Making the Grade: Rules Imposed on the 1994 Spider-Man Cartoon by Fox Censors

spiderman1994No use of words like “death,” “die”, “kill” 
The 1990s was a weird decade for kids’ shows. Thanks to shows like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers causing the Helen Lovejoys of the world to wail “Won’t somebody think of the children?” about violent content aimed at kids, other shows like 1994’s Spider-Man were under the gun, so to speak, and the animators had to put up with a few somewhat ridiculous rules. This one, however, wasn’t one of them. Sure, it may seem weird to hear the Kingpin order his men to “obliterate Spider-Man” when we all knew what unspeakable things he really wanted to do to the web-slinger’s rotting corpse, but that’s the point. By dancing around sensitive subjects and letting kids figure out the implied carnage for themselves, shows like Spider-Man helped prepare young viewers for future careers in the corporate world, where euphemisms for hiding ugly truths are a matter of course. Hey, now there’s an idea: let’s bring back the show and have the villains constantly threaten to downsize Spider-Man, or initiate corrections to redundancies in the arachnid-hominid sector. B-

No blood/killing/injuries or deaths caused by violence
Again, a rule that sounds silly on the surface, but Marvel was out to sell action figures, not produce cinema verite, so a desire to avoid showing 7-year-olds the messier consequences of hand-to-hand combat was understandable. Besides,  I’m sure the animators appreciated not having to re-create the “blood exhibiting the viscosity of maple tree sap” look that was all the rage in the Image-influenced “ex-TREEEME” comics of the day. B

No use of the word “sinister”
This rule, on the other hand, made no goddamn sense. The first big team-up of Spider-Man’s big-league foes was dubbed the Sinister Six by Lee and Ditko way back in the ’60s, but apparently someone at Fox decided that word was too intense for more modern-day youngsters, and so we were left with the Insidious Six. First, I fail to see how “The Proceeding in a Gradual, Subtle Way But with Harmful Effects Six” is any improvement. Second, at the same time that someone was fretting about warping fragile little minds with scary words like “sinister,” a death-pallored fellow by the name of Mister Sinister was over on the X-Men cartoon doing the evil mutant equivalent of handing out free candy from the back of his van. So what up, Fox? D-

No guns with bullets
Remember when they fired guns in ’80s cartoons like Transformers and G.I. Joe and those guns were always shooting lasers with vreet-vreet or p-too, p-too sound effects? No one really questioned it because one show was about alien robots and the other featured commandos and terrorists who could conceivably have access to that type of futuristic weaponry. But Spider-Man’s New York City police officers? The hell? It would only have been slightly less ridiculous if the censors had ordered everyone in the show to point their index fingers and shout “Pow! Pow!” in lieu of packing actual heat. And suddenly my life’s dream is to see a Punisher comic where he’s forced to do precisely that. C-

No real vampires
This one’s easy to figure out: if you let kids think vampires are real when they’re young and then they later figure out the truth, they’ll grow disenchanted with your lies and start wearing black lace and attend depressing poetry readings and before you know it we’ve lost the war. Or something. This rule seems a bit pointless since the only vampire-ish character was Morbius the Living Vampire, and the show made it pretty clear he wasn’t a real vampire, just another freak accident of science who gained bat-like abilities. Even so, they gave him suckers on his palms to drain his victims’ don’t-call-it-the-B-word “plasma,” presumably to prevent impressionable viewers from starting an epidemic of neck-biting and blood-swilling. You know, just like how that Casper movie came out and kids everywhere committed suicide because they wanted to float through walls just like the world’s friendliest pneumonia victim. Sometimes I think a network censor’s job is to believe every child is an idiot. D

No punching
While Batman was over on the WB walloping every freak with a sob story that came his way, poor Spider-Man couldn’t lay a fist on any of his villains, depriving us of re-enactments of classic scenes from his 1967 cartoon, like that time he sent Mysterio flying down the full length of an Old West-style bar with one punch. Good times. There were a few exceptions; in one episode, he was allowed to use his spider-sense to guide a punch through a dimensional portal and knock out the Spot. And really, no one could blame him for doing that — the Spot was one of those ridiculously nattering “Dear me, did I do that?” villains who would have made Gandhi want to kick him in the jewels just to shut him up. God, what a prat. C

No breaking glass
At this point, you have to start to wonder if the people who worked on the Batman cartoon ever drove over to the Marvel studios in a big pickup truck to do doughnuts in the Spider-Man animators’ parking lot. While Batman’s cast was smashing more glass than a Jewish mass wedding, Spidey and friends couldn’t so much as let one juice glass slip from Aunt May’s palsied fingers. This rule was broken once, when Doc Ock accidentally smashed a glass window with one of his tentacles during a tussle inside someone’s home. And no doubt the censors ordered the animators to show him in the next episode writing a sincere apology note. C

No hurting pigeons
According to reliable sources, one network censor actually wrote: “When Spider-Man lands on the rooftop, be sure that he doesn’t harm any pigeons.” I think I have to meet the person who wrote that. Is there documented evidence of Spider-Man routinely taking his career frustrations out on pigeons? Did the person come from a culture where pigeons were revered as sacred animals? Was there an epidemic of pigeon abuse in the ’90s that only someone with Spider-Man’s street cred could stop? So many questions, starting with: pigeons? We’re supposed to be concerned about hurting goddamned pigeons now? Hell, I’d watch an entire movie of a black-clad Tobey Maguire strutting down the sidewalk and hitting on the ladies if Sam Raimi promised to insert footage of Venom smacking around some pigeons just for the hell of it. Useless turd factories. D

2 responses to “Making the Grade: Rules Imposed on the 1994 Spider-Man Cartoon by Fox Censors

  1. I think that with the pigeons,nay, the whole show, Fox either forgot to mention that they were parodying Spider-Man, or pranking Marvel fans.

  2. God, these censors were so dumb with some of their choices, weren’t they?

    The thing about Mr. Sinister makes me scratch my head. If X-Men could do it, why couldn’t Spider-Man?

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