Bad Cartoons

Doug Kern — Bad Cartoons Make Bad Citizens

Bad cartoons tend to make bad citizens. And my generation suffered from the worst cartoons of all. Pity the poor male children of Generation X: there we sat, on Saturday mornings in the ’70s and early ’80s, clutching our bowls of Count Chocula and enduring the soul-sucking monotony of ugly Filmation cartoons populated by heroes who fought without actually fighting. You could watch cartoons for hours and never see a superhero actually sock a supervillain in the gut, or a commando pump hot lead into a live non-robot terrorist, or a ranger thrust a pointy-sharp arrow into some dragon’s malevolent guts. Preachy mini-sermons abounded, though; the Super Friends couldn’t lay a gloved fist on Lex Luthor, but they could sure manhandle those sugary in-between-meals snacks. (“Super Friends,” they called them, instead of the Justice League. The difference tells you everything you need to know about the seventies.)


I always assumed that the threat of litigation had driven violence from Saturday morning. After all, if you show Superman frying a supervillain with his heat vision on Saturday morning, then, sure enough, some idiot kid in Dubuque will fry his little brother with heat vision one fine Saturday afternoon, and then everyone loses except the lawyers.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    Y’know, when I was growing up, one of my fave cartoons was Johnny Quest. Not just because of the badass music, but because it was unlike any other cartoon on the air, then or since. The one thing that struck me about th ‘ol JQ was that people died. Not just zapped with some kind of ‘stun beam’, but dead. Not ‘Jason vs. Freddy’ bloody, but undeniably _dead_.

    Like today’s kids, I knew the difference between TV and reality, but that actually impressed the heck out of me then.

  2. Zygote says:

    Yeah, but then in the mid 80s we got cartoons like The Transformers where it was about the environment but without being campy like Captain Planet.
    I mean, Megatron and Optimus Prime battling with energy axes and swords over Hoover Dam while humans ran for their lives! How cool is that.
    And characters actually died, especially in the motion picture that came in the center of the cartoon’s run.

  3. Jim says:

    Ahh, there were some bright spots. GI Joe at least taught about teamwork and patriotism. And then there was Robotech. Although the animation is horrible by today’s standards; it should the effects of war. Main characters died, and the earth was all but desttoyed yet good overcame evil.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, Superman “frying a supervillain with his heat vision” is a travesty for a reason completely unrelated to the article:


    Sheesh, keep up on your comics and cartoons, Kern!