COLUMN: Otis the steer-cow has some identity issues

Thursday, June 3, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

I have been scarred for life. It will take months, years, dec … Maybe not decades, but the image will never leave me. It is like seeing your parents having sex. You just cannot get that image out of your mind. (Sorry if I just opened a long-closed door to your psychological past.)

And the source of this ghoulish, unnatural and freakish sight is as haunting as the image itself: Nicktoons, wholly owned by Viacom International. The cartoon character is so horrid that conservatives and liberals may come together, hand-in-hand, to fight this dastardly depiction. It is something so devastating that the LBGT community may join the Westboro Baptist Church in the battle, so despicable that Sigmund Freud will resurrect and file suit to prevent the psychosis that emanates from this seemingly “harmless” depiction of confused sexual identification.

The offending show: "Back at the Barnyard." The offending character: Otis, the steer-cow.

Otis is a steer with a visible udder.

Yes, you read that correctly. Of course, Bessy the cow also has teats.

Otis is the leader in this tale of talking and scheming livestock and the culturally confused “humans.” Otis is the only male character in the ensemble with visible sex identification. The wrong sex at that. says about Otis: “The fun-loving leader of the barnyard, Otis is a cow with charisma. He's also full of the grand plans that usually lead him and his friends into trouble.” (Italics added)

Others — animal and human — have the usual stylistic sex characterizations made by cartoonists for decades.

I admit that I am a New York City kid. I saw my first cow at the Bronx Zoo’s working farm exhibit. Yet, even I know cows have udders. Steers and bulls don’t, though I had to ask what the difference is between a steer and bull.

It is not as if animals have never talked and stood bipedally in the past. Mickey, Donald, Bugs and Pepe are guys. Minnie, Daisy and Penelope are gals. There is no question of gender. But, teats on a steer?

I called Viacom to get some more background on Otis. Is the character a freak of nature? Is Otis going through sex reassignment and, if so, from what to what? Is Otis a creation of a distant relative of Dr. Frankenstein? Is it a secret plot from the sinister KAOS with Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 nowhere in sight? Is Otis part of a nationalist-domestic terrorist plot devised by the Gingrich/Cheney/Palin Committee for American Values as the newest scheme to teach celibacy to our kids? I am still awaiting a response.

“Back at the Barnyard” is not the first cartoon depicting sexual confusion. Over the years, my speech students have targeted “The Powerpuff Girls,” a Cartoon Network regular.

Two of the villains are especially repugnant. Him is described by Wikipedia users as “a mysterious, supernatural, red-skinned, effeminate (apparently androgynous) and immortal devil-like creature.” Sedusa is described as “a young, beautiful mistress of disguise and seductress who uses her feminine wiles to influence men to do her bidding.”

The future leaders of the world are watching this stuff.

Who will step up as Protector of Morals for our children? Those who are appalled by Jefferson’s Bible and Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,” Darwinism and embryonic science? Those who want to keep sanctioned prayer out of public schools, eat organic and wear Birkenstocks?

Have we become so insensitive to what cartoons our children watch that shows like “Family Guy,” “The Simpsons” and other Fox offerings look like Sunday school movies? Have we become so urbanized that we do not care what a cow, bull or steer really looks like?

Does this just sound udderly ridiculous? Am I milking this to the end? Will I get hoof-and-mouth disease for saying such things? Deep in your heart, you know this is no bull. Steer? Cow?

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at and New York Journal of Books.

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