution, protecting children, worrying about messages in films for children etc...and this utter tosh is a good 80 miles past that point.
Can someone please put Chris Hitchens onto this one-I haven't the strength to debate this idiocy as he assuredly could. It'd be fun to watch him take these fools apart.

Anonymous said...

[sarcasm]they have a point... let's all tell our kids that it's ok to take candy from strangers since there's no lesson to be learned in snow white! while we're at it, it's now okay for them to take rides with strangers, etc. what a beautiful sinless world we all live in since we have nothing to shield the little ones from or teach them to avoid! [/sarcasm]

::face palm::

Anonymous said...

[sarcasm]they have a point... let's all tell our kids that it's ok to take candy from strangers since there's no lesson to be learned in snow white! while we're at it, it's now okay for them to take rides with strangers, etc. what a beautiful sinless world we all live in since we have nothing to shield the little ones from or teach them to avoid! [/sarcasm]::face palm::

All those animated films were made generations before I was born, and it's my belief that they then or now have absolutely zero effect on some kind of "dangerous" wrong ideas/influences/sexual predator issues being pumped into children.
While we're at it nor do I believe for a second that Pecos Bill, Lampwick, Cruella or Jose Cariocoa have made once single kid take up smoking.

Smoking is bad. Going into cars with strangers is bad. Being "assaulted" by "unwanted physical attention" is bad. It's also the job of parents to make sure that their own children both understand real-world boundaries, and know the difference between animated movies/stories of any kind and real life behaviour.

Films aren't babysitting tracts. They are entertainment-in Disney's case, almost always based on very old. classic fairly tales that were made for adults and kids alike. If a parent deems them filled with wrong messages it's their problem. It's also deeply unrealistic and neurotic.

r said...


It's sad to see some people with control issues, try to censor content, instead of promoting "Active Parenting".

Don't get me wrong, I sympathize with parents trying to protect children from porn and stuff. But the onus is on them to filter stuff out, and to stop trying to set the limits to our creativity. We have enough to contend to as it is.


Anonymous said...

It's a fact that the majority of abuse happens from family members, not strangers. Sure, there's famous cases including one right now in northern CA, but there have always been people who have done despicable things to children going back hundreds of years, yet movies and TV shows weren't that kind of problem for our parents and grandparents-why is that? Why don't these "experts" and sociologists do a study on how those awful films of the past affected THOSE kids? I mean, the kids who were 5 and watched Mermaid are grown up now, yes? Where is there ONE example of a kid who was molested because of the bad messages from these films? One.

It's utter nonsense and a typically academic attempt to rationalize and control things to an overblown degree. Paranoia is ludicrous when it extends to old movies that are totally innocent.

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