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11 Controversies Caused by Cartoons 

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For a medium that lends itself to silly subjects, cartoon controversy is more common than you might think. From toons driving drunk to WWII satire, read on for 11 eyebrow-raising animated moments.

1. Scooby-Doo: The horrors of being a size 8.

A new direct-to-video release called Scooby-Doo! Frankencreepy finds the Mystery Machine gang in their natural habitat: a spooky old castle inhabited by a nefarious villain. When Daphne has a run-in with said villain, he hexes her with a curse that causes her to grow from a size 2 to a size 8—a size that’s still smaller than that of the average American woman.

When the Huffington Post asked Warner Brothers to comment on the insulting choice of curse, Warner Brothers stated that they believe the message is actually a positive one.

Although you are correct that Daphne becomes bigger in the course of the story, the message is actually a much more positive one. The plot of the movie involves the Scooby gang becoming cursed and losing what means the most to each of them. Fred loses the Mystery Machine, Shaggy and Scooby lose their appetites, etc. Daphne loses her good looks (mainly her figure and her hair). While Daphne is at first upset by the sudden change, there is a touching moment where Fred points out that he didn't even notice a change and that she always looks great to him. At the end, when Velma explains how they figured out the mystery, she points out that the curse actually DIDN'T take away what means the most to each of them: their friendship. The loss of Daphne's regular appearance is proven to be a superficial thing, and not what actually matters the most to her.

2. Pokemon: The episode that sent kids to the hospital.

In 1997, an episode of Pokemon sent nearly 700 Japanese children to the hospital. “Electric Soldier Porygon” included a segment where Pikachu uses his lightning attack to blow up missiles. Because Pikachu is in cyberspace at the time of the attack, the animators employed a different technique to make his usual attack look more high-tech. The strobe effect used ended up sending kids to the hospital with seizures, headaches, and other symptoms, a phenomenon later called “Pokemon Shock.” The episode has not been broadcast since.

3. Tiny Toon Adventures: The Toons drive drunk and die.

In this Very Special Episode that aired only once, the Tiny Toons explore the “evils of alcohol.”

After spotting a cold beer in the fridge, Buster cracks it open, sighing, “Nectar of the hops!” Shortly after sharing a single bottle, Buster, Hampton, and Plucky start slurring their words and develop beer guts, stubble, and bloodshot eyes. After getting rejected by the “Babes” they catcall, the tipsy trio steal a police car, drive it up a mountain, careen off the edge, crash into a graveyard, and die. Despite their bad behavior, they all turn to angels and float upward to the sky. You can see the first half above, or the entire thing here (with commentary). Though “One Beer” was only shown one time, it was included when the series was released on DVD.

4. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: 11 offensive cartoons.

In 1969, United Artists pulled 11 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies from rotation. They were all from the early ‘30s and ‘40s, and the ethnic stereotypes of the day were certainly represented. Even though the rights to the cartoons have passed hands several times since then, titles like “Uncle Tom’s Bungalow,” “Jungle Jitters,” “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs,” and “Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears” have remained under wraps.

They’ve been officially shown a few times for historical purposes, such as at the TCM Film Festival in 2010, and there’s some talk that they’ll be released as part of a controversial cartoon set at some point. Until then, some of them are available on YouTube. Here's 'Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears':

5. The Flintstones: Fred and Barney For Winston Cigarettes.

These days, cigarette ads aren’t allowed on TV at all, let alone in the middle of a children’s television show. There were no such laws back when the Flintstones were first on the air, and, in fact, commercials were usually placed right in the middle of a plotline or added at the end of an episode. It does help that The Flintstones was originally targeted at adults, not kiddos, but by today’s standards, it still feels weird. The mid- and end-of-show product placements have since been removed, but here’s a particularly offensive one for your viewing pleasure:

This one was apparently for Busch employees only and never aired on television, but it’s still entertaining.

6. Rocko’s Modern Life: Adult humor goes too far.

This Nicktoons staple was known for its grownup sense of humor, but an episode titled “Leapfrogs” took it a little too far. “Too far” happened when Rocko’s neighbor Bev Bighead declared that she needed “a little attention from a man once in awhile,” then proceeded to aggressively pursue her teenage neighbor, including trying to trick him into seeing her naked.

Execs said no way, and the episode was pulled.

7. Beavis and Butthead: America’s dumbest teens shoot down an airplane.

In “Heroes,” Beavis and Butthead manage to take down a commercial airliner while they’re haphazardly firing off guns in a field. The decision to pull the episode seems more relevant now than ever.

Another episode, “Incognito,” featured Beavis and Butthead bringing a gun to school. The episode was taken out of rotation years later, post-Columbine.

8. TaleSpin: WWII satire falls flat.

Originally airing on November 1, 1990, a TaleSpin episode called "Last Horizon" featured Baloo’s discovery of “Panda-La,” a nation that appears to welcome him with open arms. We quickly discover that Panda-La is only using Baloo to gain information about his hometown of Cape Suzette, which they intend to attack and conquer.

The negative Asian stereotypes represented by some of the characters and the episode’s similarity to events that happened during WWII caused “Last Horizon” to be temporarily banned. That being said, it’s aired on Toon Disney at least once since then, in 2002. Another TaleSpin episode called “Flying Dupes” has been permanently banned for its terrorist themes—Baloo is unwittingly asked to deliver a bomb to the Thembrian High Marshall. 

9. Darkwing Duck: The Devil takes DW’s soul.

In 1992, the Halloween episode of Darkwing Duck had DW and Gosalyn visiting Morgana McCawber’s magic school. While they’re there, a devil named Beelzebub decides to challenge himself by stealing Darkwing Duck’s soul instead of the usual used car salesmen and politicians. It actually aired a few times before getting yanked, and you can still see the whole thing on YouTube (and embedded above).

10. Pepper Ann gets away with a bunch of boob jokes.

In the season one finale of Pepper Ann, a gym teacher mentions to our title character that she’ll need some “support” to jump on the trampoline. Pepper Ann thinks the teacher means that she needs a bra; hilarity ensues. That night, Pepper Ann’s mother asks her if she wants breasts. She means chicken breasts, of course. At the next gym class, P.A. is asked where her support is. In response, Pepper Ann flashes everyone, which is when she is informed that “support” meant a “support buddy,” not a bra. Though most episodes of Pepper Ann were rated TV-Y (appropriate for all children), this one was rated TV-Y7 (directed to children 7 and older). 

11. SpongeBob Accused of Peddling Gay Propaganda

Perhaps the most scathing (and ridiculous) attack on this popular Nicktoon came in 2012, when the Ukrainian National Expert Commission for Protecting Public Morality argued that SpongeBob not only “promoted homosexuality” but was part of a “large-scale experiment” designed to transform the nation’s youth into “criminals and perverts.” See Also: 10 Controversies Caused by Nicktoons.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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