Children Sink Into Adult Swim

August 19, 2011 - 4:00 AM

A man wearing a Santa hat sits on a roof. He's talking to his ex-girlfriend on a cell phone, trying with feigned cheer to wish her a Merry Christmas. He asks if she's with her new boyfriend. Yes, she replies, and she's with her whole family, opening presents. He says, "That's great, because I have a present for you," and he saws off his own head so it falls down the chimney into the fireplace.

This isn't a horror movie. It's a cartoon, filmed in stop-motion animation, like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." It runs on the Cartoon Network, which is owned by Time Warner. And it's aimed at children.

This horrific little severed-head sketch was part of a show called "Robot Chicken," which has aired for years on this network. Nobody watches that, you say. Think again: "Robot Chicken" has turned up on a list of the Top 25 shows watched by children aged 12 to 17.

Some might say all this "fun" is clearly designed for young adults, not children. It's after dark, when the Cartoon Network turns — from Jekyll to Hyde — into the Adult Swim Channel. But that's not at midnight. Since December, it's been moved into prime time at 9 p.m. Eastern, 8 p.m. Central. Even before that, Nielsen reported in 2008 that the top U.S. networks for teenagers were Fox, Nickelodeon, Disney ... and Adult Swim.

Speaking of Christmas, that show also has a cartoon of a man tied up for a stoning, with Jesus saying, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." As men beginning dropping their rocks, Jesus then whacks the tied-up man in the head with a rock and yells "Blammo!" Mocking Jesus is an ongoing theme; In another skit called "Jesus and the Argonauts," when all his men leave, Jesus complains "Oh, Dad damn it!"

In a new survey of the top 20 animated cable shows, the Parents Television Council gave an A grade to Disney and Nickelodeon for its top cartoons. But the Cartoon Network and its "Adult Swim" bloc earned an F for excessive sex, violence, profanity, and drug use.

In watching just 123 programs in a four-week study period, the PTC documented one thousand four hundred and eighty-seven examples of offensive material ... on cartoons. On average, young viewers were exposed to this junk once every two minutes and 19 seconds.

Let's go through the numbers. There were 680 sexual references or depictions. Some were typically sleazy, and some went way beyond. In one episode of "American Dad," eponymous character Stan breaks in on a child molester named Randy, who's trying to seduce his son, Steve, along with other boys. Stan pulls a gun on him, but Randy stands his ground.

"Look, I'm a sex offender. I love offensive sex," he proclaims. "I offend people with the sex I have. That's who I am, and it's who I'll always be."

Stan finds that inspiring. "My God, boys! We can all take a page from Randy the Molester's book. He's comfortable with who he is! And I should be as well!"

These cartoons were loaded with 565 incidents of explicit language — much of it bleeped out of necessity, even by today's bohemian standards. For example, in one "American Dad" show, the teen character Barry screams into the school public-address system that "You [bleeps] are going to do what I say or I will put my [bleeped G.D.] foot so far up your [bleeped A-word] you will rue the day that you crawled out of your mother's [bleep]."

In another "Dad" episode, Francine, the sitcom's mother character, hates George Clooney so much that when her husband calls Clooney a "future Senator from California," she explodes. "Oh, I will chop his [bleeped F-bomb] head in two." It's a violence-and-profanity two-fer.

There were 242 references to drug use. Here again was Adult Swim, replaying a "King of the Hill" show where a friend tricks young Bobby into making crystal meth for a science project at school. She later tricks him into making more drugs at home and sells the meth to a trucker. It's another uplifting plot line for children, don't you think?

If you think this isn't aiming "adult" material squarely at children, check out how this network often rates its sleazy programming: TV-PG, or acceptable for children under 14 with parental guidance "suggested."