Oh brother, I have heard some pretty silly censorship tales in my time, but this one is a real doozy. Last week, U.K. telecom and media regulator Ofcom announced that, in the wake of an investigation prompted by the anonymous viewer’s complaint, it had pressured the children’s cable TV channel Boomerang to edit out scenes in two “Tom & Jerry” cartoons that were deemed to glamorize or condone smoking. “We note that, in ‘Tom and Jerry’, smoking usually appears in a stylised manner and is frequently not condoned,” reported Ofcom.
The complaint focused on two episodes–“Texas Tom” and “Tennis Chumps.” I seem to remember them from childhood, but my memory is a little fuzzy, so here’s a description from The Guardian: “In Texas Tom, Tom tries to impress a female cat by making a rollup cigarette while Tennis Chumps sees Tom’s opponent in a match smoking a large cigar.”
Now look, I hate smoking as much as the next guy these days, and I can even sympathize with concerns about kids being exposed to excessive tobacco advertising (although I would still never call upon governments to ban it entirely, as many did long ago). But what we are talking about here are two very short clips of cartoon characters briefly smoking. Do the UK regulators imagine that after seeing those fleeting glimpses of tobacco use in just those two episodes that kids will make a mad dash for mom’s purse, steal her cash, and run down to the corner store to try to buy some smokes (illegally, I might add)?
Come on, let’s be real. It would be one thing if every “Tom & Jerry” episode included multiple scenes of tobacco use. Perhaps then the regulators would have something to get worked up about. But two fleeting scenes in just two episodes out of the hundreds of episodes that were made? They felt the need to censor that?
Incidentally, I guess we’ll just ignore all the shovels or iron anvils that are continuously and quite violently dropping on poor Tom, flattening his head or entire body. And I’ll guess we’ll ignore Tom’s sinister plots to eat not only little Jerry, but also every innocent creature around him (usually fuzzy little ducklings who’ve recently lost their mommas). And, on a more serious note, I’ll guess we’ll ignore the blatant racial stereotyping at play when Mammy Two-Shoes is brought into the script or when Tom appears in blackface make-up in some episodes. Yeah, let’s just ignore all that and focus on two random shots of smoking and censor them to “protect the children.”
How utterly absurd.
Here’s a reality check for UK regulators: Kids are still going to see real people smoking in the real world and what two animated characters were (very briefly) doing in two short spots in a 50-year-old cartoon isn’t really going to amount to a hill of beans. And, by the way, how long to do you think it will be before these episodes pop on YouTube or other video sharing sites and kids just start watching them there simply because you have taken this silly step?
But that gets to my final question: Who the heck even watches Tom & Jerry cartoons anymore?! My kids certainly don’t. Now if Dora the Explorer ever starts lighting up, give me a call back!