Saturday, October 21, 2006

Mark Evanier on Hidden Persuaders

Dungeons & Dragons was a series about six kids who were transported to a dimension filled with wizards and fire-snorting reptiles and cryptic clues and an extremely-evil despot named Venger.  The youngsters were trapped in this game-like environment but, fortunately, they were armed with magical skills and weaponry, the better to foil Venger's insidious plans each week.

The kids were all heroic — all but a semi-heroic member of their troupe named Eric.  Eric was a whiner, a complainer, a guy who didn't like to go along with whatever the others wanted to do.  Usually, he would grudgingly agree to participate, and it would always turn out well, and Eric would be glad he joined in.  He was the one thing I really didn't like about the show.

So why, you may wonder, did I leave him in there?  Answer: I had to.

As you may know, there are those out there who attempt to influence the content of childrens' television.  We call them "parents groups," although many are not comprised of parents, or at least not of folks whose primary interest is as parents.  Study them and you'll find a wide array of agendum at work...and I suspect that, in some cases, their stated goals are far from their real goals.

Nevertheless, they all seek to make kidvid more enriching and redeeming, at least by their definitions, and at the time, they had enough clout to cause the networks to yield.  Consultants were brought in and we, the folks who were writing cartoons, were ordered to include certain "pro-social" morals in our shows.  At the time, the dominant "pro-social" moral was as follows: The group is always right...the complainer is always wrong.

This was the message of way too many eighties' cartoon shows.  If all your friends want to go get pizza and you want a burger, you should bow to the will of the majority and go get pizza with them.  There was even a show for one season on CBS called The Get-Along Gang, which was dedicated unabashedly to this principle.  Each week, whichever member of the gang didn't get along with the gang learned the error of his or her ways.

We were forced to insert this "lesson" in D & D, which is why Eric was always saying, "I don't want to do that" and paying for his social recalcitrance.  I thought it was forced and repetitive, but I especially objected to the lesson.  I don't believe you should always go along with the group.  What about thinking for yourself?  What about developing your own personality and viewpoint?  What about doing things because you decide they're the right thing to do, not because the majority ruled and you got outvoted?

We weren't allowed to teach any of that.  We had to teach kids to join gangs.  And then to do whatever the rest of the gang wanted to do.

What a stupid thing to teach children.

Now, I won't make the leap to charge that gang activity, of the Crips and Bloods variety, increased on account of these programs.  That influential, I don't believe a cartoon show could ever be.  I just think that "pro-social" message was bogus and ill-conceived.  End of confession.

http://www.povonline.com/cols/COL145.htm

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