Sunday, 18 October 2015

When Censors Fail

There are few greater comedic artforms that trying to sneak adult jokes into shows aimed at kids in subtle – or not so subtle – ways. When you consider how cartoons are often very labour intensive and frustrating to create, it's no wonder that animators want to let off some steam, or put their own vulgar signature on their work.

The undisputed king of getting stuff past the censors was Rocko's Modern Life – a show that could probably now be described as a cult classic, and must hold the record for most references to sexual acts and masturbation in a children's show.

Here's 40 of the best (though there were a lot more than 40) :

Perhaps their best example, is this :

Animaniacs was also notorious for adult references, and quite excelled at it too. I still can't quite believe this got past the people in charge :

I don't know whether this is real or careful editing, but the Teletubbies weren't immune either :

Ren & Stimpy is perhaps South Park-lite so doesn't entirely count as "aimed at children", but still never has so much been conveyed in two images :

As said at the beginning, the usual practice is to sneak adult jokes or references into shows aimed at younger viewers. There are, of course, plenty of examples where a reference is more likely to be understood by younger viewers than older ones. That particularly applies to internet references, such as this one from satirical sitcom 30 Rock.

Here's Donald Duck getting more than he expected from one of his nephews :

And a new generation of pygophiles was born. I have no idea what this is from, butt that's one hell of a view :

Here's Spongebob Squarepants making a rape joke, as you do :

Oh Fred, you need to hide your speciality porn better. The joke supposedly is that he's so obsessed with traps he subscribes to a magazine, but it's even funnier/dirtier if you know the slang meaning of "trap", Unintentional, I'm sure. :

Here's a Transformers tank packing some extra heat :

This last one's the stuff of legend, but I doubt it counts as official because supposedly it was part of a special Christmas video for production staff. The picture quality's poor, but here's the cast of Rainbow and their big red twangers :

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Identity Crisis

As it's October, conversations often turn to "scary things" in the run up to Halloween. I'm sure all of us have an idea of what counts as scary, and often nothing's scarier than irrational childhood fears.

For those who don't know, idents are what TV, film and games companies use as a moving or static logo before a programme/film/game. Some of them are iconic in their own right, like the TriStar Pictures pegasus.

You would think that as a "face" for a company, idents – also known as vanity plates, bumpers and end boards – would be well-produced in order to show off the best aspects of whatever it is a media company does.

Instead, many of them tend to be incredibly low budget, accompanied by really weird animations, sudden camera angle changes and/or incredibly loud or disjointed – often synthesised – music.

When you're young, and you don't fully comprehend what an ident is – perhaps even can't read properly - a badly designed ident would overshadow whatever feature you're watching, game your playing or message it's trying to get across. It's just a bunch of random symbols and images flying at you with weird music.

They're not "jump out of your seat" scary; it's more that they create a sense of unease, as if you're viewing them in a nightmare, or that they activate a reptilian part of the brain that tells you, "Something's wrong here!".

As for why I decided to blog on this, Channel 4 recently relaunched its own channel identity, and broadcast a number of strange build-ups. One throwback to the old days was some "bird man" thing with a horror soundtrack:

I don't know what that has to do with Channel 4, but there you go....

It's not only Channel 4. Next, there's this one from the BBC. It's not the logo or animation itself, but the morbid music in minor key, which reminds you of the tunes soaps use when a character has just received bad news or dies. As it was usually found on videos, it would crop up before Fireman Sam or Postman Pat. I suppose it's the spiritual soundtrack of Conservative Britain.

Many of these things seem to appear before videos. This one from Palace Video – reminiscent of the castle from Count Duckula, or a palace of dildos - appeared before The Snowman, and you were always sure to hit fast forward as soon as possible because of it.

Paramount owner, Viacom, had a somewhat notorious ident in the United States, promptly given the nickname "Flying V of Doom" – the reason being self-explanatory.

Klasky Csupo – who made Rugrats amongst other things – produced this punk-inspired ransom note made up of body parts.

Next it's DiC Entertainment. The logo itself isn't scary in any way, but the volume of the music and creepy child's voice makes this unnerving. There's also something about a kid lying in bed with a big Dic lurking outside the window....

It's not just videos and TV, it also happens in games. Take Valve – makers of the the semial Half Life and Portal series – who for several years used this guy with a valve stuck in his head, which looks as though it belongs in a Tool video.

The next one from Russian TV station, VID, has become somewhat notorious for its use of the death mask of Chinese Tao philosopher Guo Xiang, preceded by some sort of jackhammer.

Now for a personal favourite, that if I wasn't able to explain in words and pictures would make people think I've gone around the bend.

You probably know that fire safety information in the UK is branded with a cheery depiction of a house burning down. That's unsettling, but generally what fires do.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, the logo that accompanied fire safety literature and posters was similar, with the slogan along the lines of : "Fire Kills : Think About It".

Somebody, in the Home Office or whatever, will have sat down and decided, "People aren't thinking about dying in fires often enough. How can we convey a sense of urgency, so people put fire safety at the forefront of their minds and think about it, over and over again?"

So they turn to a graphic design intern sat in the corner listening to Throbbing Gristle, who gives them a devilish grin in return.

This is what they came up with. It's been hard to track down, but I've digitally remastered it for today's paint:


It was on every single piece of fire safety literature and there were even big wall posters of it in school. Nowadays, it's something I would happily wear on a T-shirt, but in today's world of trigger warnings etc. it would never see the light of day. A screaming child with their head on fire is a bit on the nose when it comes to fire safety, don't you think?

I decided to make my own softer version :

"Can you smell burning?"