Dark theories about TV cartoons

Twenty-first century America feels saturated with fringe theories, even though they have a long history. These theories start for any number of reasons, such as to explain or make sense of perceived inconsistencies in events or other matters. They need not deal with major events, almost anything will do. Even television cartoons prompt conspiracy theories

Some are quite dark, especially one involving Rugrats, which ran in spurts on Nickelodeon from 1991 to 2006. The show was about four babies, one-year-old Tommy Pickles; his two-year-old friend, Chuckie Finster, and; one-year-old twins, Phil and Lil Deville. Also prominent was Tommy’s selfish and mean three-year-old cousin, Angelica Pickles. It was so successful three feature-length films were released between 1998 and 2003.

The core of the alternate interpretation is that all the babies are dead, except Tommy’s little brother Dil, who first appeared in 1998’s The Rugrats Movie. Instead, they are figments of drug-addicted, schizophrenic Angelica’s imagination. Chuckie and his mother died in childbirth, Tommy was stillborn, Phil and Lil’s mother had an abortion before knowing the baby’s sex so Angelica imagined twins. Angelica’s mother was a heroin addict so Angelica was a crack baby. To top it off, Angelica died of an overdose at age 13.

Unsurprisingly, Arlene Klasky, one of the show’s creators, dismissed the theory. She’s admitted she wasn’t fond of Angelica, believing her too mean. But the story was inspired by her own children so the Rugrats babies were alive?-?or at least as alive as any cartoon character.

The cartoon series The Flintstones, originally broadcast from 1960 to 1966, may suggest that dark theories reflect the cartoon’s time. Airing during the height of the Cold War, there’s a theory Bedrock was “bombed back to the Stone Age.” It proposes the Flintstones and the Rubbles live in a post-apocalyptic world. Curiously, The Jetsons cartoon series may also be involved.

In a 1987 made-for-television move, Elroy Jetson’s time machine takes the Jetsons to the Stone Age, where they meet the Flintstones. Some “what if?” speculation suggests the Jetsons didn’t go back in time but to a future where a nuclear holocaust laid waste to the Earth. The society in The Flintstones arose after hundreds of years. A variation has the Jetsons and Flintstones living at the same time. While the Jetsons and other wealthy families live far above the Earth in Orbit City, Bedrock is home to those who didn’t have the resources to leave Earth.

What’s the “evidence” for the post-apocalypse scenario? While the animals are prehistoric, the aftereffects of the nuclear catastrophe gave them intelligence and the ability to speak. Devices in the series are make-do reinventions of dimly-recalled technology. Thus, cars are foot-powered and have stone tires. In what appears to be mutually beneficial arrangements, The Flinstones has bird beak record players, dinosaur-powered heavy equipment, a mini-mastodon vacuum cleaner, and a “pigasauraus” garbage disposal. Bedrock also celebrates Christmas even though Stone Age man predates Jesus Christ by millennia. Christmas presents are bought with money, not through barter. There are also credit cards so there must be a banking system.

Maybe this does suggest The Flintstones was speaking to the repercussions of a Cold War gone hot. Or maybe the writers were just parodying modern life

That cartoons reflect the popular culture of the time is behind a theory that the Smurfs are racist, antisemitic, and part of “a totalitarian utopia, steeped in Stalinism and Nazism.” French academician Antoine Buéno suggested such in his 2011 book, Le Petit Livre Bleu (“The Little Blue Book”), a “critical and political analysis of the Smurf society.”

Image from cover of original French-language version of The Black Smurfs

Buéno pointed to a 1959 Smurfs story called “The Black Smurfs” for his white supremacist argument. In it, one of the little blue Smurfs turned black when bitten by a black fly. He, in turn, bit other Smurfs, who also turned black. Buéno told the Wall Street Journal that black Smurfs “lose all trace of intelligence. They become completely moronic. And furthermore, they can no longer speak.” The book wasn’t released in the U.S. until years later when the affected Smurfs were recolored purple.

As for Nazism, Buéno says the Smurf’s enemy, Gargamel, is a Jewish caricature. He’s “ugly, dirty, with a hooked nose (who) is fascinated by gold,” he wrote. Also, Smurfette, long the only female Smurf, exemplifies an ideal Aryan, particularly her long blonde hair. Buéno saw Communism lurking because Smurf Village rarely rewarded private initiative, all meals were communal, there was no private property, and Smurfs rarely left their country. Moreover, Papa Smurf not only was authoritarian, he resembles Karl Marx.

Buéno’s book created such an uproar that he received death threats. He said his intent was misunderstood. “I love the Smurfs,” he said. “I just wanted to explain with this book that popular works teach us a lot about the society we come from.” He said the Smurfs were far from alone in reflecting “a certain number of stereotypes particular to a given society and era.”

The Smurfs aren’t the only cartoon characters accused of Nazi sympathizers. When the first Tom and Jerry cartoon appeared in February 1940, the timing led to speculation that it was Nazi propaganda.

“Tommy” was a nickname for British soldiers dating back to the 19th century. “Jerry” became slang for a German soldier in World War I. When Tom and Jerry debuted, England and Germany were again at war and food rationing recently was introduced in Britain. The first cartoon, “Puss Gets the Boot,” established longstanding Tom and Jerry tropes. As in ensuing episodes, Tom is the inveterate blackguard, intent on tormenting, capturing, and trying to devour Jerry. Jerry, though, is peace-loving and intelligent enough to always escape or fool Tom.

So, was Jerry signifying German superiority and Tom an inept evildoer? Certainly not in the first cartoon. It didn’t use the names Tom and Jerry; the cat was called Jasper and the mouse’s name wasn’t mentioned. Tom and Jerry were first identified as such in their second cartoon, released in July 1941. By then the Battle of Britain had just ended but perhaps some believed a cartoon propaganda war had begun.

Evidently, our appetite for speculation and plots extends to seemingly innocent children’s television shows.

Life is so hard Tommy…sometimes I think it’s the hardest thing there is.

Chuckie, “Chuckie’s First Haircut,” Rugrats

(Originally published at Medium)

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