The Unethical French Animator, the Mammalian Duck, Dysfunctional Ethics Alarms

“Oggy and the Cockroaches” is a French animated comedy series produced by Xilam and Gaumont Film Company. Its future on the Nickelodeon children’s TV cartoon channel NickToons is in doubt, however, after the channel was thrust into an unwanted controversy by an unknown French cartoonist’s practical joke.

A recent episode that aired on NickToons featured a brief view of a framed wall hanging showing a cartoon female duck sporting a pair of bikini briefs, sunglasses and bouffant hair-do, and most significantly, naked torpedoesque breasts of a variety more familiar to afficionados of “Fritz the Cat” than the target audience of eight-year-olds. Naturally, the station was deluged with complaints from parents.

The NickToons  website now appears to have removed the show from both its schedule and its homepage. Good start. It should also end any relationship it may have with Xilam and Gaumont.

I know cartoonists are not known for an excess of maturity, but a network needs to be able to reside a modicum of trust in its contractors, suppliers and partners. If an animator would think it’s funny to slip a topless, sexy duck into a kid’s show, then who is to say the next “joke” won’t be a giant talking penis or Adolf Hitler having sex with a cow?

Far more disturbing than the prank itself are the rationalizations and justifications being offered for it in online comments to the story and in social media:

  • I think you’ll find this kind of thing with hidden or subliminal erotic/sexual imagery in kids cartoons happens a lot, especially Disney!” “Everybody does it,” also Rationalization #32. The Unethical Role Model, or “He/She would have done the same thing” and #44, The Unethical Precedent.” Yes, some cartoonists, animators and graphic artists have done this for a long, long time, the millisecond “SEX” cloud in “The Lion King” and the Land O’ Lakes girl being among the most famous examples. Walt’s artists, however, were clever and subtle enough that their tricks weren’t noticed by children or detected until videos allowed the action to be slowed down: a naked bosom showing up on a wall in “Cinderella” would have been a catastrophe for the House of Mouse, so those earlier inside jokes were confined to the animators’ warped senses of humor without being recognized by innocent eyes. And what they were doing was also unprofessional and unethical, whether they were caught or not. The animators in the “Oggy and the Cockroaches” scandal betrayed their obligations to a trusting contractor and trusting  parents who had assumed that  their children’s eyes and minds were safe with that contractor. What other cartoonists have done is irrelevant.
  • “I think there is something wrong with the PARENTS! cause after all this is a kid’s show not an adult so children probably didn’t notice or doesn’t even know what it is, some parents are just sick and dirty, like just stop complaining on stuff like this cause you’re just gonna make children cry because their favorite show has been put down or worse turn out like you.”  A brain is a terrible thing to waste, my friend. There’s something wrong with the parents for objecting to finding adult cartoon images in their children’s shows and wanting assurances that more soft-porn images are not on the way? There’s something wrong with parents insisting on accountability when inappropriate images invade a show that is advertised as age-appropriate? How do people who think this poorly function? How does society function with saddled with so many people like this idiot, making an ethical culture all but impossible?
  • “Wow, a naked breast is a scandal in this country. But showing people being shot in the head, hacked with a hammer, decapitated or blown away is absolutely OK even at prime time. We need to grow up!” 1. How about you deciding what is appropriate cartoon fare for your children, and I decide what is appropriate for mine? 2. Responsible parents don’t let their children watch ultra-violent shows or play vicious video games either.  If  the director of Disney’s  “Jessie” decided one of the characters should suffer a graphic gang rape and beheading as a “joke,” I think you might see some reaction. 3. This is the equivalent of buying a “Bob the Builder” computer game for your third-grader and discovering that a funny programmer had hidden Hustler photos around the scenery. 4. Classic Rationalization #22, “It’s not the worst thing!”
  • writes in Mediaite (I post her name because this kind of public stupidity deserves to be shamed) : “As wrong as it was for them to have that in what’s apparently supposed to be a children’s show, if that 8 year old does not yet know that women have boobies, then it’s time he knows. Seriously? He didn’t know this? At least it was a drawing, not the real thing.” 1. “Apparently supposed to be a children’s show”? It’s called “Oggy and the Cockroaches” and airs on NickToons. 2. “Boobies”? How old IS Debra? 3. I think an eight-year old also knows he has a penis. Does that mean a cartoon of a duck with a massive erection would be OK with Debra? 4. She’s right, the cartoon including real, live breasts would really be bad.
  • “Lol, that’s hilarious….obviously it was a mistake. Someone probably put that in as a joke in pre-production, then forgot to recolor it (probably so it looked like she was wearing a bikini) for the final product.” If it’s a mistake, then it’s still not acceptable.  As a parent, it makes no difference to me why inappropriate content ends up before my child’s eyes, what matters is that it did. That means I cannot trust the show or the channel. For a consumer, gross negligence is exactly as unforgivable as an intentional wrongful act. The damage is the same.

I estimate that 80-90% of the commenters are incapable of understanding what’s wrong with what the animator did, and believe parents should just laugh it off.  Ugh. Their atrophied comprehension of ethics, contracts, basic fairness and mutual obligations is so disabled, they can’t figure out that absent warning, notice, and parental consent, this is a rank betrayal of trust and parental authority. Whether or not it scars the child for life, which it almost certainly will not, is not the issue. Reasoning otherwise represents consequentialism, yet another epidemic ethical analysis malady.

This is a trivial episode, to be sure. The societal problem the comments  reveal, however—the inability of a majority of the population to make ethical distinctions and tell right from wrong– is major, serious, and  destructive.


Sources: Daily Mail, Mediaite


38 thoughts on “The Unethical French Animator, the Mammalian Duck, Dysfunctional Ethics Alarms

  1. What, no rationalization about how in Europe breasts are no big deal and why don’t we blue-nosed Americans get with the times?

  2. This is why I watch cartoons with my kids. And, each time, I am surprised by the questions I get: “Mom, what is that?”, “Mom, what does that word mean?” My kids would have known that they were looking at breasts — and they would have noticed and would have asked why there was a picture of them on the wall. And there is no good answer to that latter question.

    • Current TV cartoons are awful. A side point to this post, but very disturbing. They are snarky and joyless, seemingly written by spoiled thirteen year olds instead of adults. My grandkids watch them at our house because TV ist verboten at their, our daughter’s, house, a policy I find a little too oppressive and counter productive. But it is horrifying how crappy current cartoons are. I should probably buy the grand kids old “Rocky and Bullwinkle” DVDs. [As a side benefit, the Boris and Natasha installments would help them understand current Russian internal affairs and international policy. Wait a minute, that’s how I developed my sense of Russian internal affairs and international policy. Hmmm.]

      • +1, and old Looney Tunes. They are subversive enough to keep the kiddos interested but if you watch with them they don’t get uncomfortable…. beep beep!

  3. If they want to sell it to our market they have to tailor it appropriately. The ads for the old Cordoba sedans mentioned rich Corinthian leather, smooth driving, and safety for the grandmas, not that the engine could hit 120 easy. If they want topless women, then they lose quite a few markets.

    They should sell it to HBO if they thought it high enough quality to pass as adult here.

    As an aside, extravagant mammalian breasts on supposed birds or reptilian creatures in animation shows a serious lack of imagination. Their sexy aspect would not look like that. It’s be like all the fashions here taking a raptor tail strapped on humans at the beach.

  4. Children are attracted to cartoons like moths to a flame. They take what they see in their formative years to heart and remember. That’s why it’s so important that what they see and learn be of a higher order and stress moral and ethical lessons. There’s nothing wrong with silly cartoons as long as they don’t do things like downplay alcohol usage or present sexualized images, as did that scenario.

    • The crappy cartoons of today are all about sexualization in that awful, hip, smarmy, perky, laugh track Disney pre-teen show way. Very depressing. .

      • And then they see those “adult cartoons”. Children don’t know the difference and, often enough, neither do the parents. You can bet your bundle, though, that the animators and promoters know it… and don;t give a damn. In fact, they’re counting on it.

  5. There are some great cartoons out there: Wallykazam, Dinosaur Train, Sofia the First, Sid the Science Kid, Octonauts, Sheriff Callie — to name a few. But I do admit that I probably police TV more than most of the parents out there.

  6. Jack,
    Though there’s no way to entirely know for sure, most people who have looked into the Lion King “sex controversy” have ruled it accidental. The “letters” are skewed to begin with, making it far more likely this is akin to seeing shapes in clouds. People also claimed the “penis” on the Little Mermaid cover was placed by a “disgruntled animator” except that the story was made up and that, too, appeared to be accidental.

    Why would Disney or its animators (no matter how disgruntled) risk their reputation and (a) potential lawsuit(s) just to get off by adding phallic references and sexual messages into a feature film?


  7. As an aside, and I just remembered it, there was a thing a few years back where a Disney animator spliced in pornographic images to The Rescuers, it was only two frames, so the likelihood of actually seeing them was almost nil, but apparently some did, and others searched frame by frame and found it.

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