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  • From Vulnerable Minds to Cosmopolitan AffectChild Fans of Anime in the 1960s–1980s
  • Sandra Annett (bio)

Throughout the twentieth century, childhood has been associated in the Western world with conventions of innocence, purity, and guilelessness.1 It is somewhat ironic, then, that the very idea of “childhood innocence” in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s became a highly politicized battleground for the emerging mass medium of television. As television spread around the world, the “vulnerable young minds” of children were often evoked by broadcast regulators and media activists in order to determine what could, or could not, be shown in programs targeted to young viewers. This was particularly the case when it came to the exchange of televised animation between Japan and North America. Though studies of early anime fan culture often focus on adult fans, tracing the history of college clubs and attendees of science fiction conventions, it was in fact children who were seen as the primary target audience for animation by studio executives and industry insiders in Japan and the United States. Child and family audiences, as members of the “general public” or “mass market,” made up the majority of viewers for the first televised anime broadcasts in Japan, and later the United States, Canada, Australia, and throughout Europe. While children in this time were often framed as passive, manipulable, or naïve viewers, I argue that child fans participated in a larger cultural process of learning to understand their own national identities and to negotiate the global flows of media that took place in the 1960s–80s. Using the example of Astro Boy’s travels from Japan to the United States and Canada, I explore the role of young anime fans in the postnational television era, with the goal of shifting the discourse on child television viewers from “vulnerable minds” to what Stephanie Hemelryk Donald calls “cosmopolitan affect.”2 [End Page 25]

Kid Vid: Industrial Perspectives on Child Audiences in the United States, Canada, and Japan

Studying the experiences of child audiences of anime in the 1960s–80s presents a number of logistical challenges for researchers today. Older fans may remember what it was like to enjoy animation as a child in the ’60s, ’70s, or ’80s, but as children living in those decades, they usually did not participate in Gallup polls, Nielsen ratings surveys, or other common measurements of audience response. As a result, little hard data about the preferences, attitudes, or habits of child viewers at that time has been preserved. There are, however, a number of sources that illuminate how children were viewed by those most concerned with addressing them: the studio executives and industry insiders responsible for children’s programming. The American media industry in the postwar era contributed a great deal to the discourse that “cartoons are for kids.”

Jason Mittell, in his article “The Great Saturday Morning Exile,” highlights the crucial role that scheduling and sponsorship played in creating not only TV cartoons but their target audiences. Theatrical animation in the early twentieth century was often targeted to a general audience, or even at times an adult audience in some of the racier installments of the Betty Boop series (1932–39) and World War II propaganda cartoons. However, the rise of television in the postwar era opened up new avenues for dividing and targeting particular audience demographics. Following the Mattel company’s great success in advertising toys during The Mickey Mouse Club in 1955, many corporations became keen to create TV ads targeting children, who were perceived as a lucrative niche market. In order to attract sponsors and maximize advertising revenues, television networks developed the strategy of “narrowcasting,” a process that not only targets a particular demographic audience but also “works to construct those audiences through . . . programming, marketing, sales, and measuring practices.”3 In their efforts to develop the youth demographic, networks created what is now known as the “Saturday Morning Ghetto,” a programming block into which all cartoons, even family-oriented prime-time series such as The Flintstones and The Jetsons, were pushed. The Saturday Morning “kid vid” market, as it was called in trade journals, was founded on two premises: that “kids will gladly watch recycled and repeated...


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pp. 25-43
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