Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs premiered 23 years ago, which may not seem like such a long time ago, but in the context of America’s evolving cultural consciousness, it may as well have been 123 years ago.
The show’s retrograde sensibilities (and bungling attempts to insert ‘adult’ content into a children’s cartoon) are now available to revisit on Netflix, and they are the subject of a recent think-piece on Medium, written in the form of an open letter to Steven Spielberg. The writer, Charlene deGuzman, who claims to have been a fan of a show when she was younger, explains her objections:
Sexy music. A sexy figure. Sexy walking. A sexy nurse. “Hellooooooo Nurse!” chime Yakko and Wakko. Panting. Drooling. Tongues rolling out onto the floor. Dot walks over to their tongues and snaps them back into their mouths. “Boys,” she concludes with a smirk.
“Trigger!” I said to the pile of stuffed animals next to me.
I am an addict in recovery. Specifically, a sex and love addict. At my 12-step meetings we can raise our hand and say “trigger” if at any point we feel triggered by something someone is saying.
Oh okay. Right. Okay. Yeah, that makes complete sense and is totally valid.
What caught me off guard was realizing that this bit didn’t consciously affect me or stand out to me when I watched it as a kid. Because it was normal to me. That’s just how the world worked. A beautiful blonde woman with big curves in a tight dress and high heels and boys making comments, literally chasing her while she runs away in distress. In front of their sister. That’s normal. That’s okay.
“Boys,” as Dot put it.
Steven, I TMI only because I want you to know that I am fully aware that this bit probably affects me more than most because of my personal experiences and trauma. I know that my reaction is just a manifestation of my “stuff,” and has nothing to do with you or your cartoon.
However you might feel about the show’s naughty nurse character, deGuzman’s criticism of Netflix’s categorization of the series is on-point:
But Steven, I write this to ask you and anybody with a Netflix account — please don’t show this cartoon to your children. Netflix has Animaniacs categorized under “Kids’ TV Ages 2 to 4” and “Kids’ TV Ages 5 to 7.” The blatant objectification of women in the form of an adorable cartoon supports children (and adults!) with the story that objectification is okay and tolerated. A woman should be ogled and cat called. Boys should be turned on and say something about it. Women are helpless and don’t have much to say. You must look like Hello Nurse so boys will like you. Hello Nurse is the ideal woman. These are the ideas you are portraying to children.
It’s a fascinating piece to read only because it highlights how rapidly cultural values are evolving in the United States — and I would argue, evolving for the better. It also makes one think: in a couple decades, how will viewers respond to the animated series being produced today? It should be fun to find out.