If you grew up in the 1980s you’ll likely have fond, fuzzy memories of the shakily animated and exuberantly voiced cartoons of the era. Some were amazingly entertaining, some were amazingly terrible, and many, from He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe to The Care Bears, featured things which, looking back, were objectively far too dark and needlessly disturbing for their young target audience. In fact, the FCC’s “Children’s Television Act” — enacted in 1990 — was a direct response to parents’ concerns about cartoon violence (as well as brainwashing commercialization.) Arguably more harmful, though, were shows of the time that also contained casually racist or sexist characters or themes in certain episodes.
This isn’t to say that all of these shows were problematic as a whole (though some definitely were), but all of the ones on this list contained at least one or two episodes you’ll be shocked made it to air. Pacts with demons and stand-ins for the devil were also a surprisingly common occurrence, likely informed by the “satanic panic” of the ’80s and early ’90s that was sparked by the association of cases of child abuse and murder with Satanism. If you based your entire knowledge of the decade on its animated media, you’d think that kids were equally in danger of being abducted by a goat blood-drinking cult as they were of being offered drugs by a guy in a van. Here are some of the worst things in ’80s cartoons that you couldn’t get away with today.
15. THE TRANSFORMERS
The first Transformers series ran from 1984 to ’87 and — along with the first movie — established the franchise as a juggernaut of kids media. While beloved, there are a lot of questionable things from it that prove Michael Bay was far from the first divisive thing to happen to the brand. In Season Two’s “Sea Change,” Seaspray inexplicably transforms into robo-Aquaman after falling for a mermaid using a magical pool.
Nothing disturbing or parent-bothering here — it’s just far too stupid to make it into any iteration of the franchise today. What definitely also wouldn’t make the cut now (and shouldn’t have back then) was the show’s frequent racist stereotyping of Arab villains, one of whom ruled “The Socialist Democratic Federated Republic of CARBOMBya.” Lebanese voice actor Casey Kasem actually left the show in protest.
14. THE SMURFS
In 1989, the hugely popular Smurfs series ended its run of over 250 episodes of charming smurfiness… and one horrifying Christmas special from its second Season. The episode features an antagonist known as “The Christmas Stranger” (which already sounds like the name of a Holiday horror film), who is sold two orphaned, homeless kids by Gargamel. Child slavery? Why not!
The man then uses the children in a fiery satanic-looking ritual that he hopes will open a portal to their “final journey.” The devil in disguise? Sure! Luckily, the Smurfs show up and sing at him until he disappears, screaming in agony. In retrospect, the show has also been generally criticized for the anti-Semitic characterization of Gargamel, while the gendered-stereotyping of its token female character gave name to a recognized sexist trope: “The Smurfette Principle.”
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