End up crushed against the floor or wall, reduced to a two-dimensional silhouette that “peels off” like a piece of paper. Receiving a blow that causes a finger to swell to more than double its size. Falling from an extraordinary height and breaking into a thousand small pieces. These and other deaths frequently happen to classic cartoon characters like Donald Duck, Coyote, or Tom the Cat, who are obsessed with eliminating Jerry the Mouse with little success.
Oh, what memories! What a golden era it was! Cartoons capture the attention of children and adults with their narrative simplicity, the insight of the characters and their friendly storylines.
Thus, animation, from the invention of the magic lantern in the 15th century to today’s audiovisual platforms, has been an inexhaustible source of entertainment. However, it is possible that we sometimes wonder whether this representation of violence can have an impact on the construction of identity from a very young age.
Classic designs, not just for children
Animation was not originally intended exclusively for a children’s audience, but was intended as a form of visual experimentation aimed at a wider audience. On the other hand, children and their sociocultural reality are very different from the public of the time.
Some studies suggest that exposure to these models can have a significant impact on children’s understanding of the environment and the relationship they form with it.
Violence disguised as mockery
Let’s talk about Tom and Jerry, an ingenious animation with a humorous plot that has survived to this day. In almost every short film, the story consists of some version of the following dynamic: Tom the cat chases Jerry the mouse and thinks up ways to kill him. The chases, fights and comical situations that make you laugh so much obviously involve physical damage to the drawn characters. Although these scenes may seem harmless due to their mocking tone and lack of realistic consequences, they raise questions about their impact on the perception of aggression, coexistence and their real-world consequences.
On the other hand, and unlike classic cartoons, in the most recent animated series, physical violence has given way to verbal attacks. A modern example is The Amazing World of Gumball, which lacks explicit physical aggression, but includes elements of conflict and verbal violence.
What to do?
As parents and educators, rather than prohibiting them from seeing this content, the important thing is to gradually give them the tools necessary to interpret the messages they receive. This progressive visual literacy will allow them to develop useful strategies throughout life.
Children learn from what they see and what they hear. Active counseling for adults, ongoing dialogue, and thoughtful questioning are needed to help them distinguish between reality and fantasy, especially given exposure to potentially harmful content.
The violent symbolic game
If one is concerned about the effect on a boy or girl of seeing the Coyote attempt to throw an anvil at the Roadrunner as he passes underneath, one is probably wondering what this means for children to reproduce violent situations in their games.
But war games, inherently violent, are common to all cultures, whether there is a television with cartoons or not. They are a natural part of childhood development, just like caring play.
The period of symbolic play serves to reproduce everyday experiences and, in a certain way, to repeat them before carrying them out in a real context. It includes games about kitchens, babies, dinosaurs, but also pirates and guns.
These violent games can serve as strategies for self-awareness and imagination, since imagining swords or weapons is relatively simple.
A healthy balance
Today, children have a wide range of content at their disposal and television is no longer the only means of consuming images. In this context, it is essential to develop the critical capacity of the youngest to consciously interpret these messages, a responsibility shared between parents and educators. The absence of references will cause them to be searched on the screens.
In the digital age, where media shapes culture, the inclusion of media literacy in government plans becomes essential. Subjects such as arts education and visual literacy are essential, as they enable young people to reflexively interpret and question media representations, including cartoons.
We must encourage dialogue between parents and children from an early age, thus cultivating a critical spirit. Giving a good boost to artistic and visual education, while immersing yourself in media education, is like having an ace up your sleeve. It helps us understand and question the things that are thrown at us from everywhere in the media. During this journey, adults and youth must continue to learn to have a critical perspective. It’s time to prepare our children to face the deluge of images with a critical eye!
This article was published in “The Conversation”.