Media and entertainment often reflect the social standards and issues of the times. So when we take a look back at the cartoon content of each decade, it is almost a history lesson.
When we look back at the 40s and 50s, there are clearly post-war messages, actions and images in our animated shorts. Violence was the norm and viewers found humor in watching bombs explode, sledgehammers and weights flatten bodies and gun powder blasted in the faces of their favorite cartoon nemesis, like Wile E Coyote or Elmer Fudd.
The 60s weren’t much better, as the Vietnam War was in its prime, the Cold War going strong and the Berlin Wall and Great Wall of China still impenetrable. But oddly enough, while television programs were mega-schmaltzy and provided “standards” in what an American family should look like, violence was drumming its way into the minds of the children who were watching brutal cartoons after school and on the weekends.
As life evolved and moved into the 1970s, so did cartoons. They became more family-oriented stories and more normal, and quirky characters came into the picture, such as Fred from The Flintstones and George from The Jetsons. Todays animation is sophisticated and rated for violence and appropriateness for children, so there is little need for concern.
Today, we’re going to take a look back at some of the more brutal animated cartoons that engaged children of the 1960s and even though many appear to be harmless, they are cut with violence and negative underlying messages.
The Tom and Jerry Show
Tom and Jerry got their start as animated “shorts” that were shown before the main attraction at movie theaters in the 40s, 50s and 60s. Former Tom & Jerry director, Gene Deitch, didn’t particularly like the series and called it a, “primary bad example of senseless violence – humor based on pain – attack and revenge – to say nothing of the tasteless use of a headless black woman stereotype house servant.” The image above is exactly what Deitch referred to. Inflicted pain that was supposed to be funny was considered “slapstick” and there was, and still is, a definite audience for it.
But the shorts were so popular that new cartoons were produced by Hanna-Barbera for Saturday mornings on ABC in 1975.
The Heckle and Jeckle Show
Paul Terry created these two knuckleheads in 1946 and they remained popular until 1981. These two identical magpies were constantly arguing with foes who were often the victors. So although the series taught kids that winning isn’t everything, it clearly demonstrated that ongoing animosity is the standard… and sometimes funny.
Although Heckle and Jeckle were identical magpies, Jeckle was a bit more refined with his English accent and vocabulary. Heckle was a bit more of a “street-gang” variety. Both were always very polite to one another, while they engaged in retaliation with their enemies, which was considered funny.
Popeye first entered the world in 1933, which was about six years before the second world war. He was a stud and relied on one of the healthiest vegetables around to gain his extra strength. A part of this is truly a message with a decent foundation, “eat your vegetables and you will grow up big and strong”. On the flip side, it sets an example that young men need to build strong muscles so they can always have the upper hand in the myriad of fights that are bound to happen in their lives.
Popeye cartoons were on the air until the 1990s and can still be seen on some retro cartoon networks.
Pixie and Dixie
This adorable little duo was always being hunted as food. Their capture and ultimate demise was a constant danger any time they ventured outside of their home in the wall. Luckily, brothers Pixie and Dixie had a home that was almost always off-limits to Mr. Jinks, the predatory cat. Although at times Mr. Jinks outsmarted them by using a hose to flush them out.
There were occasional tender moments between the trio, but Jinks’ true feelings came out when he constantly exclaimed, “I hate those meeces to pieces!” Hatred of “other species” could be considered allegorical to hatred of other races, which does not teach children to love-thy-neighbor.
This Hanna-Barbera cartoon series began in 1958 and ended after the third season in 1961.
The Bugs Bunny Show
Bugs was always a brainy hero, came out smelling like a rose no matter what obstacle or threat crossed his path. He was intelligent and resorted to violent tricks only when necessary. Although several different characters were after him, Elmer Fudd was his most consistent nemesis, as he was hunting for ‘wabbits’ and it seemed to be ‘wabbit’ season frequently. In the light of day, this series may have encouraged and supported the notion that violence toward animals is okay.
Bugs made his first appearance in 1940 and used his popular signature phrase, “What’s Up Doc?” until the end of his run in 1989. Bugs Bunny has had such a long run of popularity, he even has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
These two never had one intelligent conversation. Why? Because they never speak. Roadrunner sticks to the road, doing what roadrunners do while the Coyote continuously sets up traps to catch him. Poor Wile e, every scheme he arranges somehow backfires and he ends up hurting himself. Meanwhile, the Roadrunner “beep beeps” off into the horizon and always manages to run through Wile e’s traps. We are never quite sure why Wile e Coyote is so obsessed with killing the Roadrunner. But it is fun to watch him buy and use an arsenal of Acme products to no avail.
The Roadrunner first aired on television in 1966 and was combined with The Bugs Bunny Show in 1968. The double featured cartoon show remained on CBS through the early 1990s.
The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show
The Pottsylvanian spies, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, really had it in for Rocky and Bullwinkle. We were never sure why, but there always seemed to be a good reason. Boris was an active member of Local 12 of Villains, so perhaps it was just in his nature. Boris and Natasha were always primed and ready to kill “moose and squirrel” but the schemes frequently backfired.
Boris states in one episode, “I send in lady spy with bomb. Door gets locked, she can’t get out, who gets blown up? Me!” At least the permeating message of this and some of the other violent cartoons is that good guys prevail and bad guys always get their just desserts. Oh, if life actually worked that way.
The series began on television in 1959 and continued through June 27, 1964. It continues to be syndicated by DreamWorks Classics.
Quick Draw McGraw
Quick Draw McGraw was a sheriff-horse whose deputy was a little Mexican burro named Baba Looey. The cartoons were a bit of a take-off of all of the popular western films of the day. Quick Draw wasn’t completely violent, but instead became known for swinging down on a rope and clobbering the bad guys with his acoustic guitar, all the while shouting “KABOOOOOONG!” Back in the day, cartoons rarely depicted bad guys being arrested and put in handcuffs. They were clobbered, maimed or killed without a trial.
Quick Draw and Baby Looey remained popular during their four-year run between 1959 and 1962 and was the product of the Warner Bros. cartoon studio.
Touché Turtle and Dum Dum
This Hanna-Barbera Cartoon series was introduced in the early 60s and gave the turtle the lead role along with a sheepdog sidekick. Touché Turtle was a fairly polite protagonist, as he always saved the day with his signature line, “Touché and please go away!” His outstanding fencing skills saved royalty, maidens and others who found themselves in challenging situations. The evil-doers were generally of international decent, such as villains with Australian accents and European kings and queens who needed saving. Always fencing to win the life of captive, innocents – Touché was a hero with a light touch but a brutal show nonetheless.
Touché Turtle and Dum Dum was produced by Hanna Barbera in 1962 and was seen with Wally Gator and Lippy the Lion & Hardy Har Har when it first aired on The New Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Series.
Fractured Fairy Tales
This series was a part of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and ran from 1959 to 1964. It was a surprise when it ended as R&B viewers looked forward to this series of “Fractured” Fairy Tales. They were cleverly written and always the perfect parody on the real fairy tale version but often with a brutal, but hilarious, twist. They were never politically correct and always irreverent. For example their version of The Three Little Pigs involves a lazy wolf-man who woos each of the female pigs in an effort to get a part of their inheritance and home.
The wolf uses different “pick-up lines” for the first two pig-babes and gets rejected. When he reaches the largest mansion and home of the third rich pig bachelorette he offers her a marriage proposal. She accepts and before she can say another word, they get married and return to the mansion where he learns she is actually the maid. Brutal and hilarious.
Casper the Friendly Ghost
It’s pretty clear this was not a cartoon for kids who were afraid of ghosts. Not so much Casper, because he was a sweetie, but the scary trio – Stretch, Stinky and Fatso – could scare the pants off anyone, especially kids who were afraid of the dark.
Casper was a lonely little guy looking for friends and ways to help people but inadvertently scaring most everyone he came into contact with. He just couldn’t win and the message was that being different is not acceptable even if you were polite, sweet and helpful. Ouch.
The New Casper Cartoon Show aired on ABC from 1963 to 1969 on Saturday mornings.
Sylvester and Tweety
Thank goodness Tweety had brains or he would have been a sandwich long ago. Sylvester has spent decades trying to trick him into becoming a meal. In fact, that tiny little bird has been in that hungry cat’s mouth on quite a few occasions. Sylvester had a funny lisp, much like Daffy Duck, and sprays those around him with flying saliva. This determined cat ended up getting beaten with a broom on many occasions from Granny, who owned both pets. She would save Tweety in the nick of time and beat her cat.
The series started in 1946 and remained one of the most popular Looney Tunes cartoons for decades. Mel Blanc was the voice of Sylvester from 1945 to 1989 and although the shorts were only shown in movie theaters, Sylvester managed to win three Academy Awards. It wasn’t until the 70s that Sylvester and Tweety appeared in television specials, commercials (9Lives cat food) and finally, Sylvester became one of the stars on Tiny Toon Adventures and The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries.