In the politically correct culture that we live in today, there seems to be a growing trend of cartoons that don't seem to acknowledge the social turmoils that are plaguing our society. The only cartoon that seems to do so is Steven Universe, which tackles LGBTQ issues and notions of mental health with motifs and themes that run throughout. But besides that, there are no superhero cartoons that seriously tackle these issues (this may be because there simply aren't any serious superhero shows on TV nowadays). In this article, I'm going to take a look at Static Shock, an animated show from the 2000s that aired as a part of the DC Animated Universe, alongside such greats as Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and Batman Beyond.
The show centered around Virgil Hawkins, a young man who gained the powers of controlling electricity after a gas-explosion in the middle of the city granted many people different superpowers. These powered individuals are known as "Bang-babies", and Virgil adopted the alter-ego of Static Shock after he brought down a Bang-Baby who was misusing his powers for his own gain.
The show deals with recurring themes of stigmatization and racism, due to how people are afraid of Bang Babies because of how different and potentially dangerous they are. This is in a tone very similar to the X-Men, and while these themes run strongly throughout many episodes, with Virgil trying to rehabilitate those who have done wrong with their powers, and trying to help those who are scared and confused of what to do with themselves, the show also takes it a step further to address solemnly serious tensions in society that still stay true today.
Columbine, Virginia Tech, UC Santa Barbara; these schools carry a heavy burden when spoken of, because of the tragedies that transpired on their campuses. School violence, bullying, and school shootings are all heavily intertwined, and the cause and effect relationship between them play heavily into how much emphasis our society has put on reaching out to others and making sure that everyone feels acknowledged, and that no one is left to feel alone and isolated in anger.
But it is evident that senseless acts of violence that result in tragedy still occur today, and whatever preventative steps that can help alleviate this violence that can be taken, should be taken, and the writers of Static Shock realize this.
In one episode, a student named Jimmy brings a gun to school to threaten his bullies after being pushed to a tipping point.
This results in Virgil's best friend being shot, who was simply trying to help Jimmy make the right choice. Virgil speaks to a therapist about how angry he is at everyone: the bullies for pushing Jimmy to this point, Jimmy for shooting his best friend, and Virgil himself for not doing anything to help. The episode highlights how small events can lead to to tragedy, and amidst how many school shootings and massacres have taken place in the past few years, the morals of this episode still ring true, and more shows should make an effort to echo these themes in at least a few episodes, to keep the youth attentive.
Racism, and Racist tendencies Today
#blacklivesmatter and other African-American empowerment movements are gaining huge momentum swings every day with people gaining insight into existing institutionalized racism that runs rampant even today, when most believe that we are living in an equal and progressive society. In Static Shock, Virgil's family is African American and they appear to live amongst all the other families in relative peace. There really is no indication of how they are different from others; however this is brought to a head with an encounter with a racist parent in the series.
In an episode, Virgil is invited by his friend Richie to stay over for the night. But when Richie's father comes home, it becomes very clear that this man is not happy with his son being friends with Virgil.
It turns out that Richie's father is a racist, and does not want his son hanging out with Virgil. He believes that Virgil is a bad influence, and that his whole culture is a mark on society. This escalates when Virgil overhears Richie's father talking about "his kind". Utilizing derogatory and hurtful language, the writers of the show highlight how there are still those who hold this flawed ideology of African Americans, and that not even our children are safe from this racism.
When Richie's father confronts Virgil's dad after Richie runs away, the two have a heated argument, with Virgil's father calling out Richie's dad for his bigoted views of the world, and that he has to grow up and change, because the world around him has changed.
These moments, along with smart dialogue, fast-paced action, and crossovers with other supehero shows are what make Static Shock an important watch, and a cartoon with tangible and relevant morals. I desperately hope that with new superhero cartoons coming out, they address these themes, and do so in a way that keeps our kids informed, with close attention to social shifts. Otherwise, I'm just going to show my kids reruns of my own favorite shows.
Should cartoons make attempts to address relevant social tensions?
Clips credited to : Calandra Russell-Lee