Films, novels, songs, plays, comics: every cultural creation is an important means of conveying values and building ideas. In this sense, the child population has a large baggage of content to go with forging their early life developmentespecially at a time when technological evolution allows infinite resources to be contained in a single device.
It was not always like this: in 1906, the American James Stuart Blackton invented films drawn on celluloid tape, which was the starting point for animated films. From that moment they began to make their way to the twenties, when the era of Disney and its mythical characters arrived: Mickey Mouse, Pluto and Donald Duck were some of the most notable icons, to which other figures such as Popeye, Bugs Bunny or Betty Boop. At the end of the 1950s, the Hanna-Barbera studio took over the baton and continued with the creation of characters, launching the production of figures and series such as The Flintstoneson Yogi Bear or the Jetsons. Some of the biggest film studios of the time, such as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Warner Bros, also began producing and distributing major works for film and television. Animation was definitely uncharted territory.
Cartoons have some recurring themes, such as family and friendship stories, but these creations have always adapted to new realities. This is the case of The Flintstones, a clever satire of sixties society in which we are invited to observe the lives of two traditional families. One of them, composed of Pedro, Vilma, and their daughter Pebbles, shows an everyday life that may be familiar to the viewer: Pedro spends much of the day working at the quarry and, although he maintains an extensive social life, he ends up sometimes forgetting his necessary role as a father. His friend Pablo, married to Betty and whom Pedro affectionately calls “dwarf” because of his short stature – an adjective that would not be common to hear in cartoons today – has a better character and is more honest than him. However, the women of both couples are almost the same: they have very thin bodies and devote themselves to taking care of their children and housework.
Series like Hilda and Steven Universe show families and roles outside of traditional stereotypes
A few years later, at the end of the eighties, we find the appearance of The Simpsons, who build through their drawings, with simplicity, another social critique in which we witness the problems and adventures of Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart and Maggie. This series was actually not originally aimed at children, as it was considered one of the first animated creations for an adult audience, but quite a few boys and girls still followed it. And what do we find in it? Again a classic family united and strengthened through adversitywith several roles similar to The Flintstonesbut with different family ties: we find the defiant Bart, a Lisa who is very clear about what she wants and who rebels against social norms, a house with scattered schedules and a ubiquitous television in every interaction.
But society changes, and whether they like it or not, cartoons don’t they may stop serving new configurations. For this reason, in recent years, other types of series have begun to be produced, showing families with a more diverse composition, with less stereotypes and with different gender roles for men and women. And if we talk about a symbol of television, an example will be represented by the dolls of Street sezam in its American version, where new chapters continue to air and where more diverse characters are included in a year.
Some series even integrate new looks, as in the case of Hilda, which tells the adventures of a brave, nature-loving girl who lives in the forest with her mother and her dog. Hilda, whose personality reveals an adventurous and empathetic personality, lives in a single-parent family where the mother avoids stereotypes, becoming an autonomous figure. Another example would be Steven universe, a series whose protagonist is a 14-year-old boy with powers whose upbringing includes three super-powered warriors, a human father, and an alien mother. In his chapters, there are subtle touches on gender, on diverse relationships, on sexual orientation and racial characters, all without loss adventure background. If we move to the big screen, something similar happens with the film network, which received numerous accolades, among other reasons, for showing the changes a teenager’s body experiencesas happens with menstruation, a problem very little is seen in the animation.
And that is because cartoons are a powerful tool for social education and therefore the messages that are conveyed through them evolve just as society evolves. New cultural productions that fall into a society where diversity seems to be a clear sign of identity.