In a Criminal Justice Review study released online on Friday, University of Nebraska sociologist Lisa Kort-Butler takes a close look at cartoon TV shows, Batman: The Animated Series (which ran from 1992-1995), Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994-1998) and Justice League Unlimited (2001-2006). The TV shows are still sold in stores or seen on the Internet. The study scored the shows with a system sociologists have used to track messages in media portrayals of crime for the last two decades.
"What we see reflected in media - including superhero cartoons - is a portrayal of criminals as 'others', as bad or evil, and as irredeemable," says Kort-Butler, by e-mail. "The logical consequence is to keep those kind of people locked away from the rest of us, and to abandon ideals such as rehabilitation. Each of the cartoons made this point clear."
Maybe you're not surprised by this, but it is worth asking whether this is a great thing for kids or society, the study notes. The costumed crime-fighters in the shows often face off with law officers who are portrayed as "weak and inept," the study finds. But they ultimately turn the bad guys over to the cops. . Even though they are just cartoons, Kort-Butler suggests that parents may want to think about what kids are learning about crime and criminals from these costumed good guys.
"While they are cartoons and are designed to be entertaining, they are nonetheless a source that kids draw on to understand criminal events. For most kids, they may be the only exposure they have to crime and justice issues," Kort-Butler says. "As a parent myself (whose kids also watch these cartoons), I think it is important to, first, make sure I am available to answer questions or concerns they may have about criminal events, and, second, encourage them to think beyond what they may have seen on Batman or in the news."
Sounds like a message that Batman would approve.