“The Ren and Stimpy Show”
Contributor: Allyson Burton
Like many children who grew up during the 1990s, I enjoyed watching television. The channel I watched the most often was Nickelodeon, despite my parents’ distaste for some of the shows. I distinctly remember my mother’s voice as she said, “I wish you wouldn’t watch that…” “The Ren and Stimpy Show” (a cartoon created by John Kricfalusi that ran on Nickelodeon from 1991-1998) was my parents’ least favorite because it was “gross”. It centered on the characters Ren and Stimpy, who the Internet Movie Database describes as “An intense, hyperactive Chihuahua…and a happy-go-lucky, empty-brained cat.”  IMDB summarizes the show itself as “The gross misadventures of a hyper Chihuahua and a stupid cat.”  The inclusion of the word “gross” in its description indicates that my parents were not the only ones who held this opinion. I was unaware of this at the time, but “Ren and Stimpy” was at the forefront of an ongoing debate about what is considered appropriate for children’s television. In order to get a better understanding of why my parents thought that “Ren and Stimpy” was “gross” and not appropriate for children, I decided to attempt to define “gross” and apply that definition to an episode of the show.
An advocacy organization called the Parents Television Council released a special report in 2006 entitled “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: A Content Analysis of Children’s Television”.  This special report, although published eight years after “Ren and Stimpy” was broadcast, condenses content issues into seven categories that are helpful in understanding parental concerns about “Ren and Stimpy.”  The PTC category that relates closest to what my parents would most likely have defined as “gross” is “Offensive/Excretory Content”, which refers to “vomit, spitting/drooling, flatulence, burping, nose-picking, eating of or depiction of nasal mucus, and implied/mentioned defecation”.  I recently watched a ten-minute episode of “The Ren and Stimpy Show” in order to understand the cause of debate from the perspective of an adult. The episode is entitled “Insomaniac Ren” and the plot consists of Ren using various methods to try and fall asleep.
In the first two minutes I noticed four instances of Offensive/Excretory Content, including: nose picking, clipping toenails, plucking eyebrows, and the removal of eyeballs and squishing them into a contact lens container.  As the episode progressed, I saw events that fell under other PTC content issue categories that the Parents Television Council considers inappropriate, specifically Violence, Verbal Abuse, Foul Language, and Sexual Content. For example, at one point during the night Ren wanders into Stimpy’s dream in which Stimpy is suckling miniature versions of himself as well as one miniature version of Ren. According to the Parents Television Council, this scene would fall under the Sexual Content category due to references to homosexuality (it is generally understood that Stimpy is male) and possibly nudity.
It is clear that many parents had problems with the content of “Ren and Stimpy,” yet many children, myself included, found the same content entertaining rather than disturbing. Gary Cross’ The Cute and the Cool: Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Children’s Culture suggests a reason for this difference in opinion. The Cute and the Cool asserts that children’s culture is an expression of freedom that is sometimes the opposite of what parents feel is “delightful”.  The idea that children attempt to create their own culture in which parents are excluded makes sense in terms of the show’s off-putting contents. From what I remember of my own experience watching “The Ren and Stimpy Show,” I enjoyed my parents’ adverse reactions almost as much as the show itself. I felt a little thrill of pleasure every time they would say, “Yuck!” or “How can you watch that?!”. It was something I could understand that they could not, and I could enjoy watching it by myself without the fear of being intruded upon.
Although I no longer find the show appealing, I do not think it is so terrible that children’s access needs to be restricted. No evidence has been shown to prove that watching shows like “Ren and Stimpy” will cause severe negative effects or hurt the developmental process. While they may not be the most educational shows available, they are not wholly bad. I doubt there will ever be an accurate way of knowing the full effects of television on children’s development, but I feel that I can safely say that my parents did not ruin my childhood by allowing me to watch “The Ren and Stimpy Show.” Perhaps by allowing children to watch “gross” shows, parents are giving their children a sense of independence that might actually benefit them in the future.
 Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing- A Content Analysis of Children’s Television, Special Report (Parents Television Council, March 2006), http://www.parentstv.org/PTC/publications/reports/childrensstudy/childrensstudy.pdf.
 Steve Loter and Bill Wray, “Insomaniac Ren,” The Ren and Stimpy Show (Nickelodeon, January 21, 1995).
 Gary Cross, “Chapter 5, Gremlin Child: How the Cute Became the Cool,” in The Cute and the Cool: Wondrous Innocence and the Modern American Children’s Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 121-160.