Rated E for Everyone


Karen Ma

Ever since the first cartoon with sound came out in 1928 under Disney titled Steamboat Willie, the subject matters and audiences of cartoons have experienced an immense shift, with “Beavis and Butt-Head” becoming the first fairly popular series, according to an article published by Rolling Stone, to contain adult themes such sex, violence and the macabre.

As American culture continues to evolve, popular cartoons have deviated from being made only for children to consisting of more adult themes, as well as comprising new adult-oriented television programming such as Adult Swim, founded in 2001.

shrekFor kids, the familiar ogre love story and classic fairytale characters of the “Shrek” movies are a source of light-hearted humor and family bonding. But for English teacher Monica Jariwala, the movie is a part of her Mythology and Folklore class’ curriculum, and for completely different reasons.

“When we got into our fairytale unit at the end of second semester, we wanted to show [the students] contemporary fairy tales, and contemporary fairytales nowadays are very satirical,” Jariwala said. “I mean, we laugh because there’s the kid humor, but then there’s the adult humor … A fairytale nowadays can kind of be for all audiences.”

Even with the renowned ogre embodying the typical monster protagonist, “Shrek” exposed its audiences to new ways of looking at fairy tale through criticism of classic character roles and of contemporary fairytales.

“It’s kind of tackling the idea of like, you know, you have a typical monster, you have the damsel but she’s not in distress,” Jariwala said. “It’s a fake distress idea, and she ends up being a very strong character … So it’s like we’re able to talk about the stereotypes [of contemporary ideals] and the fact that, ‘hey, there’s satire here, there’s humor here,’ because [it shows] what the stereotype was [and how] they are wrong.”

In addition to the satire, students are able to identify a slew of adult jokes referencing sexual or profane topics, manifested both visually and audibly in the film. One of the jokes senior Benjamin Lam, a former Mythology and Folklore student, recalls in “Shrek” is when Shrek suggests that the antagonist, Lord Farquaad, is using his massive castle to “compensate” for something. He also remembers the scene when Shrek and Donkey watch a musical in Dulock. Although the ending word in the musical is replaced with a less vulgar word, the rhyme from the line preceding it suggested the phrase: “Don’t forget to wipe your a–.”

“As a kid, you might not know that word exists because you’re innocent,” Lam said. “But then, as an adult, you instantly fill it in and then it’s pretty funny how that got out of [being censored], you know?”

It’s these concepts that Lam and Jariwala believe make “Shrek” not just a film for kids, but one that anyone can enjoy.

“You could see they made it also entertaining for adults that were dragged to the movies by their kids,” Lam said. “As long as [the jokes] are added subtly, I don’t think it’s going to really harm any kids; the jokes are going to go completely over their head.”

south parkHowever, Jariwala’s classes go beyond satire and fairy tales. During second semester of her Contemporary Literature curriculum, classes read an excerpt from “Fun Home,” a graphic novel and now Broadway musical detailing the childhood experiences of a closeted lesbian whose father, she later finds out, was also a homosexual.

“It’s a really beautiful story because you see the images, and it’s cool because her images also are very symbolic,” Jariwala said. “She’s bringing humor [and] it’s just something different for the class, which I really like.”

Although in the form of cartoon-style graphics, “Fun Home” tackles pressing and deeper topics such as gender identity and sexuality. Jariwala believes that through this medium, more intense topics can be brought to the forefront while still maintaining a level of light-heartedness.

“I feel like we have to kind of change things up because it’s not always about text,” Jariwala said. “I feel like graphic novels also have become super big, and there are visual learners, too, so by incorporating some visuals throughout the curriculum, especially cartoons, it’s just bringing in different modes to make learning more accessible for all learners.”

rick n morty

Meanwhile, outside of the classroom, the sitcom “Rick and Morty” has gained a massive audience since its release on the network Adult Swim in 2013, according to Vice. Featuring adult themes such as sex, depression and alcoholism, the series follows the two main characters, Rick, a super genius alcoholic, and Morty, his naive and slightly foolish grandson, as they go on various adventures.

“It’s really funny,” junior Rose Wang said. “I guess that sounds kind of bad because I’m saying dark humor is funny, but it just adds a lot of character [to the show] because Rick is just like a drunk man who’s always doing these stupid things … and it makes it really enjoyable to watch because sometimes you wouldn’t be able to pick the jokes up the first time.”

For some, its popularity can be attributed to the aimless plot lines; for others, it’s the witty Easter eggs with references such as “Breaking Bad” and “Inspector Gadget” present in every episode. And for Wang, the dark humor intermingled with the subtly crude art style is what makes the cartoon one of her favorites.

“It’s just like some drunk old dude and like a little kid; it’s kinda weird,” Wang said. “I feel like as a cartoon, it was really able to portray the silly nature of Rick, and how their adventures are so stupid that I’m pretty sure a … normal action TV show would not be able to capture how ridiculous these adventures are.”

However, watching the show has not just been a source of enjoyment for Wang. She explains that the show has helped her bond with other fans and has had an impact on her everyday speech, with jokes such as “Pickle Rick” unknowingly slipping into her dialogue. She believes that, ultimately, that is what make animated pictures like “Rick and Morty” one of a kind.

“Cartoons are super easy-going,” Wang said. “You can just watch it and have a good time. And real life kind of sucks, too.”