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Jewish World Review May 11, 2001 / 18 Iyar, 5761

Diana West

Diana West
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Consumer Reports

Dodging balls, Bugs, and 'brilliance' -- THE worst thing about living in a period of cultural decline is not having to ride out the pop-toxic tide of cultural waste yourself, but having to ride it out with your children. Since what was once marginal is now mainstream--red-light sexuality, for example, or the obsession with explicitly violent peril--even the most casual scan of the public airwaves demands a close eye on the cultural periscope plus a quick-trigger finger on the off-button to torpedo the inevitable barrage of incoming smut and violence. Viagra ads at 12 o'clock. Pedophilia jokes at 8 o'clock. The songsters of necrophilia, suicide and mayhem around the clock. Talk about battle fatigue.

But finally, some good news. Educators and tastemakers are hunkering down to draw some lines, establish a few boundaries and remind people what is off-limits and what is not. There's just one problem: These folks haven't a clue. How else to explain a week in which society has taken protective measures to ward off the triple scourge of dodgeball, Mother's Day and Bugs Bunny?

Take dodgeball. Seeking measures to prevent future Columbines and Santees, education "experts" are banding together to bring the weight of their assorted specialties to lobby, not against Mortal Kombat and other ghoulish video games that accustom youngsters to realistic blood-lettings, and not against death-metal "music" groups that sink young spirits and warp their ambition, but rather against an old recess game played with a big rubber ball. "This [dodgeball] is something that should not be used in today's classrooms, especially in today's society," Diane Farr, a "curriculum specialist" told the New York Times. "With Columbine and all the violence we are having, we have to be very careful how we teach our children." It may sound like a joke, but this is the voice of the cutting-edge: Dodgeball in elementary school today, mass murder in high school tomorrow.

Then there's that other threat to children's well-being, Mother's Day--and, while they're at it, Father's Day. At a ritzy private elementary school in Manhattan where tuition starts at $15,000 in pre-K and tops out at almost $20,000 by grade 6, educators now conclude that both holidays may be harmful to children. As the official school mailing explained, "The recognition of these holidays in a social setting may not be a positive experience for all children."

But since when, as the New York Post's Andrea Peyser wondered, did "the biblical commandment -- `Honor thy father and thy mother' -- become a threat to children's emotional well-being?" Since the dictates of political correctness exploded the definition of family, that's when. As a school official put it to Ms. Peyser, "There may be two fathers, two mothers, the mother may not have custody, it could be a grandmother..." Here, in order to accommodate the "non-traditional" family, the traditional model will be taking its Hallmark holiday observance underground--but all for the greater good.

Which brings us to the corporate decision to keep certain cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny under lock and key. From the front-page of the Wall Street Journal comes a report detailing the tortured machinations at the highest levels of Time Warner AOL over what to do with one dozen cartoon shorts featuring Bugs at his worst--that is, at his most politically incorrect--during a planned retrospective of the bunny's life work on Cartoon Network. These include a World-War-II-era cartoon entitled, "Bugs Nips the Nips," which lambastes the Japanese--who were once, it is said, our mortal enemies (look it up). In another "sensitive" cartoon, Bugs addresses an awkwardly hulking Eskimo as a "big baboon"--which, sad to say, is not entirely out of character for this particular bunny (ask Elmer Fudd). Then there's the one in which Bugs does Al Jolson impersonation in blackface--an entertainment genre about as antique and relevant to modern times as soft shoe numbers and Mack Sennett shorts. But not even Cartoon Network's plans "to ensure kids wouldn't be likely to see" Bugs at His Most Insensitive by screening offending episodes in the dark of the night (with disclaimers scrolling across the screen during the entire broadcast) convinced AOL Time Warner executives to release them.

But how comforting is it, really, to know that AOL Time Warner is doing its bit to save society from that wascally wabbit? What's most fascinating about the conglomerate's quandary is that while this is same company that most infamously brought us "Copkiller," along with an near-endless assortment of pop-profanities, it is only Bugs and his "disturbing cartoon content" that sent executives into a pre-emptive panic of censorship. You have to wonder, though, whether anyone but the professionals could ever think that Bugs Bunny--or dodgeball or Mother's Day--could make society's problems worse.

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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02/23/01: 'Ecumenical niceness' and other latter-day American gifts to the world
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02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West