Are retro TV shows inappropriate?

Tracy's six-year-old discovered an old Warner Bros. cartoon, leaving her to wonder if our generation has lost its sense of humour.

By Tracy Chappell
Are retro TV shows inappropriate?

Photo: chris jd/Flickr

This morning, I took Anna to her gymnastics camp. In the lobby, a TV is mounted on the wall, playing cartoons to entertain the four-to-six year olds as they wait for their class to begin. I thought it was odd, in a we-don’t-do-that-anymore kind of way, that the cartoon playing was The Road Runner. Do you remember it? I grew up watching Wile E. Coyote try to outwit the clever roadrunner, only to be smashed by anvils, blown to smithereens by dynamite and flattened by falling rocks for his trouble.
I watched the kids as they watched, slack-jawed, with blank expressions, completely unresponsive to any of the good, old-fashioned violence/humour on the screen before them. All except one. Can you guess? My Anna started giggling. Then guffawing. By the time they called her class, she was having trouble catching her breath, she was laughing so hard, and I had to pull her away from the TV. Some of the other parents were getting a kick out of her reaction. Others were clearly not impressed with this choice for early-morning entertainment. I admit I was in both camps — honestly surprised the gymnastics club was showing this to pretty young kids, but unexpectedly amused by Anna’s response.
“That was the most hilarious thing I’ve ever seen!” Anna exclaimed when I picked her up. The TV was then playing Tom and Jerry, but she didn’t get to see much of it. She was far more interested in discussing the roadrunner’s hijinks than her beam work (though she did make me laugh when she told me she thinks she has beam fright. “You know, like stage fright, but on the beam!”). I told her I watched The Road Runner when I was growing up. “Did you ever pee your pants because you were laughing so hard?” she asked. I told her I didn’t remember peeing my pants. “I thought I might!” she grinned. I actually remember not liking this show, or this kind of humour, much. Clearly my daughter is a fan of the slapstick.
I’ve often thought about the cartoons I watched as a kid. What a 180 we’ve done in terms of determining what’s appropriate for our kids to watch! We want TV time to count. We want education and moral lessons woven into our children’s entertainment (and maybe nix the smoking and martinis?), and are generally appalled by the violence and lack of any discernable value in shows like The Road Runner. But are we too concerned about sanitizing what our kids watch? Did seeing Tweety violently outsmarting Sylvester over and over again do us harm? Do we underestimate a child’s ability to take a television show at face value?
My dad often says, in reference to the “new” ways to raise children, that it’s a wonder any of us survived. Maybe it’s because we knew to deke out an anvil, should the situation arise? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

What's on the TV at your house?

Photo: chris jd via flickr

This article was originally published on Jul 26, 2012

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