Since coming to Lawrence, I seem to have watched more kids’ shows than I ever did as a child. In the last year, “My Little Pony,” “Gravity Falls” and both series of “Avatar” have sucked me in with their excellent writing and lovely animation. I am not alone, though, as within the last decade, many college students have set aside their work to watch children’s television.
While most American animation fell under the category of children’s television, international animation did not receive the same characterization. Animation for the older generations has existed for as long as animation has existed, but anime revitalized the idea of animation for adults. Hayao Miyazaki contributed to the idea of animation as an art form that can appeal to children and adults with movies like “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle.”
More mature and sophisticated writing allows for a wider age range to enjoy it. Children of the nineties grew up with anime and strange American shows like “SpongeBob.” DreamWorks Animation delighted in slipping mature jokes for the parents into films like “Shrek.” Someone who watches “SpongeBob” as a child may still watch it as an adult, just for different reasons.
Watching kids’ shows, old and new alike, also stirs up feelings of nostalgia. “Adventure Time” has much of the same nonsensical tone of early “SpongeBob.” “My Little Pony” offers heroic female characters and sly humor, much like “The Powerpuff Girls” once did. The old lives through the new, and reflecting on past television shows can lead to reflecting on the past in general.
Children’s television changes with age. A joke the viewer laughed at innocently as a child may now strike them as politically incorrect. Realizing a once-loved show is actually racist or sexist can disturb the adult viewer, but it also encourages them to see how society has become more accepting since their childhood.
Television has a glaring deficiency of people of color, but kids’ shows may offer some hope in that area. Children learn norms from television, among other places. If they only see Caucasians on television, then they only learn the dominant culture and lack role models of minority groups. Most of the television I watched as a child had white characters or non-human characters, but few characters of color. Today, it has improved slightly. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “Legend of Korra” have entirely Asian characters. “Word Girl” chronicles the adventures of a black female superhero who fights crime with her intelligence. Unfortunately, these examples are still in short supply.
Strong female characters are also rare in children’s television. Women may be in supporting roles, but few main characters are female. I watched a ton of anime as a child because it was hard to find relatable female characters on Western television. Disney princesses are swell, but its much more fun to run around the playground pretending to be a magical warrior princess, rather than sitting at the top of the slide, pretending to be a damsel. Korra, Word Girl, the “My Little Pony” ponies and others are more recent female protagonists for girls to look up to. Progress is slow, but it’s encouraging to see how television has changed to reflect an improvement in society.
Ultimately, Kids’ shows reflect on both real life and our wildest dreams. They emit a feeling of magic that most “adult television” shuns. Everyone, no matter their race, religion, gender or age, can step away from the world’s sorrows when they watch kids’ shows. We get the chance to stand on the even plain of imagination where everyone is a superhero.