They’ve been maiming and killing each other for decades – but the infamous cat and mouse from the Simpsons are about to be cut permanently, thanks to a new Russian law purportedly aimed at protecting children.
The law was written with a view to protecting children and young adults from “information detrimental to their health and development,” and calls for anything screened on television to have a clear-cut age restriction policy. The categories are similar to those already used in cinemas across the globe, and feature age guidelines like 6+, 12+ or 18+. Images of violence, bad and addictive habits like smoking or drinking, unlawful behavior, swearing, gambling and engaging in sexual activities – all those fall in 18+ category and have caused TV channels nothing but grief.
Because the law, sponsored by the ruling United Russia party, is vague and hasn’t provided broadcasters with clear-cut rules on what is and isn’t acceptable, the country’s TV industry has been in a panic in the run-up to September 1st, when the law is to take effect.
No one wants to be fined – or, worse, taken off the air – for showing something that could be deemed inappropriate, so preparations for the law are in full swing.
Popular American animated series the Simpsons, for example, will have to say goodbye to The Itchy and Scratchy show – an integral show-within-the-show piece turning the traditional triumph of good over evil on its head.
Based on the Tom and Jerry series, The Itchy and Scratchy Show features an anthropomorphic duo of a blue mouse and a black cat repeatedly killing one another in elaborate – and graphically violent – schemes.
Until September 1st, that is. After that, what will be featured is a mystery. Lev Makarov, the director of 2x2, the channel that broadcasts the Simpsons in Russia, told reporters they will abide by the new law – with a certain measure of irony.
"We will retouch in an ironic way all the programs which include scenes that fall under the new law. For example we will blackout the screen and write a jokey message in a rolling caption."
Unfortunately for 2x2, they’ll be forced to take another hit – as South Park’s unfortunate Kenny has had his life saved by the new Russian law. His multiple deaths are also banned – as are the bastards that kill him (not only because dying is seen as traumatic and killing Kenny is propagating violence, but also because children shouldn’t be exposed to words like ‘bastard’).
So good news for Kenny – but bad news for the show, and 2x2, which will have to move the show past the watershed and only screen cartoons like South Park after 11 pm.
Several Russian classics have also taken a hit, with all-time favorites like Nu, Pogodi (“Oh, Just You Wait”) facing a potential re-edit because one of the main characters, a wolf trying to catch a rabbit, is a chain smoker.
The classic's creators refused to change it, however, and with children having watched and loved it since the late 1960s, they say it's clear from the show that the wolf is the designated bad guy – hence, his smoking is also a negative characteristic and does not influence children.
Even one of the country's top health officials opposed the idea of editing the cartoon. "He smokes, and let him smoke – we understand that the wolf is a negative character," Evgeny Bryun, head of narcology at the Russian Health Ministry, told reporters.
But most of Russia's TV bosses are clearly worried. The vague wording of the law means not only will many things have to be screened only after the watershed, but that some programs will have to be simply dropped from broadcast completely.
And we aren’t just talking about the work of say, Quentin Tarantino. Oscar-winning movies like American Beauty could arguably be propagating homosexuality – which is illegal in Russia. Classics like Romeo and Juliet may vanish from TV screens as well, as it may be hard to argue away the violence and underage sexual relations purely on the fact it is a world-renowned literary (and film) masterpiece.
Understandably, the law has caused a lot of controversy. Many activists, actors, cartoonists and bloggers have already spoken out against the law – which they consider overly harsh.
Well-known and respected Russian actor Vasily Livanov, who rose to fame as Sherlock Holmes in a Soviet televised series about the British detective, called the new law sanctimonious and foolish.
“Foolishness knows no bounds. Based on this, you have to ban children from watching Sherlock Holmes just because he smoked a pipe? That’s basically telling people that all of his positive character aspects are worthless, because of that one pipe. I refuse to understand this.”
Some are trying to stay positive – like the producer of MTV in Russia, who claimed not only that the channel will keep all of its programs intact, but it will screen new ones that will win their audiences and stay well within the new legal limits.
But until it becomes easier for TV bosses to figure out what they can and cannot show, viewers in Russia may be in for some pedestrian, watered down and sanitized – but undoubtedly legally acceptable – programming.
Katerina Azarova, RT