by Walter Brasch
It was yet another stop on the book promotion trail, this time in Philadelphia on a “big-time” talk show with a “big-name” star. The host was friendly, and discussed my background and the book, a history of animated cartoons, although like most hosts she hadn’t had a chance to read any of it.
“I’m partial to the Roadrunner and Coyote series,” I said, then briefly explained how the cartoons, with brilliant writing by Mike Maltese and directing by Chuck Jones, were classic throwbacks to some of the best silent physical comedies of the 1910s and 1920s. I expected an equally soft follow-up question. It came loaded with an explosive not even the Acme Co., the Coyote’s supplier, could produce.
“There really is too much violence in cartoons, isn’t there?” she rhetorically stated, and then spent three minutes explaining her views.
“Actually,” I said when she finally had to breathe, “the physical violence in cartoons is completely different from what you see in live-action or even in cartoons with human subjects.” I got a couple of more sentences in when she came back, expounding the belief that cartoon violence directly leads to violence in real life, and that the studios and networks needed to be more responsible. Perhaps the Industry should establish a commission to review films, she suggested.
Keeping my composure, I politely explained that the basis of all literature is conflict, and that most three-year-olds know the difference between cartoon violence and “real” violence, and if they didn’t, then parents should learn how to change the channels. Later, I was able to sneak in my opinion that it was absurd when network television, scared by lobbyists, had temporarily pulled Bugs Bunny cartoons from the air because they didn’t think Elmer Fudd should be blasting rabbits and ducks. She came right back at me by pretentiously quoting a research study to support her views, took a triumphant breath, and awaited what she thought would be my feeble response. Fifteen minutes into what I thought was a mugging—I had wanted to talk about bunnies and tweety birds—I fired back. “I’m well aware of that study,” I said, then began to cite other studies that revealed either a slightly negative correlation or no correlation at all between cartoon violence and human action.
“Let’s go to the phones,” she said. For the most part, the audience asked interesting questions, with the host usually spending more time in presenting her views than I did in answering audience questions. Then, abruptly, she mellowed. “You certainly have a wealth of knowledge,” she cooed. “I was wondering, do you have a favorite cartoon show?” Apparently, since I didn’t answer correctly the first time, I got another chance.
“I believe that some studies show that cartoons may affect persons already prone to violence,” I said, “but have no effect on persons who are not themselves violent.” Commercials saved me from her response.
Back on air, she again introduced me and cited the book I was huckstering. “Let’s go to the phones,” she said again, and again the audience was more interested in the origin of cartoons, and some insight into the making of them. Five minutes before the hour, it was time to close it up, but not before one more question.
“By the way, one other thing before you leave,” she asked, “what’s your favorite cartoon show?”
This time I was determined to get it right. “I love SpongeBob and the Animaniacs and—oh, yeah—I love the Simpsons.” When she said nothing, I briefly said that I love the puns, the double entendres, and the brilliant satire of the classic cartoons. I awaited her response that cartoons were responsible for the moral breakdown of the American family, and that the world was at risk because of the conflict between Homer and Bart. All she said was, “That’s nice,” thanked me for showing up, again mentioned the book, and went to another set of commercials.
I left the studio convinced that like most guests, I was yet another batch of chum for talk-show sharks—and wondering if I would ever get my favorite cartoon show right.
[Dr. Brasch is the author of 20 books, one of which is Cartoon Monickers, a history of animated cartoons.]