‘Scooby-Doo’ and the assassination of Robert Kennedy
Yes, you read that right.
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 have been.
To think that something so 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 siblings born to Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald.
The younger Kennedy, who somehow was able to really work the “man of the people” gimmick to (nearly) George W. Bush levels of success, spent the majority of his life in the public eye — focusing primarily on politics and occasional dalliances with Marilyn Monroe.
Elected to the New York Senate, he had 11 children and was the focus of a very good (but also somehow super bad) film, Bobby, starring Lindsay Lohan and Ashton Kutcher.
Bobby was on his way to becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee prior to the incident at The Ambassador Hotel in LA.
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 for a country too accustomed to violence.
First, a little context. A few weeks back, when History 101 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.
Around the time of the assassination, the world of entertainment began to appear increasingly violent as well.
While animated shows were certainly en vogue, their intended audience was getting more mature. 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 were all the rage.
And despite their moral apprehension, those at the helm of production companies felt compelled to keep cranking them out.
“It’s (violence) 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 CBS) for the grade-school set was filled with hard-hitting shows like Space Ghost & 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 Krispies and a new edition of Mary Worth?!
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 tune into the live-action Western, The Rifleman.
Animation was supposed to be a refuge from the violence, a sanctuary of Tom and Jerry silliness. But by 1968, horror and violence were the norms. And no single act of violence would ever change that.
Enter our villain, Sirhan Sirhan.
On June 5, 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy was fatally shot in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel. It was a little after midnight, and the presumptive presidential nominee had 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 opened fire three times; he shot Kennedy once in the head and twice in the back.
Kennedy died 26 hours later.
Sirhan, a Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship, later gave a vague motive of “I did it for my country.” Sirhan shot Kennedy, who openly supported Israel, one year to the day after the beginning of the Six-Day War.
With the culmination of the Tet Offensive, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and the loss of Kennedy, 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 wisecracking dog!
OK, 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.
Which might have been part of the appeal.
In 1968, Hanna-Barbera and CBS began collaborating on a new series for their 1969-70 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 network’s 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 announced the formation 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 on to 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), its effect is still visible in modern society.
While shows like Family Guy, Big Mouth, and South Park fill the risqué 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 toward Bobby’s vision offer a safer, more gentle alternative.
And while episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse might bore parents to death upon their 45th rewatch, at least there isn’t concern that Goofy is going to impale Donald Duck upon a wooden stake.
Although that would certainly make for some interesting character development.
A deeper dive — Related reading on the 101:
Learn more about Bobby Kennedy and his unexpected assassination.
There’s a lot of advanced technology in place to keep the president safe — read about it here!