‘Kid Friendly’: A Cultural Disaster | Ilija Dokmanovic

Contemporary popular culture is a confusing thing, at least to me. In the 21st century, we adults are oversaturated with sex, violence, explicit drug use, and typically anti-social behaviour in almost all forms of entertainment and media. Flick on HBO, or Cinemax (aptly nicknamed ‘Skinemax’’ for a reason) and you’ll probably be confronted with horribly violent action sequences, breasts and buttocks being thrown into your face to keep you titillated, and of course the stories that revolve around those gray-areas of morality we’ve all come to love and enjoy, whether it’s The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, or Breaking Bad, just to name some of the top shows of the last few decades. Yet despite this oversaturation of the most animalistic behaviors for adult media, we still are in a culture dominated by the idea of having things be ‘kid-friendly’.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy these works of fiction; for the most part, they are incredibly well-crafted narratives, with excellent world-building, and plots that will keep you hooked. In the case of Sopranos, The Wire, or Breaking Bad, these were shows that didn’t shy away from exploring a lot of modern society’s problems, and, in many cases, acted as conduits for us to digest typically abstract, and usually uncomfortable realities. While Game of Thrones certainly dropped in quality when they ran out of source material, there are still moments to be enjoyed in the first few seasons. The strength of GoT came from it acting as a more believable fantasy story, where the characters weren’t driven by innate goodness or allegiance to some higher ideal; they were flawed, they all had differing motivations, they all were their own players in a risky game – much like life. I imagine the rawness of the show is what made it so popular. While The Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings can appeal to our Christian sensibilities and higher ideals as a culture, the aforementioned works appeal to reality, and reality and truth is addictive.

Speaking of truth – and reality – does anyone else find it funny that we shield our children so much from it? Not to say that there isn’t a time and place for certain topics, and that we shouldn’t at least try to preserve childhood innocence, or that there are things too complex for most children to understand… but how did reality become so dilutedfor youngsters? Especially when juxtaposed with adult media and entertainment, we have dramatically bipolar standards. Analysing the popularisation of the ‘kid-friendly’ concept draws many unique observations, as well as some pretty blunt critiques.

Child-rearing in the modern sense hasn’t necessarily been about raising children into healthy, capable, and well-rounded adults. In fact, it seems that our priority for raising children has become a mission to insulate them from negative influences, or ‘problematic’ imagery. This is most observable in our approach to death.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you heard the word ‘death’ or ‘dead’ in a children’s movie? Characters never die, they’re just ‘gone’ – removed from the equation. The impact of characters ‘going’ is more or less the same, but why try and lessen the blow with dishonest language? Have we become so afraid of death, a reality that we must all face one day, that we can’t even say the words around our children? Thinking about this logically, it’s a huge disservice to our children, and to humanity, that we can’t accept that there is finality at the end of our lives. By keeping the language around death as vague and aloof as possible, we fail to truly appreciate life. It may be an issue of personal semantics, but if we accept  Foucault’s analysis of how language shapes our perception, I can’t help but feel that this shift in how we address death with our children is deceitful at best, and sinister at worst. Our secular, irreligious, consuming society is dominated by a fear of death, to the point where we cannot utter its name. Fear of death, while instinctual, isn’t constructive in civilised society. Look how our fear of death has dominated our behaviour throughout this pandemic. We’ve conceded many of our rights, because we fear the potential death toll at the hands of this virus, yet all evidence has shown that annual mortality rates have barely had the dramatic skyrockets that were predicted – except, of course for people with serious underlying health issues that could not be catered for because of the lockdowns

Another observation one makes when exploring the world of ‘kid-friendly’ media, is that everything is most certainly black-and-white: conflicts are between good people, against bad people. The bad people are mean. The good people are nice. Only nice people can be good, and bad people are mean. All that we need to do is stop being mean to each other, and let people do what they want. These are the sorts of lessons you’ll find in shows like Steven Universe, a Cal-Arts style cartoon by showrunner and dedicated leftist activist, Rebecca Sugar. It’s hard to imagine Cartoon Network, a channel that once had rather heavy programs like Justice League or Batman: The Animated Series, becoming a parody of itself and essentially morphing into just another tool for Californian art students to vent their frustrations at functional society – but even then, it lacks any sort of edge or gravity and it just comes across as another moral lecture. No wonder Cartoon Network’s ratings have dropped like a stone through a pool, especially as kids have more choice over the content they watch due to streaming services.

Comparing these stories and narratives to traditional folk legends and timeless classics that have been popular for generations, such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, or perhaps even more recent examples like the works of C. S. Lewis or Tolkein, there is simply no comparison. If those examples are still too old to be considered contemporary works, I’d recommend watching some of the aforementioned 90’s and early 2000’s cartoons; Justice League: Unlimited had a story arc where Superman kills Lex Luthor, after Lex is elected President of the United States. A cartoon made and marketed for children dealt with serious political questions and consequences in their own little worlds – even better than some political dramas made for adults. This type of entertainment wasn’t too mature for children – it had the perfect mix of fantasy and reality, teaching kids important lessons about the world around them, as well as being genuinely entertaining and layered stories. Perhaps that’s just my own nostalgia for days yonder, even as an adult I still find these shows rather compelling. It’s a genuine shame that Cartoon Network and other children’s cable channels feel the need to resort to pushing activism and gender theories to boost their marketing. While they may gain temporary profits when selling out to Leftist ideologies, this success will fade as people become wary of it being constantly thrown in their face, and these types of networks will continue their trajectory towards irrelevance.

It’s hardly surprising that, when these children who have been raised on a steady diet of moral aggrandising and blatant dishonesty about how the real world operates, that once they enter it they are intellectually and emotionally stunted compared to people who received those important reality checks rather early on. Looking at the amount of college graduates who are convinced that holding certain views should deprive someone of a right to free speech and assembly, or even a livelihood indicates just how rigid of a cultural mindset we have raised two, three, perhaps more generations in. While the original intent may have been for the protection of youthful bliss and wonderment, and striving to a more understanding, tolerant, and peaceful society, the actual effect has been disastrous – ignorance of moral grey areas, ignorance of other people’s perspectives, ignorance of the most basic concepts, such as death, in real life. As it turns out, ‘kid-friendly’ is just another language tool used by elites in governments, media, and industry to shut down anything confronting, or anything that might disrupt the chain of production that children are groomed from the cradle to uphold. 

Innocence, and our inherent desire to try and preserve it, is a noble venture. Undeniably so. But, it is also an unwinnable battle, and one that requires some level of delusion to fully believe. Children are not sinless cherubs, no matter how much our natural instincts or environment tend to shape that perspective. Children are also not a monolith, and we have seen that some children can be capable of atrocities, even more shocking than ones committed by some adults.  Everyone’s innocence is lost at some point in their lives – it’s why we have coming-of-age ceremonies, and certain expectations for adolescence to behave in a more mature manner. At least, that’s how it used to be. For whatever reason, noble or not, the insulation of our children from the very basic tenets of reality – death, competition, conflict among others – it has created an emotionally and behaviorally stunted society. The obsession by frantic parents, government, media and business elites to make things as sanitized and as ‘safe’ as possible for consumption have not had the desired effect of protection. Worse still, is that this intended childhood naivety is extended more and more into adolescence and adulthood. Puppy and play-doh sessions at Ivy League schools are damning instances of this delusion being carried into some of the most important intellectual institutions in the world.

In fact, the reverse is true. By keeping reality out of reach for children and youngsters, we deny them the protective measures of gaining experience and knowledge about the world around them. We have no right as a society to scratch our heads in confusion as these children, who will eventually reach voting age and take on some level of responsibility, react in the worst ways possible, because we prepared them for a world that has never, and will never exist. This is an issue which seems to go unaddressed in the culture war, as oftentimes both the Left and the Right operate from the same mindset: the insulation of children from perceived negativities. The only person of any repute I’ve noticed actually addressing this issue on a national platform is Kanye West. While reality may not be his forte, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Much of the problem stems from the fact that in our contemporary society we don’t seem to expect much from children. We see them as hapless little dandelions – dare not you blow on them or you’ll completely dissolve them. While I’m certainly not advocating that we shove children back into the mines to toughen them up, we should at least realize that kids can handle quite a bit the world throws at them. If you treat them like helpless victims, they’ll act like and eventually become helpless victims. Treat them with a level of respect and reciprocity, challenge them to rise to a certain standard – and you’ll be amazed what children can pull off.

I can’t help but find it funny that if I was given choice of media for my future children to consume, whether they were to watch Cartoon Network in the year 2021 or be raised on reruns of Sopranos, you can guarantee that my kids would be quoting Paulie Walnuts by age 7. While this might not protect their innocence, it would at least prepare them for the trials and tribulations of reality. Reflecting on my own upbringing, I consider myself rather lucky – the combination of quality storytelling from the legacy children’s networks and the almost completely unregulated choice over what entertainment I could watch on the internet probably did a better job preparing me for the real world then any of the ‘kid friendly’ guidelines children have been bombarded with for decades. 

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