It’s indisputable that as a society, we’re pretty messed up. Gun violence and global warming aside, most of us cannot even manage to bring our shopping carts back to the designated space in a parking lot. But is it really our fault? A look back at the incredibly irresponsible cartoons we were force-fed as impressionable young children reveals: no, it’s not. It can’t be.
Really, it’s a wonder we’re not all neurotic, perverted axe murders with multiple reckless driving charges. Hear us out. — Naivasha Dean
1. Tom & Jerry
Take a second to dig into the murky recesses of your early memories and really think about Tom & Jerry. It was cute, right? No. It was the godfather of television violence. Give it a quick re-watch in the searing light of the 21st century and see what you think. A few examples to jog your memory: Jerry stuffing a lit stuck of dynamite into Tom’s mouth, where it explodes. Tom shooting himself in the head with a shotgun. Jerry slamming a red-hot waffle iron shut on Tom’s tail. Jerry getting impaled through the groin with a pool stick. Jerry slicing Tom’s tail to shreds with a pair of scissors. The sheer inventiveness of the methods of torture and murder rivals all the “Criminal Minds” episodes you could possibly marathon. Really, it’s a wonder we’re all as well adjusted as we are. — Naivasha Dean
2. Speed Racer
This guy drives so fast that he and everyone around him speak like haunted, broken GPS machines. But he’s encouraged to drive faster, even in his own theme song.
Speed Racer is Justin Bieber on the PCH 1.0 — passing people on canyon roads in a car with no roof while he takes mechanical advice from an actual monkey — and what’s his punishment? He gets a hot girlfriend who talks slightly less robotically than everyone else, plus a bucket of friends who fix his car in their spare time.
And he never loses. Never.
Unless your kid is obsessed with tying people to railroad tracks, Wile E. Coyote is arguably a better role model than Speed Racer.
This guy was a disaster for any future driver by any reasonable metric, even in the ’60s. Now add texting. — Ben Collins
3. Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends
In today’s world, when we see something suspicious, we report it to the proper authorities. We don’t go traipsing after “bad guys” against our better judgment and enact our own brand of vigilante justice (or do we?). So why does our culture hold Rocky and Bullwinkle in such high regard? Oh, sure, they appear to be a cute and humorous woodland duo, but lo, they are irresponsible and bumbling wannabes. When direct witnesses to Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale plotting destruction, Moose and Squirrel often see nothing and say nothing. How about an updated version where Rocky and Bullwinkle pull their heads out of their tails and phone in a tip when they see nefarious no-goodery? That’s a good role-modeling for today’s youth: stick your nose in your neighbors business and then anonymously narc on them. It’s the American way. — Courtney Hyde
4. Popeye the Sailor
To be fair, it’s tough to rag on Popeye. He’s a damn good problem-solver, and his affinity for spinach is, theoretically, admirable (although his dependence on the substance gives us pause). But his rampant ignorance, coupled with a tendency toward hatred and violence, simply cannot be ignored. He claims to be “one tough Gazookus/which hates all Palookas/wot ain’t on the up and square.” How intolerant is that? The next verse, in which Popeye says he “biffs ’em and buffs ’em/and always out roughs ’em” is equally, if not more, troubling. We’d say the old adage, “Use your words, not your fists,” should be employed, but considering the poor guy’s grasp of the English language? We have to believe he’s doing the best he can. Regardless, he’s not a great role model. — Katherine Rea
5. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
Sweet Prince Adam of Eternia raises his sword, finds and harnesses his power at Club, er, Castle, Grayskull, where he becomes the ultra-buff He-Man, managing save the world every day while rocking a serious pair of fur briefs. He-Man knows who he is and he’s out and proud about it, but how does his family react? They choose to keep it a secret from the Eternians, except for a few trusted advisors. What kind of message does this send out to kids watching at home who could be a superhero? Adam already has it hard enough being half-earthling, and who is he going to turn to for support there? Mr. Spock? Illogical. Call us when you’re a little more enlightened, King Randor and Queen Marlena. Your son is constantly defeating Skeletor. Show a little pride. He has the fabulous power. — Martin Moakler
6. Pepé Le Pew — Looney Tunes
Long before Anthony Weiner started texting pictures of his Carlos Danger to every 20-something chick with a smart phone, there was Pepe Le Pew. A French skunk with an aversion to taking ‘no’ for an answer, Le Pew’s adventures read like a “How To” book on sexual harassment. Narcissistic, creepy, and obsessed with every coital prospect that crossed his path, Le Pew was the ultimate anti-role model for a society trying to make steps towards gender equality. Of course, it doesn’t help that Le Pew stinks like a latrine or that he makes kissy noises that indicate his actual smooches are pretty saliva heavy. It’s no wonder boys who grew up watching the lecherous Le Pew ended up convinced that every woman they met was interested in taking a peek at their junk. — Liz Brown
7. The Smurfs
Deep in the forest lies the magical Smurf village, where the happy Smurfs laugh and play, but we see that little be-shroomed ‘berg for what it is: an idealized communist collective. Oh, those Smurfs may have been blue but as far as we’re concerned, they’re straight-up commie red. Because ’80s kids were weened on sugary breakfast cereals and half-hour commercials masquerading as cartoons, they were defenseless against this blatant, Marxist propaganda. They would have us believe that this mindless hive was comprised of individuals who were all equal, but look at how the collective had to carry Vanity, Clumsy and Brainy’s tails to get anything done. And Smurfette? Some token female companionship by magic is their reward for their hard work, and she is not even treated as an equal? That’s pretty smurfed up. And don’t get us started how Gargamel was continuously punished for trying to make a living off of the Smurfs, despite all of his hard work. Can you say “small business owner?” The Smurfs may be singing “la la la la la la” but they might as well be singing “L’internationale.” Watch at your own peril, comrade. — Martin Moakler
8. Sabrina the Teenage Witch
You may think that the animated version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch is a lighthearted, harmless take on high school that allows young viewers to indulge in a bit of imaginative fantasy. Think again. In a world where patience is becoming the absolute rarest of virtues, this irresponsible cartoon conditions impressionable young minds to expect even more immediate gratification in their everyday lives. In the series, teen witch Sabrina uses her magical powers to instantly change her wardrobe, travel outside, turn her cat into a frog, and score her friend a date for the school dance. Kids watching such escapades will lose respect for the slow and steady processes so essential to these normal activities. Putting your pants on one leg at a time builds character, continuously putting one foot in front of the other demonstrates the value of perseverance, and really taking the time to perfect the potion that turns cats into frogs inspires an appreciation for detail. Sabrina is clearly sending the wrong message. — Kristen Knox
9. Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids
From 1972 to 1985 American children were given a weekly, animated lesson in the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids aimed to educate youngsters about the trials and tribulations of growing up in an urban setting, with heartwarming tales and catchy music. But look under the surface and you’ll see quite a different picture.
Let’s look at the protagonist. By today’s standards, he would be Morbidly Obese Albert, and those scamps that called him “Fat” would find themselves in Sensitivity Training (obesity now being qualified as a psychological condition). The callousness doesn’t end there. Consider the plights of Dumb Donald, Mushmouth, Weird Harold, and Bucky — given cruel monikers that mock their greatest insecurities over which they have little control.
Furthermore, these children gather in a junkyard (perhaps a sign of OCD or compulsive hoarding). They call themselves the “Junkyard Gang,” suggesting that they may suffer from antisocial personality disorder, anxiety, or substance abuse. This material is hardly appropriate for young audiences. — Courtney Hyde