think of the Xs

Start with my 3/31 posting “A kitten-killing God?”, where I looked at a slogan (and caption for an image), with the crucial part bold-faced:

Every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten. Please think of the kittens.

A formulaic pattern Please think of the Xs (with minor variants: Think of the Xs!, Won’t someone (please) think of the Xs?, Won’t anyone think of the Xs? What about the Xs?) — some sort of snowclone, call it Think Of The Xs, exhorting the addressee to stop some activity, on the grounds that it does some damage to the Xs or sets a bad example for the Xs. Nancy’s comment on this posting of mine:

Not wank-related, but “Catmageddon,” the new anti-smoking ad campaign from Truth, makes the following equation: “SMOKING = NO CATS = NO CAT VIDEOS.” Think of the cats!

Note: yet another instance of the disaster libfix –mageddon in Catmageddon:


The ad campaign sends an anti-smoking message, reproducing, pretty much point by point, standard anti-smoking messages directed at parents, warning them of the dangers of second-hand smoke and the like for their children, but now transposed onto concern for people’s pet cats.

On to Think Of The Xs. There’s a Wikipedia page, full of useful stuff, but sort of a fruitcake assembled by various hands:

“Think of the children” (also “What about the children?”) is a phrase which evolved into a rhetorical tactic. Literally it refers to children’s rights (as in discussions of child labor). In debate, however, as a plea for pity, used as an appeal to emotion, it is a logical fallacy.

Art, Argument, and Advocacy (2002) argued that the appeal substitutes emotion for reason in debate. Ethicist Jack Marshall wrote in 2005 that the phrase’s popularity stems from its capacity to stunt rationality, particularly discourse on morals. “Think of the children” has been invoked by censorship proponents to shield children from perceived danger. Community, Space and Online Censorship (2009) noted that classifying children in an infantile manner, as innocents in need of protection, is a form of obsession over the concept of purity. A 2011 article in the Journal for Cultural Research observed that the phrase grew out of a moral panic.

It was an exhortation in the 1964 Walt Disney Pictures film Mary Poppins, when the character of Mrs. Banks pleaded with her departing nanny not to quit and to “think of the children!”. The phrase was popularized as a satiric reference on the animated television program The Simpsons in 1996, when character Helen Lovejoy pleaded “Won’t somebody please think of the children!” during a contentious debate by citizens of the fictional town of Springfield.

In the 2012 Georgia State University Law Review, Charles J. Ten Brink called Lovejoy’s use of “Think of the children” a successful parody. The appeal’s subsequent use in society was often the subject of mockery. After its popularization on The Simpsons, the phrase has been called “Lovejoy’s Law”, the “Helen Lovejoy defence”, the “Helen Lovejoy Syndrome”, and “think-of-the-children-ism”.


So: plenty of appalling moral panic, over pornography, “bad / dirty language”, masturbation, public nudity, contraception, same-sex relationships, and more — one (perceived) drastic threat to children after another. Plus some well-grounded concern (over second-hand smoke, for example) but put in an odd context, and then some excellent satire.

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