We’re Not Kids Anymore: Cartoon Edition
We all crushed on a fine piece of animation at some point. It's okay to admit it.
Cartoons have been a staple of the afternoons and Saturday mornings of most kids, including you, yes you. Don’t try to deny it. We all watched/still watch cartoons, longing for the golden age of television where we had such shows as Animaniacs, Dexter’s Lab, Powerpuff Girls, Ren & Stimpy, etc. Now that a lot of those are readily available on Netflix, we can rejoice. Huzzah. But if you have recently re-watched any of those, what we now call “classic” cartoons, you’ll notice something about the writing, jokes and subject matter of some episodes. Hidden behind slapstick, experiments gone wrong, and Acme products, a hefty chunk of our favorite childhood cartoons contain jokes aimed at an adult audience. Sure, we’d laugh at them as a kid, but that’s because we either didn’t know better, didn’t understand the joke, or it was presented to us in such a way that we would laugh and want to continue watching. Yay ratings! Obviously, the same really can’t be said for as many of today’s cartoons, but the same basic premise is there. Cartoons, whether they be on Nickelodeon, Disney, Cartoon Network, or Kids WB (wait…Kids WB doesn’t exist anymore), there are some shows or specific episodes that stick out as having subject matter or references that aren’t really “kid-friendly.” Personally, I think it’s a good thing to subliminally expose kids to more “adult” content (no, not porn!) because at least that way, they’ll already have been shown these things, rather than having it be shoved on their plate all at once. Lets have some examples shall we?
Let us start with some of the more classic shows–the ones that we grew up with, depending on your age, dear reader. The staff and writers here at Electric Feast are all in our early-mid 20s, so these shows are our childhood. One of my favorites? One of Warner Bros. most well known cartoons, Animaniacs. You always knew you were going to have a good time when you heard that theme song. Yakko, Wakko and Dot taught us valuable lessons through song, such as the nations of the world, the periodic table of the elements, as well as the presidents of the United States. Those aside, there are jokes in the show intentionally written to fly right over the heads of a child viewer–they were aimed at an adult audience and devoted college students. You have characters such as Minerva Mink, who was, by the network censors standards, too risque for your run of the mill anthropomorphic characters and had to be “desexualized,” as well as the Nurse. You know who she is. Don’t pretend like you don’t. There are plenty of sexual innuendos scattered throughout the show’s five season run from ’93 to ’95, notably, probably the most well known one of them all is the Prince gag. In the episode, Yakko is solving a mystery and tells Dot to dust for prints. What does she do? She returns with the singer, Prince. Yakko says “no, FINGER PRINTS!,” Dot looks at Prince, says “Ewww, I don’t think so,” and tosses him overboard. Real subtle, Spielberg. In one of his segments, the Nostalgia Critic does a review of the top 11 naughtiest moments in Animaniacs, and to be honest, he does it the justice it deserves. Yay adult humor!
Not all of these kids shows are riddled with adult humor. Without knowing it, wee little kidling viewers are being exposed to a wide range of content probably not suitable for their age range. But who gives a hoot? Certainly not I! It builds character and makes the kids not so fluffy! For example, remember that time that two radically different Nickelodeon shows had both attempted suicide and ACTUAL suicide? Because I do! Lets take a gander at those, shall we? First of all, everyone’s favorite albeit irritating yellow sponge and his misadventures in Bikini Bottom are home to not one, but several instances of really risque topics for a “children’s” show that make you do one hell of a double take. First of all, that attempted suicide I mentioned earlier? Yep. It was a thing that happened more than once in Spongebob Squarepants. The first time was in an episode called “Are You Happy Now” where Spongebob tries to make Squidward have a happy memory. Twice in that particular episode, Squidward does things that are allusions to attempted suicide, what could be a sneaky nod to the creepypasta about Squidward’s suicide. Not only that, but there’s also an attempt by a secondary character in the episode “Dunces and Dragons.”
The actual suicide? Actually, the murder-suicide that was aired on Nickelodeon? The season one finale of the more recent, post-Avatar: the Last Airbender, Legend of Korra. Yeah. That was a thing. At the conclusion of the season, the main baddie, a Hitler/McCarthy-esque character, gets killed by way of a murder-suicide at the hands of his own brother. Anyone who watched that will tell you the same thing. They did not see that one coming. Even a little bit.
All this aside, I tip my bowler hat to Nickelodeon for putting these things in shows aimed at kids. As any news outlet will tell you, both murder and suicide are big issues in today’s society and kids shouldn’t be shielded from it. They’ll find out about it anyway, so exposure at a young age is probably the best route to go. People might disagree with me, but I don’t care. Innocence only lasts so long.
Well, that was kind of depressing. My apologies. How about we get back to the adult humor, shall we? Honestly, it’s everywhere. Let’s be real here. Short of shows on Nick Jr. and PBS, prime time cartoons were just chock full of it, probably to make it so adults as well as kids would want to watch it. Clever move, network execs, clever move. Suicide and dark issues aside, let’s get back to sex jokes! They’re not the kind of blatant displays that make Seth McFarlane proud–these ones are cleverly hidden as innuendos. Much like the Prince gag from Animaniacs, there are some others that are real winners. Such as…
1. Cartoon Network’s Cow and Chicken: There’s a biker gang called the “Buffalo Gals,” who are known for attacking by breaking into people’s homes and well…”munching their carpets.” *cut to image of them literally eating carpeting*
2. Rugrats: Grandpa’s favorite movie ‘Lonely Space Vixens.’ He shows Tommy the cover, laughs, and says “that’s for after you kids go to bed.” Come on, it’s assumed that it’s basically porn.
3. Rocko’s Modern Life: Rocko gets a job as a sex line operator. That one’s always good for a laugh!
4. Ren & Stimpy…it really can be summed up in one .gif (EDITOR’S NOTE: This scene is from the SpikeTV reboot, but nevertheless sums up the general attitude of the show):
All of these things are what, in my opinion, make these cartoons what they are. They’re integral parts of our childhoods. You have your sex jokes, your lynch mobs, suicides, murder, slapstick violence, etc. but at the same time these cartoons provide entertainment and unforgettable theme songs. Not a week goes by where I don’t find myself humming some theme song from some show I watched as a kid. Honestly, I’m getting a little sick of the phrases “but I thought this was a kid’s show!” and “this is too inappropriate for my child to watch!” Why? For two reasons.
1. Animation with a seemingly childish or innocent sense of humor is limited only to children. (My Little Pony, Adventure Time)
2. Animation with “adult” content or humor is for adult eyes only. (Archer, Family Guy)
The two are interchangeable. They don’t have to remain separate. Sure, other parents on the playground questioned my mother’s motives for letting me watch Ren & Stimpy when I was in elementary school, but I was also an intelligent child. I knew what to repeat and what not to repeat in public. Personally, if I’m watching an animated show, I don’t want to watch something that’s one extreme or the other. Cartoons can be entertaining without being strictly adult or to the level of learning my ABC’s. There’s a happy medium. Look at any of the shows I’ve mentioned in this post. Kids aren’t given nearly enough credit these days. With all these social media outlets and technology, its difficult to find a kid under the age of 12 who doesn’t know what sex is, or hasn’t been exposed to some kind of adult humor. Parents, lighten up. TV executives, give us back the shows of our childhoods or at least make new ones for the younger kids. We’re not kids anymore, but that doesn’t mean we don’t long for yesteryear.
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Cosplayer. Writer. Top notch baker. Butter enthusiast. God of mischief.