Censorship, Racism, and “Other-ness,” Oh My!
When I was a kid, there was this really (probably) awesome show on Cartoon Network—that I was forbidden to watch.
It’s a strange story because although I grew up in a staunchly Lutheran home, we were by no means zealots. However, my father had put his foot down regarding The Smurfs, and I had the rest of my life to explain to strangers and friends alike that my family is not really that weird.
For my family, there was one reason to shun the show: “satanic” tendencies of Gargamel. Or maybe Gargamel was the name of a demon in the Bible. I’m not actually sure.
Because I was an angelic offspring, or more probably because I was just not cut out for covert operations, I really didn’t have much to base my personal smurf-aversions on.
That is to say, I didn’t know that it allegedly had imagery people were connecting to the KKK, such as the smurf’s coordinated white, pointed hats. I didn’t know that Papa Smurf’s red-pointed cap is apparently a fashion statement of higher authorities in KKK.
To take this presumed racism further, Gargamel is supposed to stereotype a Jewish character who wants to turn the smurfs into gold . . .
Seriously, correct me if I’m wrong on any of this, because it is just about the only censorship I experienced as a child—or ever.
Although I’d love to tell you that my “monster” was Gargamel, the satanic figure my father feared and loathed, I didn’t really know who he was. Even as a presumed figure of darkness, I just knew he was an ugly bad guy.
However, I definitely did internalize some of the acrid fear of smurf culture. Cut me a break, here, it was literally the only show ever forbidden except for all of MTV, which the patriarch was far less successful in suppressing.
Although there are several reasons for a rational nation of media consumers to analyze and distrust an old, endeared television cartoon, my reasons were not racism or satanism.
I was an incredibly narcissistic child. Perhaps that’s redundant. The Smurfs was my monster because in a tiny, Lutheran school where I had only 17 classmates in my grade, it had the potential to “other” me.
I was a new ten-year-old in a new town entering a new phase of my life haunted by the fact that my weird dad wouldn’t let me watch a harmless cartoon that every other equally Lutheran family we had ever met had no problems with.
I tried to handle the potential othering with humor, because that’s a tried and true defense mechanism if I’ve ever used one. However, turning the ridicule to my family didn’t help either.
I didn’t want to come from an “other” family, and I even sort of liked my father.
The show became a sort of dark, shadowy subject that I just avoided as much as possible for many years. To be fair, it’s also a little misogynistic to have one female, sexualized character for an entire colony—I mean, since we’re laying into The Smurfs now.
Yes, I was just a kid and it was just the dawn of middle school, and yes everything is very dramatic during that period of a person’s life. Yes, yes, yes.
However, fear of being “othered” is pervasive well beyond middle school and even beyond high school. It’s cool to be unique, individual, and independent because those are all adjectives of someone who has a lot of power and control over their identity.
To be “othered,” is a different story. It’s a verb, not an adjective. It makes “you” the object, doesn’t it? Even on a syntactic level, that word is overbearing and strips away power.
After years of insatiably fearing a kids’ show, I’m ready to admit that I have fallen prey to one of the greatest anxieties of western culture, and potentially any human conglomeration anywhere: I didn’t want to be singled out as inherently different.
My monster wasn’t Gargamel, or racist Papa Smurfs, the creators of this oh-so-evil-show, or even the show itself. My monster was the fear that I had something specific to my person or heritage that would isolate me.
I didn’t drive a stake through my TV or douse my living room with garlic (although there’s this really great fable where I make snow with baby powder and a window fan, but I guess that’s getting off-topic).
The way you slay a cultural demon is knowledge. I had to grow up. I had to meet and love and fear people that were othered for much bigger and more pervasive reasons than my familial censorship.
The way you slay a cultural demon is by refusing to sick it on anyone else.