Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"Cartoon Empathy"

KGH hipped me to this in the NY Times Magazine

By JOEL LOVELL "Cartoon Empathy"
For anyone who pays even the slightest attention to cartoons, the scene is familiar: birds flying, bunnies hopping, floppy-hatted Smurfs singing and dancing around a campfire. Then without warning a group of warplanes arrives and starts carpet-bombing. As the Smurfs scatter, their mushroom village goes up in flames. After the last bomb falls, amid the burning rubble and surrounded by dead Smurfs, Baby Smurf sits alone, wailing.

The scene comes from a 30-second TV commercial that began being shown on Belgian national television this fall, as part of Unicef's campaign to raise money to help rehabilitate child soldiers in Sudan, Burundi and Congo. The decision to use cartoon characters in the ad, rather than show images of actual children, was calculated not to lessen the horror but to amplify it. "We've found that people have gotten used to seeing traditional images of children in despair, especially from African countries," says Philippe Henon, a spokesman for Unicef Belgium. "Those images are no longer surprising, and most people certainly don't see them as a call to action."

Unicef's goal was to convey to adults the horror of war by drawing on their childhood memories, and Smurfs, Henon says, "were the image most Belgians ages 30 to 45 connect to the idea of a happy childhood."

The spot has generated a considerable amount of controversy. "People have been shocked," says Henon, who emphasizes that the ad is intended for an adult audience and is shown only after 9 p.m. "But we've received a lot of positive reactions. And this has also been apparent in the donations."

Adeyinka Akinsulure-Smith, a psychologist at the Bellevue/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture, agrees that it makes sense to reframe the constant stream of images of suffering from Africa: "The more horrible the thing you're trying to raise awareness for, the harder it is for people to wrap their minds around it. We run up against that in America all the time. Maybe if we showed this stuff happening to Charlie Brown and Lucy and the gang, we'd break through." (more)

See the video (I'm having trouble getting it to work so I'm posting the link instead): (more)


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