Radiation by Fiona Rae

This just in: Rugrats is corrupting our children

Incredibly, the recent study into television violence found that nine of the top 10 shows featuring the highest incidence of violence were cartoons. Who would have thought? One of them is Rugrats, another is Classic Cartoon, which features the stretch-and-squeeze exploits of Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Pluto. That means that children have been exposed to a high level of violence on TV for around 50 years.

You’d think that 50 years was long enough then to measure the effects of television violence, but the 285-page study, which is downloadable via the Herald site (it’s in Adobe Acrobat), points out that after something like 4000 studies into television violence over the past 50 years, no-one can actually agree on the potency and seriousness of television’s influence.

The report says:

While television is but one factor in children’s lives and development, there does seem to be some connection between children who have had a violence-saturated media diet and aggression in later life. In addition, television is more likely to have a negative impact on children who grow up with a cluster of negative influences such as poverty, domestic violence, truancy, etc. The ‘replacement effect’ of television may also be detrimental to children.

The top 10 TV shows featuring the most graphic violence (as opposed to violent incidences) were nearly all AO programmes – except for another cartoon, Pokemon. It’s interesting to note that Pokemon is one of the kids’ shows that the Parents Television Council of America has actually endorsed. This website features a mom who outlines all the reasons she thinks the wildly complex Pokemon is good for kids.

Okay. So I don’t think children should see lots of violence on TV. I certainly don’t think they should be watching CSI, SVU, Nip/Tuck or 24. That’s why they’re on after 8.30pm. I don’t think kids should be playing excessively violent video games or watching Seven. Not until they’re … not children. But I have a problem with blaming cartoons.

Cartoons exist in an entirely fantastic world, where things happen that children know are outside the realms of possibility. (Btw, novelist and mythographer Marina Warner said something similar in her interview with Kim Hill on Saturday. She’s giving a lecture at the university tomorrow night.) In the current Japanimation shows that dominate kids’ afternoon telly – like Yu–gi-oh! and Megaman, or Digimon on Saturday, bizarre digital beings battle each other in duels that may or may not have real consequences for their owners. The shows are extremely moral, with a heavy emphasis on being true to yourself and trusting your friends. In Yu-gi-oh!, aside from being true to your friends and supporting them, it’s trusting in “the heart of the cards”, another way of saying trust your choices and your learning. Cheaters never prosper, bad guys always lose.

In Megaman, three kids rush about a futuristic Japanese city battling virus attacks that the authorities are apparently powerless to resist. One is the daughter of a rich mayor who shares her wealth. They are good citizens. Even good old Spongebob Squarepants is the most pure and trusting soul in all of Bikini Bottom.

In my experience, that “cluster of negative influences” the report mentions is probably the key aspect. The most violent, or saddest, child in the school is the one most likely to see, and be on the receiving end of, violence at home. Boys might fantasy play that their toys are battling with all manner of weapons, Action Man might kill Dr X over and over with his new turbo surfboard with firing torpedo action, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to violence and aggression in real life.

Sue Kedgley’s comment that “It appears that some of the cartoons our children are watching are little more than animated thuggery” is bizarrely ignorant. It appears? Doesn’t she know? She is the Greens spokesperson for broadcasting.

Phew. In other news, TVNZ in good idea shock: Chris Knox is introducing a series of classic noir movies every Friday night around 11.15pm. Murder My Sweet screened on Friday, others in the series are: Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947, starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas), Journey into Fear (Norman Foster, 1942, starring Joseph Cotton, Dolores del Rio and Agnes Moorhead), Deadline at Dawn (Harold Clurman, 1946, starring Susan Hayward and Paul Lukas), Born to Kill (Robert Wise, 1947, starring Claire Trevor, Lawrence Tierney), The Big Steal (Don Siegel, 1949, starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer) and Berlin Express (Jaques Tourneur, 1948, starring Merle Oberon and Robert Ryan).

Although keep it quiet won’t you, or else TVNZ might realise they’ve done something good and immediately take it off.