Slate Bemoans 'Appallingly Macabre' Violence in Decades-Old Looney Tunes Shorts

June 24th, 2014 3:08 PM

Slate's Mark Joseph Stern could have been mistaken for the mother from A Christmas Story, after slamming the classic Looney Tunes cartoon franchise on Tuesday for its comedic gun violence. Stern hyped that "the antics of Bugs Bunny and co. were a lot more brutal than you remember," and bewailed the shorts' "blasé approach to gun suicide."

The liberal website boosted the writer's article with a Tweet that asserted that "the rampant gun violence in Looney Tunes would be unthinkable today." Stern, who normally "covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues" for Slate, led his lament by noting how the Supreme Court rebuked California's attempt to restrict the sale of gory video games to children by citing the violent humor of the Warner Brothers features:

When California tried to ban the sale of violent video games to minors, the Supreme Court mocked its efforts, noting that old Looney Tunes cartoons provoked the same tendency toward violence in children as a Grand Theft Auto–style bloodbath. But just how violent were Looney Tunes?

The writer then embedded a compilation video of scenes from the "brutal" cartoons, which focused on several characters shooting themselves as a plot device. Stern did disclose that "many of these so-called 'suicide gags' have long been edited out of TV reruns, though some are still included on DVD editions." But, as you might expect, he continued with a pro-gun control point:

...To modern sensibilities, of course, the gun violence is especially startling—particularly the blasé approach to gun suicide, a rampant problem across the United States. The cartoons' depictions of firearms as fun toys to be deployed for petty revenge also comes across uncomfortably now, during our years-long epidemic of school shootings.

Stern actually undercut his liberal argument, as he acknowledged the cartoons' artistic merit. He quoted from Todd VanDerWerff of the A.V. Club website, who noted that "[a] little cartoon violence never hurt anybody, but it's still a bit shocking to me to watch these things and see the characters basically annihilating each other in ways that would result in death in reality." But he ended his short item with one more lamentation about how children might be impacted by the animated shorts:

...I don't doubt that most children in America are constantly exposed to violence on TV that's far more disturbing than anything in Looney Tunes. But no kids' show today would ever treat firearms or gun deaths so lightly, with such zany exuberance, as Looney Tunes once did. That jaunty disregard of the consequences of violence is part of what made the show so bizarrely delightful. In a post-Newtown world, however, what was once strangely funny now registers as appallingly macabre.