From drug-addled pets to cross-dressing puppets, it is not rare for children’s TV shows to find themselves at the centre of widespread controversy. We take a look at ten memorable controversies that have got parents’ and critics’ knickers in an animated twist.
Parents have this week been turning against the behaviour of the naughty cartoon pig for being a bad influence. One father complained about his four-year-old son starting to splash in muddy puddles on the way to school. Others reported their children shouting atrocities such as “chocolate cake” when asked what they would like for breakfast, and one concerned mother even wrote on parenting website Mumsnet: “A day after watching [an] episode, my son wouldn’t eat his cucumber and tomatoes.”
Perhaps the more ground-breaking controversy came in April 2010, when Peppa Pig cancelled an appearance at a Labour party event on family policy. It prompted one of the better-remembered statements from Gordon Brown’s office: “The Prime Minister and his family are big fans of Peppa Pig and he understands that she has a very busy schedule.”
American cleric Jerry Falwell caused a stir in 1999 when he claimed that Tinky Winky was a homosexual role model for children. Falwell focused on the character’s purple colour and triangular antenna – both symbols of the Gay Pride movement – as a basis for his conclusion.
The cartoon sponge has had an abrasively controversial life. In 2010, the American Academy of Paediatrics claimed that the show’s “frenetic pace” hinders preschoolers’ attention spans. And in 2005, a promotional video featuring the show’s characters singing together to promote diversity and tolerance was criticised by an American evangelical group because they saw it as advocating homosexuality. It cemented SpongeBob as a hit within the gay community, and Jeffrey P Dennis, author of the journal article The Same Thing We Do Every Night: Signifying Same-Sex Desire in Television Cartoons, even wrote that SpongeBob and Patrick “are paired with arguably erotic intensity”.
The crime-fighting, patois-speaking puppet, whose sole mission is to “make a bad ting good”, has been the subject of a racism debate. It appeals to a host of celebrity fans, including Lily Allen, Dizzee Rascal and Adrian Chiles, but hundreds of complaints have been made about both the way the show portrays Rastafarians and the slang it uses. One concerned mother on the Mumsnet forum was worried about her white daughter using words like Rasta, which may seem insulting to other children. Other adult viewers have taken to Twitter to claim that Rastamouse’s love of cheese is another secret code for marijuana.
The show was successful in attracting an average of 26.7 million viewers every week, and was seen internationally in over 76 countries. But at one point even the Washington Post was chastising the series for its depiction of the Pickles grandparents. The Episode entitled A Rugrats Passover attracted controversy when the Anti-Defamation League claimed the characters resembled anti-Semitic drawings that had once appeared in a 1930s Nazi newspaper. And then, of course, there was Grandpa Lou’s bizarre, private magazine stash. “And my personal favourite,” he tells his grandchildren knowingly, “Lonely Space Victims… but that’s for after you go to bed.” Oh, dear.
In 1987, unmarried presenter Janet Ellis shocked parents by announcing on the show that she was pregnant. It certainly upset Blue Peter’s producer Biddy Baxter, whose colleague, in an unauthorised book about the programme, wrote: “When Janet revealed her pregnancy to the viewers, Biddy exploded in the gallery. She began smashing monitors and gnashing her teeth.”
More recently, when the programme changed the voter-recommended name of its pet cat from Cookie to Socks, parents were further outraged.
Last year, the producers of Sesame Street intended to broadcast an episode featuring a scantily clad Katy Perry dueting with Elmo. After it was previewed on YouTube, an onslaught of complaints over the pop star’s revealing neckline and suggestive antics ensured that the segment was scrapped.
Ren & Stimpy
A hyperactive dog and a simple cat share some peculiar and often foul-mouthed adventures involving hairballs, filthy litterboxes, jars of spit and “monkey vermin”. It is no surprise, then, that this was the most controversial show in Nickelodeon’s history. Parents regularly complained about Stimpy being subjected to repeated violence from his partner in crime, Ren.
The 80s television series, an almost mini version of Stars in Their Eyes, was castigated for its representation of preteens. Aimed at younger viewers, it consisted of music performances on a brightly coloured set, where children sang the most awful pick of then-contemporary pop hits. The cherry on the cake was that they were made to look like the original performers, with revealing clothing, heavy make-up and suggestive dance moves.
The Magic Roundabout
The Magic Roundabout is often accused of being rife with undertones of recreational drug use and sexual innuendos. The children’s classic was screened by the BBC for 12 years until it was banned for a lengthy period of time. One blogger has watchfully observed that Dougal’s addiction to sugar lumps is a veiled reference to a speed addiction, and that Zebedee is a patent sex addict. One of the episodes admittedly includes a questionable reference to Dougal’s need for sugar cubes: “It starts with some sweets…and then you’re on two bags a day.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=caIS7eYfpMA