Over the weekend, I had a conversation with a friend who told me she wasn’t allowed to watch The Simpsons as a kid. Specifically, her parents were concerned about her watching a dysfunctional family and thinking that was normal. I found this hilariously ironic, because one of the major themes of the show is that the “TV pretty” family doesn’t exist and is in many ways unhealthy to live up to, and it shows the real work a family has to do to stay together. Also, she ended up becoming an iconoclastic rebel anyway. It got me thinking; I grew up in a fairly permissive family, and I don’t recall ever not being allowed to watch something because its political content. Mum always said that as long as I could understand the difference between fiction and reality – that I could understand that a guy yelling motherfucker while stealing a car is awesome in Grand Theft Auto and terrible in the middle of maths class – I could watch or play or read whatever I want. I’m not saying that she deliberately exposed us to, like, splatterpunk at the age of six, of course. She did moderate and research what we talked about or wanted to see before letting us watch it. But if I wasn’t allowed to watch something, it was usually because my parents themselves found it really annoying. The big two I wasn’t allowed to watch growing up were Ren & Stimpy and South Park, because Mum found them both to be wall-to-wall repulsive gross-out humour with no other value, and she couldn’t stand to have them on in the house.
Admittedly, score two for Mother; when I finally got to see these two shows, I found I couldn’t stand them either. I remember when I was about eight or nine years old, I was staying with my grandparents over the holidays. At the time, Nickelodeon played massive marathons of their original programming – a big block of Rugrats or Spongebob Squarepants or CatDog – and it happened to air about half an hour after my hearing-aid-dependent grandparents went to bed. One night, they advertised a block of Ren & Stimpy, and I thought ‘ah, here’s my chance to make up my own mind!’. I watched it til about two in the morning for three days straight, and didn’t see a single thing of value about it. Years later, I would learn that there were people who considered Spongebob a watered down ripoff of R&S, but to my eye, Spongebob took some of the humour and animation – like intense closeups on gross shit – and threw in things like characters, worldbuilding, and, you know, jokes. Ren & Stimpy‘s humour struck Baby Napoleon as not too different from particularly annoying classmates, simply throwing whatever dumb shit pops into its head at the moment with no sense of pacing, timing, or humour. Meanwhile, I’m more fair to South Park than my mother is, because I recognise that it’s gross-out humour held together by a coherent, well-thought-out worldview, I just find that worldview vile and hate spending time in it. I was about fourteen when I found myself alone in the house, channel-flipping, and came across South Park. Once again, I thought it was a chance to get my own point of view on the show. I saw a grossly obese caricature of Rosie O’Donnell who was given a voice not unlike that which my classmates used to obnoxiously mock someone, a parrot-like squawking in which she said things no human being has ever said. I decided this was childish crap written by people who thought they were much more insightful than they were, and turned it to something else. Nothing I’ve seen of the show since then has changed my mind.
What shows were you not allowed to watch growing up? What are you stories of watching them anyway? If you’re a parent, what do you not allow your children to watch?