The average cartoon takes a harder stance than SONY did this week. How? Let’s rewind the clock.
Over the past two months, North Korea has been lobbying threats against SONY’s The Interview. It’s not hard to see why. The plot, if you haven’t heard about it 1000 times in the last few days, revolves around two bumbling reporters being sent to a country to assassinate Kim Jong Un. Ignoring the big problem with that plan (a huge power vacuum, for example), it created a bigger real life issue. North Korea refuses to stand for this movie’s release. As a result, threats were lobbied, movie theaters folded, and SONY was unable to release the movie on its intended date.
Many people, including yourself, had different views of what this meant. I was of the opinion that if SONY truly wanted this movie to happen, it would have pushed past is difficulties. Some of my friends thought that this was just a huge marketing ploy for publicity. (The leaked emails for realism?) And others simply didn’t care. The one viewpoint I didn’t agree with was the one that said America had become too full of “fear” and “cowardly” because of the actions of ONE COMPANY (not completely American owned). To me, it implied that there was no one left willing to make a statement with their art that may be unpopular.
This week, Nickelodeon series, “Legend of Korra” wrapped up its series run. The show revolved around a heroine named Korra that could control four elements, and was tasked to saving the world from war and destruction. It was a finale full of explosions, danger and surprises. But the biggest surprise for fans came in the last two minutes.
(If you are a Korra fan that did not view the finale, everything in bold is full of spoilers. I will leave everything clearly marked so that you can avoid them. Watching your back, because I hate spoilers as much as you do 😉 )
In the closing minutes of the show, Korra and her close friend Asami decide to go on a vacation together to another world (Long story). As they head toward the portal that will take them there, they hold hands. Pretty standard stuff for a female friendship. But in the last moments, they face each other, hold both hands and look each others’ eyes longingly before the show fades to black. Based on this description alone, you could easily dismiss it. However, there is a wedding not five minutes prior to this moment in the same finale. And the fact that the two women hold hands like they’re exchanging wedding vows in the last shot would be one heck of a coincidence. Not to mention, the creators just confirmed it. (http://bryankonietzko.tumblr.com/)
So to sum up, they got away with a serious depiction of a non-heterosexual couple on a channel geared towards kids this week. That’s pretty impressive.
SPOILERS END HERE
Cartoons have been doing this for years now. The average episode of animaniacs got away with a whole lot of adult jokes. See this “fingerprints” scene for more evidence:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xmAC9Qu908 Shrek made a joke about a small guy “compensating for something” and there were no riots. Even Frozen, the biggest animated movie sensation since Lion King, got away with a “foot size” joke without parents going crazy. Yes, compared to the interview, these may seem like small jabs against limitations in comparison. But the main difference? These cartoons got out and were released to wide audiences.
Is that to say you have to play small in your art to get it out? No. Team America got away with killing Kim Jong Il years ago, albeit in puppet form. Back then, there wasn’t huge backlash because the puppets appeared to be juvenile and non-threatening in all the previews. It was only after the movie’s screenings that people realized what it depicted. Contrast that to The Interview, whose marketing strategy was built upon yelling and calling attention to its controversy. Is it so surprising that someone would yell back? The Interview has a lot to learn from cartoons. They can challenge the normal established boundaries and still get viewed. And that viewing is valuable real estate.
Think about where cartoons go. Millions and millions of viewers through Netflix, cable and dvd sales. And most importantly, tons and tons of kids. If you can get more adult messages across in those innocuous mediums, you could be a force for change. This is getting beyond the “foot size” and “compensating” jokes. We’re talking about the comforting message that Korra provided. The empowering messages Frozen can teach. “I’m so ronry” from Team America! When you create for kids, you create for the next generation of builders, thinkers and leaders. And if you push the envelope a little while doing so, maybe those kids will grow to take more risks too.
This week, a couple of comedians failed to release a movie in theaters. Maybe if it had stronger support from its parent company or a subtler approach, it could’ve gotten out. I don’t know for sure. But what I’m sure of is that a children’s cartoon took a huge risk this week that should have people cheering. And if not cheering, at the very least reducing the silly notion that “terrorists” can stop art. If a creator wants her or his content out, they’ll break the rules, operate within the rules or work on the line in between. The cartoon sound effects are optional, but there’s no denying…
An big audience might appreciate it.