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Parents Television Council Study Means Well, Still Conflates Animation with Children’s Programming


This is the kind of thing that we usually see directed at video games these days, and comics in the deep murky past. The Parents Television Council, the primary source of all content complaints to the FCC (according to the FCC itself) noticed that out of the top 25 most watched animated programs on cable television, two of them were rated for Mature Audiences Only.

My god, that’s… less than 10%. So naturally they concluded that it was worth looking into how many kids were watching animated shows that were too explicit for them, because adults couldn’t possibly be interested in watching animated television. Here’s their justification for specifically investigating animation:

Although viewing animation may appear to be an innocent pastime, animation can pose an inherent risk for children and teens. Animation, in comparison to other types of programming, can potentially trivialize and bring humor to adult themes and contribute to an atmosphere in which children view these depictions as normative and acceptable.

Parents Television Council, please try again. And this time make sure to explain why watching a shake, a meatball, and a box of fries arguing with one another makes explicit content seem normal. Or why you consider animation, a medium, to have the qualities of a genre. Animation is a method that can be used to tell stories. The possible content of those stories is as broad a swathe as life-action movies, novels, theater, comics or any other medium.

To be fair, PTC didn’t actually watch Aqua Team Hunger Force. The study chose the best rated animated shows watched by 12-17-year-olds to study, which seems like a broad definition of “child.” Indeed, what kind of parent would let their twelve-year-old watch The Venture Bros.? But what kind of parent wouldn’t let their seventeen-year-old watch Family Guy? PTC watched Cartoon Network, the Disney Channel, Nick at Nite, and Adult Swim. Nick at Nite was disqualified from the study for only showing Spongebob, but the Disney Channel was allowed to stay despite it also having a statistically tiny amount of animated programs (two) on the air.

And they actually uncovered a lot of shows that may be mis-rated. According to their research, 68% of Adult Swim’s shows reference sex without the S warning for parents, and 24% of shows with explicit language didn’t carry the L warning. (All of Cartoon Network’s shows with curses and sex went unlabled.)

But among the other things they discovered was that the overwhelming majority of the explicit content in these shows occurred in shows on Adult Swim, a network explicitly and nominally dedicated to playing animation for an adult audience. PTC calls upon the networks themselves to make reforms in their policies, but I’m not sure that argument holds water when Cartoon Network took every single one of its shows intended for kids and put them on a different channel thats name clearly lays out that kids shouldn’t watch it.

Their conclusions contain admirable solutions, like that parents should be more aware of what their kids are watching; but the methodology and framing of the issue is all kinds of wrong. Try again, PTC. Or maybe just relax.

(via Cartoon Brew.)

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Susana Polo thought she'd get her Creative Writing degree from Oberlin, work a crap job, and fake it until she made it into comics. Instead she stumbled into a great job: founding and running this very website (she's Editor at Large now, very fancy). She's spoken at events like Geek Girl Con, New York Comic Con, and Comic Book City Con, wants to get a Batwoman tattoo and write a graphic novel, and one of her canine teeth is in backwards.