Working on a panel ranking the best Transformers episodes of all time (from Gen-1 to current), I’ve been watching every episode from every season in order. Given that the series comprises over five hundred episodes, this is a long-term project, the fruits of which have been – and continue to be – presented at conventions throughout the year. It’s been a project that’s been insightful on multiple fronts to say the least, but one thing that I’ve come away with is a new appreciation for just how violent kids entertainment used to be (and still is).
Now, to be fair, it’s not like the early days of televised children’s entertainment were that peaceful. The 1960s had Speed Racer and Johnny Quest, both of which had their share of deaths and violence (and don’t get me started on earlier cartoons such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and all the crazies at the Warner Brothers cartoons). As we transitioned into the 1970s, children’s entertainment generally seemed to become more peaceable.
Then, the 1980s happened. Suddenly, violence seemed to come roaring back to the forefront as a viable form of children’s entertainment. Transformers, GI Joe, Thundercats, etc. All these shows we consider iconic kids’ shows were built around violence and action. The only escapes from such violent entertainment were short-lived shows like Jem and Rainbow Brite, or some of the (rare) nonviolent anime imports like Little Women, Tom Sawyer, and the Little Prince (that they were overwhelmingly based off classic literature is lost on nobody).
It’s curious that an entire generation has grown up enjoying violent entertainment. Warfare. Guns. Explosions. Lasers. Fighting. It’s interesting because it followed a similar cultural shift in the 1970s, when dancing and musicals seemed to disappear as the dominant form of entertainment (as Soren Bowie and Michael Swaim of Cracked expound upon here).
Part of this is humanity’s natural instinct towards action (the fictionalized form of violence) and part of it is cultural conditioning (to revere the hero and the warrior). Yet, it’s strange that somewhere along the way, kids (especially boys) were and continue to be taught that explosions were awesome and that a fight was worth watching and not stopping. Whatever the case, as I watch a new generation’s entertainment grow and develop, there’s part of me that wonders if we could wean ourselves off violence and action.
Would that be a good thing? In this article (also at Cracked; sorry to multi-cite but they’ve been on the ball), many of the ills afflicting the competitive first-person shooter genre seem to have been fixed with a single game, Splatoon. Is this an isolated incident or maybe, just maybe, more of our entertainment should move away from the glorification of violence?