“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Nancy Rogers, mother to Fred Rogers
We all know that Children’s Media is important. For many families, it can provide an educational service outside school and also be a source of entertainment for children of all backgrounds and ages. Children’s media used to be extremely simple to produce: Cute, colorful characters reciting their alphabets and counting to twenty. Older children would watch movies based on fairytales and bedtime stories, nothing overly complex. Teens would watch family sitcoms and talk shows later at night.
But children’s media has gone through a huge overhaul in the last few decades. Gradually, the companies that produce media have been attempting to reach larger and larger audiences, including lower class children, disabled children, children of different races, and children from different family types. Media has also matured in what issues to tackle with children. Shows like Sesame Street cover the basics, like the alphabet, sharing and healthy eating. But where do children go to get a sense of adventure? Or when preteens begin having crushes? Who can homosexual children and preteens look up to in their media?
Disney and Cartoon Network have been releasing more diverse and more controversial material in the past few years. Adventure Time, which was originally a fun-loving kid and his dog performing heroics across the land of Ooo, has become a show about healing from loss of a parent, dealing with depression, honesty and overcoming adversity. It has bright, awesome colors and a sword swinging hero for younger kids, and a complex setting and plotline for teenagers to follow. Gravity Falls, a more recent show, is about a pair of twins who get shipped off to live with their great uncle for the summer. This show, originally about two twins discovering strange and magical things that exist in their new home, has become a show about growing up, standing up for what you believe in, and growing apart from siblings and friends. These are only two examples of a plethora of shows being shown on cable television as of this year.
Many of these shows have featured or alluded to gay couples, features people of color (or equivalent) as lead characters, have episodes dedicated to people with mental or physical disabilities, and deal with real problems like divorce, depression, fear and love. It’s not a dumbed down version of the issues either. In Adventure Time, Finn meets his Dad and is betrayed by him. Finn is only thirteen, and must deal with the depression following this act. In Gravity Falls, Mabel and Dipper, the main characters, deal with their contrasting personalities slowly pushing them apart, no matter how badly they want to be friends. In Steven Universe, the idea of non-binary beings and complex families is not only tackled, it’s a main plot point of the story.
Unfortunately, many of these shows are under fire from conservative groups who want the shows cancelled. While many of these shows are safe, simply from the massive fanbase, they are under constant threat of cancellation. Only one thing can stop them from leaving the air: Ratings. While not all of them are everyone’s cup of tea, they are all worth a few episodes of watching. Who knows? One of these colorful, silly cartoons could become the next binge-watching favorite.