Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Breasts Causing Trouble in Gotham City: Censorship in 'Batman: The Animated Series"

Men will never understand how annoying it is to have breasts. They get in the way, they get sweaty, good bras are hard to find, and it hurts like hell to fall face down. However, the censors did understand the last one...and their concern was expressed in the 'Batman: The Animated Series' script notes. And your parents said you don't learn anything from watching cartoons...

To understand the extent censors from the Broadcast Standards and Practices (BS&P) department at TV networks had control over cartoons since the 1960s, we must first look back 30+ years before 'Batman: The Animated Series' (B:TAS) to see why cartoons were suddenly targeted by concerned parents and the government.

As many fellow geeks or comic collectors know, in 1954 Congress held hearings about comic books and other media that many people blamed for the rise of "juvenile delinquency" in America. (Not the fact that many homes were broken thanks to WWII, no, not at all.) Finally, the government decided they really didn't want to regulate comic books, so they allowed comic book publishers to self-regulate their books using the Comic Book Code guidelines. If their comics passed, a seal of approval would be printed onto the book. Now why would they want to do that? You ask. Well, during this time, comic books were actually being BURNED in the streets. And the fact that parents were largely boycotting comic books as well. So the seal of approval told the overly-paranoid 1950s housewives and husbands that this comic was a-okay.

(Why mommy? Why?)

So now almost every comic book publisher was adhering to the codes. So where do artists and writers go to put their action-packed ideas into a more freeing environment? Cartoons, of course! During the 1960s, action cartoons like 'Johnny Quest' were rather violent from what we're use to seeing today in cartoons (at least on kiddie networks, not places like Adult Swim or MTV). Guns, fists, and death galore, that kind of stuff. Of course, the no-fun police (aka parents) caught on pretty quickly and demanded the networks to stop encouraging their kids to become violent psychopaths. So networks did something that the Comic Book Code did as well - self-regulate their shows with a Broadcast Standards and Practices (BS&P) department.

Each network had its own kind of crazy censorship guidelines. Some networks (I'm looking at you, ABC...we'll get to them when it's time to talk about Janine Melnitz and Reboot...) had insane censorship guidelines, others were more relaxed. By the time the 1990s rolled around and cartoons began taking a bit of a darker edge along with the rest of the television world, the guidelines were outdated. Most network censors would not allow a character to even make a closed fist (or even punch with one). And speaking of a darker edge, what's darker than the Dark Knight himself?

(Buy it if you find it.)

In the amazing behind-the-scenes/art book 'Batman: Animated' (I highly recommend this to any cartoon fan, it's amazing), it details how 'B:TAS' came about. Warner Brothers (WB) wanted a new Batman cartoon, and when they announced this to their eager staff of artists and other talented members, two men created a vision that was unexpected, dark, and beautiful. Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski came back to WB with the storyboard of the now famous opening credits. WB was entranced by their vision and put them in charge of creating how 'B:TAS' would look, develop, and feel.

By now, Fox and WB were airing cartoons pushing the limits of their BS&P departments, they did not back down from the potentially dangerous 'B:TAS' - they embraced it.....but not completely:

In all fairness, the BS&P restrictions on Batman, both at Fox and the Kids' WB!, have been much more lenient than at any other network, One of the unsung heroes of the series was Avery Coburn, Fox's BS&P liaison. We were getting into new territory with this show, and Avery understood exactly what we were going for. She changed the rules for daytime animated series, which were long due for an overhaul. - Batman: Animated

However, this did not mean they had free reign. 

Some of Batman's greatest conflicts have not been with the Joker or the Riddler, but against a much more excruciating adversary: the censor. BS&P, ever vigilant to shield America's youth from objectionable program content, closely oversees every script, storyboard, and rough cut, ordering the omission of action and dialogue they feel is too intense for the kiddies. - Batman: Animated

Batman: Animated then lists various objections made by the censors. Most of them "normal" objections like deleting blood, violence (mostly against heads - example: Kicking the thugs in their faces is too much, Bane can't pick Robin up by his head, Miriam can't kick Batman in the head), and Batman decking out skinny dudes. Others are more amusing/extreme. My favorites include: Penguin's joke about "picking up all the soap" in prison is out, The third thug must be Caucasian, and my all-time favorite (named in the title of this blog) - Censor wants us to figure out someplace for Catwoman to land other than on her face or breasts.

I'll let you read that again.
Reading through the fascinating production history of this amazing cartoon in Batman: Animated, you learn about how the censors were especially involved in the costume/character designs of the women. It's interesting, to me at least, how BS&P departments were less concerned about violence than the horrible possibility that a female could look too "sexy" or "sexualized." But at the same time, they were concerned that Catwoman would land on her, as my friend puts it, "natural cushioning" or her face. I honestly don't know what to make of it, even as a woman. My best guess is that this weird censor note best reflects how America, even now, is still very concerned about sexuality rather than violence, especially in cartoons.

But still it is damn funny. So thank you, censors, for understanding the pain that we feel when we land on our boobs. And sorry to the animators who were ready, willing, and able to animate boobs being squished or Catwoman's pretty face being smashed.

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