Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Oh grow up!

There comes a time in everyone's life where we must put aside childhood things. Unless of course we happen to be cartoons, in which case we can hang onto our youth longer than Demi Moore.

The Simpsons may have been running for 20 years, but Bart, Maggie and Lisa remain trapped for eternity at the age they were when they first appeared as poorly animated inserts in the Tracey Ullman show.

Likewise, long-running comic characters retain their youthful looks, even into their sixties. Take Dennis the Menace for example - he's been in short trousers since Bruce Forsyth was in short trousers.

However, although the character may look the same, his behaviour has evolved over time. Long gone are the catapults, peashooters and incessant bullying of 'Walter the Softy'. The stories no longer end with a dose of corporal punishment either.

Dennis is still a mischief maker, but he's no longer a bully with an angry, badly trained dog. Some might argue that our sensibilities have softened over time, and that we've lost our sense of humour. But I can't help wondering if the neutering of Dennis is more to do with the fact that we're now overrun with Menaces, and it just doesn't seem quite so endearing any more.

So it's a little strange to see the Daily Mail, which never met a hoodie it didn't want to slipper into a coma, championing old-school Dennis the Menace and decrying his toothless contemporary antics.

Blaming the 'PC killjoys' who made Dennis too nice, the Mail has run a story about a noxious family's letters to the Beano, begging for Dennis to return to his menacing ways. Eight year-old Jacob Rush reportedly wrote to the publishers saying "I don't like Dennis because he doesn't have his catapult or water pistol any more and he's not menacing enough - I want the old Dennis back."

Of course, the real enemy here is political correctness - eviscerating our best-loved characters and leaving a bland soup of mediocrity in its place. The Mail laments the fact that "even his usual scowl has been transformed into a charming boyish grin" and has had to lay off his arch-nemesis Walter to allay concerns over 'gay bashing'. Interesting to note their use of quotation marks, as if to suggest that the very concept of homophobic bullying is in doubt.

Like any other art form (no matter how populist), comics have an obligation to reflect the world around them. Perhaps the publishers of the Beano should have turned Dennis into a foul-mouthed, ASBO-baiting thug who breaks into pensioners' homes, sexually harasses his school teachers and steals drug money from his parents?

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