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WE KEEP YOU SAFE

By Nadia Oxford     October 08, 2006


Mr Popo from DragonballZ
© N/A
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.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 8 of 8
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DaForce1 10/8/2006 3:50:41 AM
Okay, nitpick time. The 'Looney Tunes gang' was not created during WWII. They were actually created in the 1930's during the Great Depression. I know, I know, it was an off-the-cuff remark that was trying to bring a certain amount of relevance to the article. Unfortunately, it lacked the research a simple Google or Wikipedia search would have turned up.
mellon23 10/8/2006 7:23:55 AM
I would imagine that, after 9/11, parents might be a bit concerned about buying their kids Cobra action figures if they are referred to as a terrorist organization. Sure, it's a far cry from buying an al Qaeda action figure, but I can understand why the producers of the GI Joe cartoon would want to avoid such stigma. After all, the cartoon is little more than a marketing device for children's toys.
lochkray 10/8/2006 8:12:20 AM
It is sad, though, that in American culture, terrorism is only offensive once it affects Americans. As long as it was an "over there" problem, being a terrorist was fine, whether fighting GI Joe, being the villians of a Die Hard rip-off, initiating the plot of a Tom Clancy book, or just suggested in a one-off remark as a Halloween costume idea in E.T. Fly a couple of planes into New York - Terrorists are evil!!!! They're just not fun anymore. You can't derive entertainment from them, that would be wrong. Its a concern that the great U.S.of A. (and I'm not being sarcastic with the word "great") has to wait for direct affect before taking any kind of action - even over reaction, as listed in the article above. Almost as if turning terrorists into a form of devil or other supernatural evil never to be mentioned makes them less threatening (actually, the opposite occurs). Wouldn't it be nice if the USA (and the rest of the first world nations of the world) took a more proactive approach to world threats (Iraq doesn't cut it) rather than waiting for disaster and deamonizing anything that negatively affects "our" society. Terrorists were always there. "Evil" is always out there. Maybe we should see where it is, and fix the problem before it becomes one. Left wing pontificating crap, I know. Its just what I think.
karas1 10/8/2006 2:44:20 PM
I remember when Home Alone came out. I saw it and was shocked and appalled. This little boy is abandoned by his parents and threatened by robbers who want to hurt him and rob his house. And this situation is played for laughs, complete with cartoon violence such as dropping bowling balls on the robbers' heads, pushing them down the stairs and hitting them in the faces with burning irons! And the robbers are as uninjured by these potentially deadly attacks as Elmer Fudd would have been. At a time when Bugs Bunny cartoons were criticized for the same sorts of violence and the Power Rangers was claimed to be too upsetting and realistic for children (like being menaced by aliens from the moon is so much more likely to happen than being abandoned by your parents), Home Alone was declared a heartwarming holiday classic. Go figure. Myself, I watched plenty of violent cartoons as a child and Hey! I didn't grow up to be an ax murderer. As for GI Joe, calling Cobra a criminal orginization instead of a terrorist orginization is just semantics. Terrorists ARE criminals after all. However, indicating that the US Army fights crime and can be used as domestic police is untrue and maybe not the message we want to send. But hey, if it sells more toys, who am I to object?
nadiaoxford 10/8/2006 3:02:36 PM
daforce: Even so, it's important to catch factual errors. Unfortunately, the media is full of them (when I was in high school, my school was mentioned in two major newspapers for two seperate reasons, and the name of the school was misquoted BOTH times), and I'm obviously not innocent myself. Admittedly, that's what editors are for, too. :(
majorbludd 10/8/2006 11:33:12 PM
this to me just adds to the pussification of America...I think it just takes some explaining to children what is real and what is not....I hate the fact that everything is being to PC...I remember growing up with the unsensored Tom&Jerry and Looney Tunes and we all new they were cartoons and make believe...those were just some better times...censorship just pisses me off.you dont like it, just change it..its just as bad now how they are trying to ban Dodgeball at schools and the Red pen of failure when it comes to making corrections on your school work..I miss the good ol days when in school the bell would ring 5times for a disaster drill and we would go into the hall, kneel down and put our heads between our laps and hands over our heads to avoid a disaster like a nuke....the good ol days of the cold war....Yo Joe!!!( p.s. as a Kid, I always wanted to be in COBRA, lol) they just had a better recruiter...........
karas1 10/9/2006 3:15:44 PM
Yeah, those disaster drills were fun. Like going down into the basement by the Music Room and sitting down in the hallway was going to protect us from nuclear war.
nadiaoxford 10/9/2006 10:48:15 PM
Tsk. I'm too young to have those kinds of drills as a part of my healthy childhood memories. I do remember the Emergency Broadcast System tests, but those faded out in the 80's, so it's a dim, shrieking memory.
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