GOVERNMENT can't be expected to monitor what children watch on television. Nor should it. Yet some of today's so-called children's cartoons are more violent and sinister than anything baby boomers remember.
Today's adults grew up watching Wile E. Coyote suffer grievous harm in pursuit of the Road Runner and then somehow miraculously recover every time. They watched Popeye and Bluto duke it out and survive to fight another day. They saw Daffy Duck take a direct hit from Elmer Fudd's shotgun and bounce right back.
It was violent stuff but it was comically absurd and beyond believability, and it didn't turn young viewers into homicidal maniacs. Cartoon violence today, however, often portrays a grim reality that most younger children aren't ready for and many adults resent.
Many parents who aren't especially vigilant about what their kids are watching have been lulled into a false sense of security, thinking cartoons today are like the ones they grew up with.
Brent Bozell of the Parents Television Council, a group concerned with violence on TV, admits that he cheered as a child when Popeye finally squeezed open his can of spinach and pounded the dickens out of Bluto. There's nothing wrong, he says, with a certain amount of fantasy violence.
But that's not what his council found last summer when it analyzed 444 hours of children's daytime TV. It identified 2,300 incidents of violence, much of it dark, scary, and harsh, and nothing like the clownish cavorting of Tom and Jerry or Mighty Mouse. "Merrie Melodies" it's not.
Michael Rich, Harvard Medical School's director of the Center of Media and Children's Health, said children under 8 cannot distinguish between real-life and fantasy violence. That ought to make parents more attentive to what their children watch. If they cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy, who's to say they won't try to copy what they see on the tube?
The study found that the Cartoon Network has the most violent incidents. The ABC Family Channel also incurred criticism from PTC because of the amount of violence its cartoons feature. The Disney Channel won praise, and Fox and NBC also rated low scores in the amount of violence seen.
Even so, it would be a bad idea to call for federal intervention into controlling or reducing the intense violence that children are exposed to on cartoons. Government censorship is no answer. The study should make parents aware that just because a program is featured as a cartoon doesn't mean it is appropriate for young children.
It would be nice if Hollywood would take it upon itself to curtail the amount of violence in children's cartoons and programs. But violence sells, and Hollywood knows parents are not paying attention.
If mom and dad changed the channel more often, or turned off the TV altogether, the studios would get the message faster than if Wile E. Coyote's anvil - ordered, of course, from the Acme Anvil Co. - landed on their heads.