Wow, take a second to read that again. The headline sure reads like something taken right from The Onion, doesn’t it? And to a great many of us, it might.
To think that something so world-changing and emotionally gripping as the second Kennedy assassination could be in any way tied to something so harmless and carefree as the animated series Scooby-Doo is tantamount to sacrilege! But alas, here we are…
Robert “Bobby” Kennedy was born on Nov. 20, 1925, the seventh of nine (also the origin of that tantalizing Star Trek character) siblings born to Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald. In a family of that size, you are nearly certain that a few of them would become noteworthy including brother Ted, the chick who had the lobotomy and some other guy whose name escapes me at the moment. Jarred? Jerold?
Bobby, who somehow was able to really work that ‘man of the people’ gimmick to (nearly) George W. Bush-levels of success despite similarly being born with a platinum-coated, diamond-encrusted runcible in his yapper. He spent his life in the public eye, primarily focusing on politics and occasional dalliances with Marilyn Monroe.
Voted a Senator for the state of New York, he had 11 children and was the focus of a very good, but also somehow super bad movie about his killing while running for the gig of Commander-in-Chief in 1968 starring Lindsay Lohan and Ashton Kutcher.
That’s really all you need to know about it, but yes — I did see it in theaters and I DO own it on DVD.
Bobby was on his way to becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee before the shooting at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Only five years after the killing of his older brother, President John F. Kennedy, the death of the younger Kennedy served as an ice-cold glass of reality to the face of a country too accustomed to violence.
So first, a little context. A few weeks back when History101 (we put the Story back in History and the ‘ience‘ back in Science!) reached out asking for a piece detailing the connection between the animated show Scooby-Doo and the Bobby Kennedy assassination, I was certain this was their way of letting me go.
Seriously? What’s next — is Beetle Bailey responsible for snuffing out Malcolm X? But the more I investigated this story the more their line of thinking began to make sense. I’d like to say that through research all of the answers started coming together but my mom (Hi Mom!) taught me not to be a liar so I can’t honestly say that with a straight face.
But what I did find, was admittedly for more interesting than I once thought possible.
Prior to Bobby’s offing (who, despite all of the jokes in this piece is one of my top 5 all-time historical figures alongside Abraham Lincoln, Garry Shandling, Edgar Martinez, and Jesus, probably), the world of entertainment had gotten a little crazy.
While animated shows were certainly en vogue, their intended audience for them was getting more mature, with a thirst for blood! This left a void in what many today would consider traditional “children’s programming.”
Adult-oriented, un-fun cartoon series where danger existed around every turn and the lives of beloved characters hung in the balance was all the rage. And despite their moral feelings of opposition, those at the helm of production companies felt compelled to keep cranking them out.
“It’s the only thing we can sell to the networks, and we have to stay in business,” Joe Barbera of Hanna-Barbera said at the time.
Automatic for the People
So sell ‘em they did and the slate of programming on what was at that time the “Big 3” (ABC, NBC, and UPN…just kidding, it was CBS) for the grade school sect was filled with hard-hitting shows like Space Ghost and Dino Boy, The Herculoids, and other unimaginative programs drawn in the style of Mary Worth.
And what gets a child out of bed faster on a Saturday morning than a bowl of Cocoa Crispies and a new edition Mary Worth?! You call that a cartoon strip, I call it my sexual awakening!
While the shows were exciting, the violent themes aimed at children left some uneasy and wondering what kind of message these shows were sending. A July 1968 report in the Christian Science Monitor (your only source for news) detailed 162 acts of violence or threats of violence that took place on one single Saturday morning. This statistic pointed back to the shows of the era and their effect on the minds and actions of children.
After all, if kids wanted to watch a schlock-based killing-spree, they could always just tuned into the live-action The Rifleman. Animation was supposed to be a refuge from the violence, a sanctuary of Tom & Jerry silliness. But by 1968, horror and violence were the norms. And seemingly no single act of violence would ever change that.
Enter our villain, Sirhan Sirhan.
On June 5, Senator Robert Kennedy was fatally wounded while walking through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It was a little after midnight, and the presumptive presidential nominee has just finished giving a speech to throngs of passionate supporters.
He was flanked by his personal security guard and former NFL star Rosey Grier, as well as Olympic decathlon gold medalist Rafer Johnson when Sirhan Sirhan opened fire and shot the Democrat three times, once in the head and twice in the back. Kennedy ultimately died 26 hours later.
Sirhan, a Palestine of Jordanian citizenship later gave the vague motive of “I did it for my country,” when asked. Sirhan shot Kennedy, who openly supported Israel, one year to the day after the beginning of the Six-Day War.
But honestly, if my parents named me “Sirhan Sirhan,” I’d probably want to shoot somebody, too.
Hello? Is this thing on? Okay, everybody, I guess that’s my time. Thanks!
Coupled with January’s Tet Offensive and April’s killing of Martin Luther King, the loss of Bobby, thought by maybe to be a voice of hope for our nation and a look to a brighter tomorrow, was devastating. The country needed something other than more violence and darkness to fill their free time.
Like, perhaps, a crime-fighting, drug-addled gang of misfits and their wise-cracking dog!
Okay, admittedly calling Fred and Daphne ‘misfits’ wouldn’t be accurate, but Shaggy and Velma? They definitely weren’t in the front row of the pep rally. They were present but were more likely found under the bleachers with a half-rack of Michelob’s they snuck from Shag’s father-in-law and a few ounces of Jamaican Gold.
Which might have been part of the appeal. In 1968 Hanna-Barbera and CBS began collaborating on a new series for their 1969 to 1970 weekend morning slate that would feature all of the action and mystery that networks demanded without any of the mortal terror or horror of their predecessors.
And it had a name: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! Please forgive the unchecked misuse of punctuation, the nation was really struggling at the time.
Scooby-Doo fit the networks’ frothy desire for action while never putting any of the animated characters in mortal terror. Even on the very day Bobby Kennedy was shot, then-POTUS Lyndon B. Johnson (the B stands for B-hole) announced the forming of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence which ultimately led to changes in the way media portrayed acts of violence, whether dramatized or real.
Heather Hendershot, an MIT professor and Media Historian elaborated that this committee’s actions reached across the aisle and even those who didn’t stand for Kennedy’s liberal ideals supported the efforts. “…censoring in his name, for the good of child viewers, was like a tribute,” Hendershot wrote.
“There are no superheroes saving the world from aliens and monsters,” said Kevin Sandler, an associate professor of English at Arizona State University. “Instead, a gang of goofy kids and their dog in a groovy van solve mysteries. The monsters they encounter are just humans in disguise.”
New Adventures in Hi-Fi
Scooby-Doo went on the air and went onto become a huge hit later helping to revitalize the career of Matthew Lillard and introduce a whole new generation of the uninitiated to the concept of “Scooby Snacks” *wink wink.*
Bobby’s legacy continues on in many ways and while modern America might not view the concept of media censorship as a particularly Democratic platform (or, depending on your voting bloc, maybe you would), it’s the effect is still visible in modern society.
While shows like Family Guy, Big Mouth, and South Park fill the risque and “I don’t think I’m supposed to be watching THIS!” avenue that most kids find themselves searching for, a variety of programs and streaming services geared towards Bobby’s vision offer a safer, more gentle alternative.
And while episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse might bore parents to death upon their 45th re-watch, at least there isn’t concern that Goofy is going to impale Donald Duck upon a wooden stake. Although that would certainly make some interesting character development.
Up next: Did Family Circle play a role in the death of Princess Diana?
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