This originally appeared as an Editorial/Opinion piece in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, but has been revised since.
I've been hearing a lot lately about how modern entertainment is unsafe for "our children." Television and video games are filled with gratuitous sex and violence, which could potentially damage kids. But that's got me thinking: how safe was entertainment when we, so-called "children of the 80's," frolicked in the sunny fields of youthful innocence? The more I think about it, the more I become aware of the evil that Nintendo and Saturday morning cartoons didn't want us to notice. It's spooky.
Consider video games for a moment, like Atari. Sure, Atari seemed pretty innocent, but look a little deeper. Ever play Centipede? The game preaches nothing less than bug genocide, tallying points for something no different than pulling the wings from flies. Space Invaders? Those little aliens sure look like the devil to me. Why do they keep swooping down at you? They're fallen angels, I tell you. And what about that game Asteroids, where you shoot at rocks in space? It's clearly a symbol for the individual as an "island," with no form of intellectual/spiritual fulfillment or meaningful social interaction, only engaging one's own primal "id" impulse to destroy everything within sight. Those graphics were vague for a reason: Atari didn't want you to know what it was pushing on you subliminally. But now I'm starting to see the full picture. Yeah.
Don't forget Nintendo, though. It picked up right where Atari left off. In Super Mario Brothers, children played the role of an adventurous Brooklyn Plumber. Seems harmless, doesn't it? Maybe if the goal were to clean pipes and toilets, kids could have avoided sinister influences and received practical knowledge to boot -- but no, the goal included running after little mushrooms to lend you power. The mushrooms made you bigger, changing your perceptions, like drugs. They were magic mushrooms, no doubt. I watched kids rushing at breakneck speeds just to catch that little shroom gliding away across the brick floor; I bet those same kids grew into alienated junkies. And the mushrooms that gave extra lives contained an added dangerous message: immortality. This turns into the hunger for unholy powers later in life, immortality through joining the legions of undead. I'll wager that those young folks who today paint themselves up, dress all in black, and pretend to be vampires were the same kids who knew where all the extra life mushrooms were hidden. They had to know what man was not meant to know. They had to unlock dark secrets.
The Sega Master System and Turbografix 16 were two other video game consoles of the 80's, but they were boring and nobody liked them anyway. No harm done there.
Cartoons, of course, were no better than video games. Popeye clearly taught the message that "violence is the answer." There's not a problem in the world that can't be solved by beating a bearded sailor senseless. But that's only where it starts: like Super Mario Brothers, Popeye encouraged drug use. You think that was spinach he was eating? No way. Eating vegetables takes a long time to take effect and make you powerful. That man had instant gratification, some powerful steroid, and that's probably what his disciples crave today.
In the cartoon Voltron, the good guys always waited until they got kicked around before they made the big robot. All this does is encourage kids not to live up to their full potential immediately, to procrastinate, because they always end up winning. It would have been more appropriate if another group of kids existed so viewers could compare and contrast. That group would get off their duffs and beat the bad guy, while the procrastinators had their flying robots torn to scrap metal, and the defeated lazy-asses drifted, motionless and silent, into space. That'll teach 'em.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beats out even many of today's television programming when it comes to gratuitous sexual content. Four man-shaped turtles on the brink of adolescence, brandishing clear phallic symbols as weapons, living naked and grappling together in the dark sewers ... need I say more?
Shazam, the cartoon about two kids who could summon a genie by touching their two rings, just encourages stupidity. Come on here, kids. You know you're going to get separated by the bad guys before the end. Just decide which one of you gets both rings. Or even better, just summon the genie before you get locked in separate cages and be done with it. Little procrastinators, you should be jettisoned into space like those Voltron kids.
Smurfs may have been worst of all. I could say that they were little blue demons with no belly buttons or nipples. I could say that Papa Smurf practiced the dark arts of sorcery, making him no better than the ravenous and freakish warlock Gargamel. I could question why baby smurfs are brought by the stork, why adult smurfs go into sexual overdrive on Valentine's Day, or why the only female smurfs were artificially created by Gargamel (this is all true; look it up on the internet if you doubt me, or ask a friend of yours who remembers old 80's cartoons disturbingly well). But I think I need to point out only one thing: one of the Smurfs is named for one of the seven deadly sins. How much more obvious could they be?
Scooby Doo had people dressed up as monsters, which trivializes the danger behind dark spirits of the night. Children should beware demons, not chase them around in a psychedelic minibus, for the unholy creatures of the night can eat their very souls. Let us not also forget that "Scooby Doo" starts with the same letters as "Satan Devil."
While it is true that Scooby Doo had some spin-off series with real ghosts and monsters, these (like the Sega Master System and Turbo Grafix 16) sucked, and nobody watched them. Again, they don't need to figure into the argument.
The transmission of evil from our childhood was much more subtle and subliminal than the blatant corruption you see today, and so it affected us on a deep psychological level. Did you even notice that the third Mario title was actually Satan Mario Brothers? I bet you did not.
What can we do, then? Nothing short of childproof the world for the next generation, hunt down evil wherever it hides, take it off the airwaves and out of the stores. Or better yet, it would cost a lot less just to lock our kids in the basement, or in boxes. Keep them in separate boxes, though, so they don't try to summon a genie with magic rings or anything. That ought to do it.