Did the “Club Dorothée” cartoons “stole our childhood”?

Are you between 35 and 45 years old? Did you grow up in France? Did you know that you have been fed a monstrous image tap, capable of traumatizing you or, worse, of turning you into brutes? At least that’s what part of the country thought, at the end of the 1980s, with Ségolène Royal in the lead.

The reason for the anger? the Club Dorothée​. The children’s program launched in 1987 on TF1, monopolized the channel’s program schedule as quickly as it was accused of all evils. That is to say, to stupefy the children with the absurd sketches of No mercy for the croissants ! and exposing them to the violence of Japanese animated series – described as “japaniaiseries” by Telerama. In focus, mainly: dragonball, The Knights of the Zodiac and especially, Ken the Boy Who Lived arrived on the air during 1988.

“I don’t see children as image eaters”

Quickly, that year, the host, who was not very forthcoming in interviews, was pushed to express herself in the media. She appears on the front page of Pocket TV of November 21, surrounded by Candy and Bioman. She’s all smiles as the title proclaims, “Violence on Screen: Dorothy Responds to Parents.” “When I talk to children and ask them if they’re scared, they look at me contritely and say, ‘But it’s just a cartoon. Plus, it’s a robot. .” They do things right away. I do not consider children as image eaters, ”she said.

In Ken The Boy Who Lived, however, they are not robots getting knocked down. This anime, aimed at an older audience, has found its place on TV at snack time. It must be said that at the time, the volume of French productions for children was not sufficient to fill the boxes of the programs and that these Japanese fictions made it possible to fill them without insane investment.

Violent scenes removed

Return to Dorothy in the columns of Pocket TV : ” About ten [de parents] only wrote to request removal of Ken the survivor, considered too violent. I removed it. Immediately, I received 50,000 letters. 97% demanded his return. But as I believe that television should be done in a democracy, I did not neglect the 3% who were against it. We kept Ken but Robert Réa, director and artistic adviser, removes the too violent scenes, in particular the passages where one sees blood pouring. »

Today, the question of respecting the integrity of the work and the artistic vision of its author would no doubt arise with insistence, but at the time it did not cross the minds of many people. To top it off, the actors who dubbed Ken The Boy Who Lived in French imposed that the dialogues be rewritten, by injecting humor, before giving their voice to the characters of fiction and fight, recalls Allociné. The real butchery was therefore more on the creative side.

“Dorothee must not steal their childhood from toddlers”

For Ségolène Royal, these arrangements were not enough. In December 1988, the then MP for Deux-Sèvres toured the media to talk about the amendment she wanted to table in order to protect children from violence on television.

She declines this fight in a book, The ras-le-bol of baby zappers, which was released in early 1989. It reads: “Dorothee must not steal their childhood from toddlers and must spread tenderness and poetry. “We broadcast violent Japanese cartoons, which don’t even have scenarios anymore…”, she insists in TV 7 Days. “We received thousands of letters approving Ségolène Royal”, writes the magazine a few weeks later, giving a right of reply to Dorothée. “Do not confuse action and violence, pleads the host. Does a robot that explodes under a laser cannon traumatize a child more than Bambi’s mother dying under the hunter’s gunshots or than Tom Thumb abandoned by his parents? »

“A conceptual desert. A lot of noise for nothing “

At the same time the book comes out Let Them Watch TV – The New Television Spirit, response to this wave of moral panic aimed at the small screen. “Television is declared guilty of all the evils of the earth; he is blamed for illnesses, stupidity, ignorance, lack of culture, violence, vulgarity. And of all this not the slightest proof has been advanced. (…) There is something sick in our media civilization, wrote its author, François Mariet. The virulence towards television is only equaled by the poverty of the arguments and the works responsible for supporting them. To see so much unleashed fury, I expected to do battle with powerful theses, indisputable scientific data. Nothing. A conceptual desert. A lot of noise for nothing. (…) No demonstration exists of the harmfulness of television. On the contrary, certainties exist showing the profits that new generations can expect from television. »

To show its good will, however, AB productions calls on a team of psychologists. “She watched everything we broadcast. She asked us for cuts when she found it too violent or traumatic. We did it without discussing but there were very few, ”said Jean-Luc Azoulay in the documentary Generation AB Productions in 2020.

Even if the CSA will continue to mess with TF1, which will stop broadcasting muscle man in 1990, then Dragon Ball Z a year later, the success of Dorothee Club would last until 1997. “Japanese animation would not find favor with critics until the late 1990s, when the first generation fed on X-Gold, candy and San Ku Kai will begin in journalism”, underlines Alexandre Raveleau in the book Generation AB. And if, today, France is nicknamed “the second country of manga”, it is largely to Dorothée that she owes it. And not to Ségolène Royal.

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