The picture was on-screen for less than a second, but it was long enough for a small kid to notice and enough to stoke the ire of a well-conservative parent.
A recent episode of the French cartoon “Oggy and the Cockroaches” has been pulled from the Nickelodeon website and from regular rotation on its cable channels after an observant youngster noticed a image of a sunbathing, topless woman in one scene. The episode in which the image appears for less than a second aired on Nickelodeon around early March. The episode was also briefly available on Nickelodeon’s website before it was pulled following the controversy.
Nickelodeon offered no apology for the brief instance of upper-body nudity, but in a statement released over the weekend, the children’s network acknowledged the scene had slipped by the channel’s censors before air.
“The scene, which comes from an international acquisition, was unfortunately overlooked in the screen process,” a spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter. “We have pulled the episode from our air and online.”
The father who brought the image to light told the celebrity news website TMZ.com that he felt “extremely unhappy and was forced to have a female anatomy talk with his 8-year-old son.” The website said the anatomical discussion “wasn’t fun.”
Others levied blame against the series’ cartoonists, saying animators “have been doing this crap for ages.”
Indeed, Disney found itself the center of controversy numerous times over images subliminally slipped into its animations sometimes deliberately, sometimes accidentally.
In the early 1990s, parents complained after spotting what appeared to be in the theatrical artwork of “The Little Mermaid.” A few years later, parents were again up in arms after a handful of frames from “The Lion King” appeared to show the formation of the letters S-E-X in some dust.
And, in a case eerily similar to that of the “Oggy” incident, Disney was forced to recall home video releases of the animated film “The Rescuers” after a parent noticed a picture of a topless woman in two frames of the movie (of the three Disney cases, only “The Rescuers” incident has been confirmed as legitimate).
But unlike any of the Disney incidents, the “Oggy” case may have more of a cultural explanation instead of a perversive one: Topless sunbathing which the picture clearly shows has been the norm in Europe for decades. Nowhere is it more common than on the beaches in France, where anything more than a speedo or bikini bottom is shunned due to hygienic concerns.
Still, the image could also have been inserted by cheeky animators as more of an “inside joke,” not thinking it would land them in hot water with an international broadcaster. The cartoon airs locally on one of France’s public broadcasters and around the world on channels (such as Australia’s ABC3) that have more-relaxed standards about nudity and language than American broadcasters.
The American public has entrenched itself in controversy whenever anything remotely resembling a nipple bears itself on television domestically, the controversy centers on how broadcasters could be so reckless in allowing things like the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” at Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004 to make it to air, while around the world the question tends to focus on why Americans are so sensitive to a little nudity.
There are signs, though, that public perception toward so-called “indecent content” may be changing in the United States. Many popular television series, such as “Game of Thrones” and “Orange is the New Black,” air on premium cable channels or platforms like Netflix and Amazon where there are no federal broadcast restrictions or advertisers to appease. That freedom has yielded to blockbuster television programs that people are willing to throw money at. That effect has caused cable and over-the-air broadcasters to ease up on censoring their programs (for example, several gay sex scenes were featured on ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” last year).
But the “Oggy” reaction proves there are still parents who feel forced into having a conversation about the human anatomy with a third-grader and who feel entertainers and entertainment platforms should be double-tasked with producing compelling content while at the same time serving as a digital guardian of their children. If these parents don’t learn to grow up, it’s reasonable to assume their children never will either.
Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.