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WE KEEP YOU SAFE
By Nadia Oxford
October 08, 2006
Mr Popo from DragonballZ
America was founded on several undeniable truths penned by our forefathers or Optimus Prime, depending on which generation you were born into. All men are equal. Freedom is all. Humans have the right to speak and worship as they choose ... unless there are children nearby. If politicians are to be believed (and gosh darn, who wouldn't
believe them?), children's throats will close up and their heads will explode if they hear a bad word or see a cartoon cat hit a cartoon dog with a mallet or a shovel.
In spite of wartime troubles at home and overseas in the Middle East, children today have a lot more opportunity at a well-educated, comfortable life than their parents or grandparents did. Adults have to work hard and invent problems that lurk in shadows and around corners, waiting to pounce on today's children and eat them. Tap water is worse than cyanide. Teeter-totters are an invitation to a broken arm, leg, everything. As for television ... well, kids are safer walking through Hell, holding Satan's hand.
Censorship is a major concern in America, and will likely going on being a major concern for years to come. The topic is especially hot on the subject of programming for children. As certain events become taboo, acceptable, then taboo again, the content in cartoons is often censored or altered to reflect those changes. This is important, some parents argue, to protect the impressionable minds of children and to give them the idea of what's acceptable in society. Critics disagree. The world outside a child's living room isn't necessarily a utopia, and kids should know what they're up against.
When anime gained mainstream popularity in the 1990's, it wasn't immune to scrutiny from watchdogs. It was never immune to begin with. When Astro Boy
hit American airwaves, the robot boy's name was actually changed from "Atom" to "Astro"; "atom" was certainly a four-letter word during the Cold War era, and translators didn't want to scare away viewers. Incidentally, this kind of censorship is mirrored in some of today's animes. In G.I. Joe: Sigma Six
, the terrorist organisation "Cobra" is now called a "criminal organisation", no doubt because of the controversy surrounding terrorists today (as if they were acceptable, upstanding citizens before 9/11).
Anime in particular is subject to a lot of censorship that simply doesn't make sense. The afore mentioned Sigma Six is a good example. Even Grade One students know terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center. Why should G.I. Joe, a soldier who has represented token "Good Guys" for years, suddenly be disallowed to fight terrorism, a very real threat to people of all ages?
In such an instance, it's tempting to say censors are biased towards anime because it's from another country. This isn't an invalid concern, but in this case it's probably wrong. Cobra isn't a terrorist organisation anymore because, at some blurred point, it was decided American cartoons should sell products and entertain kids for an hour or two. It's okay to stuff a cheap moral in there somewhere, but why mix up kids in real world events?
There's also a lot to do with that dreaded term: "P.C." Before 9/11, terrorists were a vague thing to children, another general word to describe bad people. Now the term carries massive baggage and brings a million thoughts to mind: Religion, racial stereotypes, politics, horrific violence that's still burned in our minds. All the stuff parents don't want to hear from their kid's show at nine o'clock on a Saturday morning while drinking their coffee. Why instigate the angry letters, stations decided. Get rid of the word before it even has a chance to cause trouble.
Of course, not every parent believes their children needs to be sheltered in such a way from the big bad world. Many of them remember the cartoons they grew up on; far from sheltering the world from reality, the Looney Tunes gang was created during World War II to lift the spirits of soldiers and stir the patriotism of children alike. Thus it was perfectly acceptable to portray members of the Axis as sub-humans with squashed morals and exaggerated racial phenotypes. But as you've doubtlessly heard from all your elders, Things Change. Even people against censorship can't help but be a little shocked when they look at these old cartoons, and even if they have no problem with the word "terrorist," a children's cartoon portraying a battle against fanatical Islamists in turbans probably wouldn't be appreciated.
As is wont to occur with censorship, sometimes things slip through the cracks while the watchdogs take a minute to scratch, and the results are surprising. An example is Dragon Ball Z
, which was syndicated in the early 1990's and subject to all sorts of censorship silliness. A fan-favourite example includes Vegeta and Nappa, two elite members of the "Saiyan" race who come to Earth and immediately wind down from their long journey by wasting a city. Nappa stands in the centre of the smoking crater--which, moments before had been city streets bustling with cars and people--and tells Vegeta it's "too bad it's Sunday and all those buildings were empty." First of all, it's fascinating aliens know about humanity's pre-determined day of rest, and second, unless children believe humans can teleport in the blink of an eye (in which case, they have more to straighten out with their lives aside from cartoon violence), who do censors think they're fooling?
Yet, in their mad rush to eliminate violence from an anime about supernatural martial arts, they forgot about Mr Popo. "Mr Popo" is a djinn who helps with the upkeep of Earth and subscribes to a number of physical African-American stereotypes that were frequently found in old Warner Brothers cartoons: coal-black skin, small white eyes, big red lips. Even his voice is mellow and deep, but he was allowed to remain the way he was ... possibly because he wasn't actually an inhabitant of Earth (though the European dub of the show nixed Mr Popo's "rich" voice for something a little more ambiguous).
Some instances of censorship give reason to cry foul, but others are a little harder to decide upon. The topic is an extensive one, with a lot of ground to cover. The journey is assuredly not dull, and you can even fill it with swears if you like.