Here’s the thing, when you’re a kid you don’t know that a cartoon is offensive. You don’t understand that there should be more people of color or that the heroes are all playing stereotypes or that the female characters are being exploited. You just have a favorite show that you love watching. Unfortunately, when you get older the spell is broken and you can see all the flaws and terrible aspects of childhood favorites. But you can’t help it — you still love them. These shows, despite their dated elements, taught you valuable lessons and provided hours of entertainment.
Most of these choices are just a product of the time when they premiered. That doesn’t make them any less offensive, it just makes it more understandable. Some made the list because they took lovable properties and soiled them with bad production and story, and a few are offensive on purpose because that’s part of the comedy and the message they’re trying to tell. Whatever the reason, these once loved shows are now considered not up with the times and couldn’t get on air today. Yes, there are classics on this list, but be honest, watching them now makes you cringe with embarrassment. With that in mind, we’ve put together some of our favorite superhero cartoons, that while totally offensive, you still love.
15. X-MEN: EVOLUTION
Shortly after the big screen release of X-Men catapulted the mutant superheroes back onto the big screen, X-Men: Evolution tried to introduce the characters to a new generation. In this incarnation the heroes were teenagers in high school, so the outsiders against the world story that usually accompanies the team has extra meaning.
However, the problems came from adults writing ridiculous dialogue that sounded like what uncool dads think teenagers sound like. It was though they had never even met a teenager before. The show was also chock full of teen stereotypes, that while not seriously offensive, weren’t especially creative and didn’t help matters. Fortunately for viewers, the X-Men are still interesting even when at their worst and the show did have its moments of fun.
14. CAPTAIN PLANET AND THE PLANETEERS
A cartoon teaching kids about the environment was a great idea. It had the right balance of ’90s cheesiness and teachable moments. Basically the five international Planeteers would summon Captain Planet to help them fight eco-villains. The problems come from the five Planeteers being complete stereotypes of the regions they represent. While the show is great at teaching kids how to respect the environment, it’s not good with teaching them about different cultures and how everyone isn’t the same.
Though the show tries to be educational, the kids all have terrible accents and use cultural generalities to make a point. For example, everyone in Africa or Asia likes a certain type of food. However, considering the current politics that surround climate change and environmental issues, a series like Captain Planet is still just as relevant now as it was in the ’90s.
13. THE AVENGERS: UNITED THEY STAND
Long before the launch of the MCU, someone decided it was time to update The Avengers. Unfortunately, The Avengers: United They Stand is just a bad ripoff of the X-Men cartoon. The 1999 series included Hawkeye, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man, the Wasp, Wonder-Man and Tigra. Based on the West Coast Avengers, the show only had Captain America and Iron Man in one episode and the team wasn’t nearly as popular as they are now.
The really maddening part of this show was that for marketing purposes, the character’s costumes were redesigned. On top that, writers decided to only make vague references to comic book stories, making the heroes unrecognizable and uninteresting to the fans how would be tuning in. However, there is something charming about this first attempt to relaunch The Avengers and looking back it feels like everyone learned from their mistakes before the MCU came along.
12. THE POWERPUFF GIRLS
The Powerpuff Girls are so impossibly cute how could anyone possibly find anything offensive about them. Well, until very recently (like last month), the crime fighting sisters and their city Townsville were strikingly white. Seriously, for such a colorful, vibrant show, there were shockingly no people of color. With all the cute crime fighting, you almost don’t notice, but after awhile, it becomes obvious. Unlike some of the other shows on the list, the series originally began in the ’90s, so there’s really no reason for the absence of diversity.
You just can’t stay mad at The Powerpuff Girls because they’re just so adorable, and clearly someone recognized the problem, because new black Powerpuff Girl Bliss joined the family in the new season. So, new viewers will have at least one character to identify with. It’s a start, a very slow start, but a start nonetheless.
11. G.I. JOE
G.I. Joe is a classic. The elite team of soldiers were a staple of everyone’s childhood, and everybody had a favorite Joe. They used cool weapons to battle the evil Cobra and usually won. It’s the most ’80s cartoon of all the ’80s cartoons. The fact that it’s so ’80s, is what makes it so offensive.
Some of the language used to describe Middle Eastern allies and enemies is so bad that it can’t be repeated now, but it was considered completely appropriate for children — G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, meaning he has all the flaws of America including prejudice and arrogance. It’s true that GI Joe taught some very valuable lessons, but perhaps there are a few that are better left in the past.
10. SHE-RA: PRINCESS OF POWER
Most ’80s series don’t portray female characters in the best way. They’re usually there just to be rescued and look pretty. This also applies to cartoons. She-Ra: Princess of Power was a spinoff of He-Man. She’s his long lost twin sister, who comes back home and decides to lead a rebellion.
While She-Ra is a great heroine who always saves the day, the show still doesn’t feature the best portrayal of its many female characters. Most of them are all the same person just with slightly different costumes and hairstyles. They’re made to seem silly, and frankly not that smart. She-Ra is the only woman who gets a little respect. She even proved that girls would buy toys based on female superheroes and was the forerunner for many of the strong heroines that we enjoy today.
9. THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SPEED RACER
There’s nothing quite like a cartoon with a catchy theme song, and Speed Racer has that in spades. It’s the story of a racing family who always end up fighting supervillains. The 1993 reboot The New Adventures of Speed Racer was a completely whitewashed, updated version of the original. The worst part of this reboot is that it totally Americanized the cartoon, not leaving any piece of its Japanese roots behind.
Also, if we’re being honest, there’s something a little creepy about that monkey. The series stripped away everything charming and fun about the original ’60s show and boiled it down to a merchandise cash grab. Despite its shortcomings, the nostalgic idea of introducing the show to a new generation was still enough to make the series interesting.
8. AMERICAN DRAGON: JAKE LONG
This Disney Channel series had the rare benefit of simultaneously offending two cultures at the same time. Jake Long was a regular New York City kid who discovered that he was from a family a dragons. Like many cartoons based on Asian mythology, the series was chock full of stereotypes. As if that wasn’t enough, Jake, being a city kid in 2005 constantly spoke in street slang, which now sounds like someone trying way too hard to be cool with the black kids.
It was like someone found the writers from X-Men: Evolution and told them to make the character sound even more ridiculous than that. Even with these cliches working against it, American Dragon had all the fun, sentimentality and charm of Disney Channel’s mid-2000s lineup of shows.
7. SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS
Long before the MCU was even an idea to anyone, comic fans got their first real Marvel team ups on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. With Peter Parker working with his college roommates Bobby Drake (Iceman) and Angelica Jones (Firestar), the show gave viewers the blueprint for a superhero team-up.
There’s just one thing, the action takes place in the whitest New York City since Friends. Though if we’re being honest Peter Parker has never really had the most diverse life story. And, on the rare occasion a person of color does show up, they have all the classic ’70s stereotypes. Hilariously outdated as it is, the series included appearances from Captain America, Doctor Strange, Hulk and the X-Men. Seeing all these characters work together was everything fans had been waiting a lifetime to see.
6. JONNY QUEST
Who wouldn’t want to be a super smart kid who travels the world finding treasures and solving mysteries? There was a lot of fun to be found on Jonny Quest, but wow was that show racist. Basically, any character that wasn’t white was either a villain or a full on awful stereotype. And before anyone starts with “what about Jonny’s best friend,” his name is now used as an ethnic slur.
The show first premiered in the ’60s, so while that may explain some of the early depictions of non-white characters, it doesn’t really excuse it. Jonny Quest is the definition of a white savior story. Jonny and his family travel to distant lands, helping the natives understand mysteries and solve problems, usually saving the day for the much more uncivilized people.
There’s a lot to like about BraveStarr. It starred a Native American superhero in an old west town set in space, who had a talking cyborg horse. The show also had a lot of great lessons for viewers, teaching them about understanding, respect and non-smoking. Unfortunately, it was also full of every Native American cliche producers could pack into two seasons.
BraveStarr’s cases often led to him imparting wisdom that he learned from Shaman, the magical wise old man who lives at the top of a mountain. While it’s not nearly as bad as some of the other choices, it still uses one well-worn depiction to portray an entire race of people. And yet, it’s still a sci-fi western with a robot taking horse and that’s something you just don’t see on TV enough.
4. HONG KONG PHOOEY
A wise cracking dog who does martial arts sounds like the best show ever, and it was in 1974. Penry Pooch was a janitor at the police station who turned into Hong Kong Phooey to catch bad guys. It was all just a bit of mindless Saturday morning fun. Except for the part where Penry is obviously supposed to be a jive talking black janitor.
It’s understandable that he’s playing up his secret identity but, it’s clear the writers were also trying to make him fit in in with shows like Good Times and The Jeffersons. Those are just the problems with Penry. There also a myriad of issues with how it treats Asian culture. The show isn’t the best example for kids to watch but, it’s still fun to watch a dog fight crime.
3. THE SUPER GLOBETROTTERS
The Harlem Globetrotters are an international treasure. They are beloved around the world for their hilarious basketball shenanigans. It comes as no surprise that they got their own cartoon in 1970. The original series was spun off into Super Globetrotters, which featured the team using superpowers to fight villains. The Globetrotters were as fun as always, performing all their classic tricks. But, it was the way they were drawn that presented some issues.
The large teeth and big noses played up old cliches from segregation era cartoons where black people were drawn to look like uncivilized animals. Their dialogue had a lot of ’70s jive-talk in it, further extending the cliche. The Harlem Globetrotters did not deserve to be depicted that way in a cartoon meant to show them as superheroes. It’s only through the endless enthusiasm of the Globetrotters that the series is able to remain fun.
2. THE AMBIGUOUSLY GAY DUO
Anyone who watches Saturday Night Live knows you can’t take any of it seriously. This is especially true of its 1996 animated sketch The Ambiguously Gay Duo. It starred the voices of Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell as Ace and Gary, a crime fighting team whose orientation is constantly questioned by the people, villains and cops that are around them.
The jokes play into every gay stereotype ever written (they drive a very obviously phallic shaped car) and quite often went from offensive but funny, into cringeworthy territory. With Colbert and Carell involved it was hard not to laugh and take it for the senseless comedy it was meant to be. During some episodes, these skits were the only funny thing in the entire 90 minutes.
1. SUPER FRIENDS
As the original superhero team up series Super Friends holds a special place in the hearts of nerds everywhere. Comic book fans finally got to see the Justice League work together. Sure it was cheesy, but it was also fun. There were a few problems though. Since the show originally ran from 1973-1986, it did make an effort to include heroes of other races. However, those heroes, Black Vulcan, Samurai, El Dorado and Apache Chief, were portrayed with all the outdated stereotypes of those times.
It’s as though there wasn’t even an attempt to make them regular people with powers, like every other hero. They were only there to check a box. Watching them now, it’s almost comical how over the top offensive they are, highlighting how racist early comics were. Despite these obvious offenses, the show keeps getting made with new versions turning up in 1986 and 1996.
Which of these classic cartoons is most offensive to you today? Let us know in the comments!
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