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Family Room

What Hath Broadband Wrought?

Especially popular with teens are Flash cartoons, named for the software program used to create them. One very popular site is homestarrunner.com, whose host is a grammar-impaired goof. Its content mostly consists of sophomoric silliness. (An exception is "Teen Girl Squad," a ’toon with mean-girl leanings.)

A lot of Flash content, however, is violent or obnoxious. Take, for example, "Happy Tree Friends," which makes cutesy animal pals the victims of splatter-style brutality. The site carries the faux warning Cartoon Violence - HTF is not recommended for small children or big babies while the animation style seems tailor-made for preschoolers. Brightly colored cartoon friends such as Cuddles the bunny and Giggles the chipmunk start every adventure in an innocuous way, yet within a minute or so they wind up eviscerated, decapitated or worse.

Site creator Kenn Navarro says the violence in "Happy Tree Friends" has "never been the main thrust of the show. … It’s the characters and the situations that they’re thrown in and how they react that’s funny. The violence is just the bloody result. … It’s as classic a formula as Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes and The Three Stooges; we’re just kicking it up a notch." A big notch. None of those shows featured icicles through eyeballs, intestines strewn in the snow or a childlike critter being torn limb from limb. It’s the Internet’s answer to The Simpsons’ over-the-top cartoon duo Itchy and Scratchy.

Sites such as ifilm.com feature Flash cartoons as well as live-action fare (short films, clips from TV shows, news footage). One web page posted an actual clip of an Iraqi sniper shooting an American soldier, who was saved only by his body armor.

With these sites being such a mixed bag, families face several challenges. For example, a friend might e-mail a teen the link to a funny cartoon featured on a site that also carries soft porn. Furthermore, silly Flash cartoons can be intermixed with violent videos. There’s no software capable of blocking this material (which is constantly changing), and keeping track of all the websites would be a monumental task.

If Morse were raising a teenager today, he might send out an SOS. Broadband Internet has been a boon, but like so much technology, it has made the job of parenting that much harder.

Published March 2006