The other day, as people were enjoying their Christmas holidays, the print and TV media stirred them into an uproar by announcing that the Beano's Dennis the Menace will no longer be called a Menace and that his supporting cast will include a girl in a wheelchair.
Fact is, the "Menace" part of the title was dropped from the strip over a year ago! The "girl in a wheelchair", Rubi, has been in the Beano for a while now too. Also, the strip was simplified to Dennis and Gnasher for a while back in 2009, and the media stirred the pot back then too:
So... either none of the reporters remembered that they'd covered the same story eight years ago or they simply needed something to fill their papers and distract people from shady politicians and corporate bankers. Either way, it worked, and their readers hammered their opinions into their keyboards. The opinions were pretty much the usual blathering about "political correctness" and "snowflakes" as you can see from these examples...
Although the news items had included reassurances from Beano's publisher Mike Stirling that Dennis "still dances to the beat of his own drum as a mischief-maker and is very much a leader amongst his pals" the public were having none of it...
Dennis and Gnasher writer Nigel Auchterlounie stepped in to explain things further...
Beano artist/writer Kev F. Sutherland went on Sky News to put the record straight too:
Writer Cavan Scott (whose work includes the Beano) also posted a very good piece on his blog about it:
Phil Boyce had a thing or two to say about the silliness of the reactions on his blog too:
A few things occurred to me about this whole hoo-ha:
1) A lot of people seemed upset that Dennis was no longer a bully. That says a lot about their personalities.
2) If you think a comics character in a wheelchair is a sign of modern "political correctness" perhaps you've forgotten Professor X from the X-Men and The Chief from Doom Patrol. Both of whom debuted back in the early 1960s. Also, if you have a downer on people who aren't able-bodied you're not very nice.
3) If you think Dennis shouldn't have a black friend you're a racist.
4) People who got annoyed about it this week clearly haven't been reading the Beano for a long time or they'd have noticed the changes over a gradual period of years. So who cares what they think? The changes took place a while back and the actual readers accepted it and carried on enjoying the stories.
Here's the thing that most of these stories ignored or didn't bother researching: the main reason that the cartoon series is called Dennis and Gnasher and not Dennis the Menace is so that it can be sold internationally and not be confused with the American Dennis the Menace. By coincidence, both the British Dennis and the American one debuted in the same week in 1951. (Over here, the U.S. Dennis was sometimes called "The Pickle" so it's always caused problems.) I guess the practicalities of a business decision were too boring for the media so they chose to blow things out of proportion and pander to their readers by claiming it was all about "political correctness gone mad".
Thing is, once a rumour gets out, no matter how wrong it is, it's hard to counteract it. Thankfully, most of the people moaning about the "de-Menacing" don't buy the Beano anyway so their opinion is irrelevant. Trouble is, such nonsense could generate an unease about the comic, and could put some parents off buying it for their kids. On the other hand, it could also encourage more independently-minded parents to look out for it and see for themselves what the fuss is about. If they did, they'd find a comic that's still funny, still full of wild characters, and still enjoyed by children. In the end, the children it's aimed at are the only audience whose opinion matters.
The Beano returns to the shelves after its Christmas break on Wednesday 3rd January. Check it out and have a laugh.