Over the past few years, I have noticed a reoccurring trend of sexual innuendos and/or inappropriate topics appearing more and more in children’s programming. There have even been incidents of society making children’s shows seem inappropriate and skewing its image to portray an alternate message. This can be observed through the emphasis placed on sexuality in cartoons.
Recently, there has been a petition circulating on the Internet in favor of Sesame Street characters, Bert and Ernie (who are best friends on the show) to get married. On Change.org, Chicago resident Lair Scott started it in support of the newly passed same-sex marriage legislation in New York state, where the show is filmed. Many agree with Scott that this union would be beneficial to show children that same-sex marriage is normal and promote tolerance. Scott states, “Children and parents need to learn that acceptance of humankind, even puppets, would indeed plant a seed of peace that will reverberate throughout the universe”.
The producers of the show find that it is very unnecessary and inappropriate to create a marriage between the two characters. According to ABC news, the producers of Sesame Street released a statement saying, “Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Although identified as male puppets, they do not have a sexual orientation.”
While the petition was fighting for equality and education, it should be left up to the parents to educate their children on certain topics so that it is done how they see fit. Controversial topics such as this one should not be focused on within a television show directed at preschoolers, especially due to its sensitive and more mature nature.
Sesame Street is not the only kid-friendly program to be faced with controversy. One of the biggest promoters of children’s entertainment is Disney. When most people think Disney, they then think of Mickey Mouse and friends, happiness and dreams coming true. However, the word that may not enter your mind is “sex”. There have been many claims that Disney has gotten quite creative with its movies by placing hidden sexual messages in them- one example being the castle on the theatrical poster of The Little Mermaid. According to Snopes.com, it is rumored that the artist who drew this castle was about to be fired, so in retaliation he decided to draw one of the towers of the castle in the shape of the male genitalia. When questioned, the artist refuted this allegation and said that he was nearing his deadline and frantically completed the picture, not realizing the shape he had drawn was in close resemblance to a male body part. In later versions of the film, Disney altered the cover of the video release to put an end to the dispute.
There are actually videos on YouTube that show the different sexual references made in many of Disney’s most popular movies from the word “sex” being spelled out by stars within the sky in The Lion King to the minister with an erection during the wedding scene in The Little Mermaid and even pornographic images of topless women in the movie The Rescuers (this one was proven to be true).
Disney is only one of the many guilty parties; Nickelodeon has had a bit of scandal as well. There is an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants when he is intensely watching a sea anemone flail around on TV and his pet snail, Gary, walks in on him. SpongeBob screams, quickly changes the channel and nervously says “Gary! Um, I was just looking for the sports channel”. (That sounds too reminiscent of what happens when boys get caught watching porn, but who knows, I could be wrong).
Inappropriate as that may have been, according to Nickelodeon, SpongeBob is still their highest rated and longest running show. The interesting thing about this program is that it can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Maybe it’s the subtle and sometimes obvious inappropriateness that keeps the older viewers tuned in and the humor that attracts the younger crowd. Those characteristics make it easier and more enjoyable for everyone to watch together. However, with animated shows like Family Guy and South Park, which are intended for older audiences, there is no need to place sexual innuendos into cartoons targeted for younger children. It sends the wrong message and thus contradicts “kid-friendly television”.
With the society we live in today, children are exposed to topics that are not suitable for their age group. This is a time where more television shows and movies are geared toward portraying real-life situations instead of solely being about mindless fun. With the innocence in cartoons rapidly decreasing, it is only logical to conclude that it will have the same effect on the minds of the impressionable age group that they target.