A recent case of ‘cartoon-inspired violence’ occurred in Rotherham, where young teens chose to re-enact ‘Kick a Ginger Day’, from the cartoon South Park, by kicking ginger-haired students. This has revived the ‘blame-game’ for violence in young people yet again. The program was given a TV-MA rating, which warns that the content is not suitable for children. Parents could be to blame for allowing their children access to the program or for not discussing what is, and is not, socially-acceptable behaviour. Media could be held accountable for portraying society as a violent place on their networks. Children could also be to blame because, ultimately, they were the ones making the choice to hurt other children. Instead, the creators of South Park are being blamed.
The view that violence in cartoons causes the children who watch them to turn violent, or at least, to accept violence as a social norm, has been tossed around, studied and debated in detail for a long time. Some experts state that violence is shunned by children when watching programs, while others insist that violence should be removed from children’s viewing. It seems that parents cannot get a definitive answer on the question of violence in cartoons, but, while most children do not try to re-enact the action quite as literally by chopping up cats and expecting them to chase mice afterwards, medical records are available to prove that some do identify more literally with characters and actions than others.
I don’t have the answer to the ‘blame-game’, any more than the experts do, but in this case, South Park creators sent the program out with an ending which showed the character learning the error of his ways, and a warning that it was not suitable for children. They didn’t force anyone to watch it, and they didn’t force children to kick other children. A dilemma of story-telling is that to show the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour, both have to be present. In fact, I can’t think of a single story where the hero battles against thin air to show how ‘good’ triumphs over ‘evil’. So, while the creators were totally responsible for the program content, I don’t believe that they were entirely to blame for cartoon-inspired violence. To me, that would be the same as making a tool manufacturer responsible when we hit our own thumbs with their hammers.