The (Literal) Minefields of Children’s TelevisionPosted: June 19, 2014
As a parent, some of my proudest moments have come when my children express interest in the same things that I loved growing up. Recently however, I have been conflicted about some of the images my children have been exposed to as they watch the Looney Toons cartoons I remember so fondly. As an advocate against landmines, I have been alarmed at the sheer number of times I have seen landmines in Looney Toons cartoons as my daughter watches them. As I’ve written here before, I stopped supporting Everton when they took money from a company that produces landmines and I have been wondering if Warner Bros.’s use of landmines in their cartoon represent a learning opportunity for my children or are they enough to cause me to re-think my love of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.
On the plus side, Warner Bros. did license the use of Bugs and Daffy for a landmine awareness campaign in Cambodia funded by the US State Department (CNN) and to the best of my knowledge neither Bugs or Daffy has appeared in a cartoon with landmines. Grenades, dynamite, bombs and other explosives have featured prominently, but no landmines. Whew.
On the negative side are at least six separate cartoons (three starring Foghorn Leghorn, one each featuring Sylvester and Tweety, Speedy Gonzales and the Roadrunner and Coyote) which feature landmines and their subsequent explosions. Of the six cartoons, five are still in circulation and viewable on Cartoon Network where I have seen them in recent months (no Speedy Gonzales cartoons are broadcast anymore due to the racist depiction of Mexicans in the series). Videos of these cartoons are online on YouTube for a fee, but descriptions and plot summaries are available more widely.
The three Foghorn Leghorn cartoons are “The Slick Chick,” “A Broken Leghorn” and “Strangled Eggs.” In 1959’s “A Broken Leghorn,” Foghorn tries to lure a rival rooster into a minefield and ties a fake worm to a landmine with the intention that the rival rooster would pull on the worm and detonate the mine. The rival rooster ignores the lure and so Foghorn demonstrates how to pull on the worm with the result that he is injured by the blast himself. In 1961’s “Strangled Eggs” Foghorn comes up against his frequent foil, the chickenhawk, and while the widow hen who Foghorn fancies tries to adopt the chickenhawk as her child, Foghorn launches a number of schemes to eliminate the chickenhawk. One such scheme has Foghorn and the chickenhawk pecking for insects in a minefield laid by Foghorn himself, again with Foghorn coming out the worse for wear.
In 1962’s “The Slick Chick” Foghorn is trying to woo the widow hen by babysitting her son, Junior, who is terribly behaved (“That boy makes Dennis the Menace look like an angel”). Junior contrives to launch Foghorn into orbit and provides him with a “safe” place to land, a landmine, which explodes in an off-screen detonation.
The Sylvester and Tweety cartoon, 1956’s “Tree-Cornered Tweety,” Tweety tries to avoid Sylvester by hiding in a tree in the middle of a minefield. Sylvester demonstrates good landmine awareness by using a metal detector to pick a safe path through the minefield only to have his good work undone by Tweety’s introduction of a powerful magnet that pulls all of the mines out of the ground and to Sylvester who is holding the magnet. After the massive blast, Sylvester walks away from the tree and sets off a couple more mines.
“Mexicali Shmoes” received an Academy Award nomination in 1959 for best animated short subject and features Speedy Gonzales, his cousin Slowpoke Rodriguez and two cats, Jose and Manuel. Jose and Manuel try to capture Speedy and in one sequence, set out a minefield to trap Speedy. Speedy lures the two cats into the minefield with predictable results for the cats.
1958’s “Whoa, Be-Gone!” pits the Road-Runner against Wile E. Coyote. (I do have to say I was surprised that Foghorn Leghorn had triple the number of episodes with landmines as the Coyote…) The end gag of the cartoon sees the Coyote set out Acme “Tornado” seeds for the Road-Runner to eat which he obligingly does with no resulting tornadoes. Seeing this, the Coyote proceeds to eat the entire bottle before spying, in very small print, a notice on the bottle that “Tornado” seeds have no effect on roadrunners. The Coyote proceeds to spin around the desert and crosses an old army minefield (less surprising to see one in the deserts of the Road-Runner and Coyote films than the urban landscapes of Sylvester and Tweety’s world). The explosions from the Coyote crossing the minefield are cut short by the Road-Runner bringing down the “That’s All, Folks!” banner and ending the cartoon.
None of the cartoons accurately reflect the fear or damage landmines have upon communities, nor should they – they are cartoons after all. In the event, the one part I can take to heart is the fact that none of these cartoons were made after 1962 and when the cartoons were broadcast by the ABC television channel, the landmine sequences in “The Slick Chick” and “Tree-Cornered Tweety” were completely edited out, although they were left in for the other four cartoons. One day I will need to explain to my children what landmines are and I hope, for the sake of all fathers, that soon we will only be referring to landmines as fictional devices and not actual ones.
Michael P. Moore
June 19, 2014