Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The real question, then as now: Who cares?

On this day in 1980, J.R. Ewing, the character millions loved to hate on television’s popular primetime drama, "Dallas," was “shot.”

The simulated shooting made the season-ending episode one of television’s most famous cliffhangers, inspired widespread media coverage and left America wondering “Who shot J.R.?” for the next eight months.

On November 21, 1980, the premiere episode of Dallas’s third season solved the mystery, identifying Kristin Shepard, J.R.’s wife’s sister and his mistress, as the culprit.

A study published a couple of years ago in the British Medical Journal indicates that cartoons may be hazardous to kids’ health. A pair of researchers, Ian Colman from the University of Ottawa and James Kirkbride of University College London, conducted a study of cartoons released since 1937 (Snow White), and have concluded that they are “hotbeds of murder and mayhem.”

They assert that violence and death are particularly traumatic for young kids, and that the impact can be long-lasting. The heroic researchers point out that the carnage in cartoons more often involves an important character than does that in adult films, and they single out Bambi (the shooting of Bambi’s mom), Sleeping Beauty (a stabbing), Finding Nemo (Nemo’s mom eaten by a barracuda), and the animal attacks in Tarzan for especial censure.  Their one bit of OK news is that the level of violence hasn’t increased over the past 75 years: in Snow White, the evil queen is struck by lightning, forced off a cliff and crushed by a boulder while being pursued by the irate seven dwarves.  

Bambi was one of the first movies I ever saw, and I don’t recall being traumatized by the shooting of Bambi’s mother. Upset, yes, but I got over it. (The death of Old Yeller was much more long-lasting.) I watched a lot of cartoons on TV, and I found the mayhem in Woody Woodpecker and Quick Draw McGraw, to name a couple, to be hilarious, or at least far from disturbing. Even as a child I could see that it wasn’t real–after all, these were cartoons

Besides, confronting death can be salutary at any age. When Mrs. Bambi dies, the point is that death is part of life, and that life goes on. The death was traumatic for Bambi, as every death is monumental from someone’s perspective, a point often lost in movies and TV shows for adults.