Saturday, August 28, 2004
Saturday Morning Letdown

I was out rather late last night on film-related business; painfully, I have to be up early this morning to go work on one of Lee's shoots. To be frank, I would rather tweeze off my eyelashes, but I'm obligated. I curse the day I agreed to work on the film... but I've probably bitched about that enough already.

Anyhoo, my standard practice on these occasions -- involving potential for three hours of sleep or less -- is to stay up all night, which makes me feel like shit but not as bad as I would feel if I slept for an hour and then got up to work. Seeing as the overnight period in question was Friday to Saturday, I thought I'd take a peek at what passes for Saturday morning cartoons these days.

I am appalled. I know what I'm about to say is cliche beyond belief, and a sure sign that my youth is mostly behind me, but it MUST be said: Saturday morning cartoons were much better back when I was a kid. Granted, it's been twenty years since I kept abreast of Saturday morning cartoon politics, and the landscape has changed dramatically: back in my day, the lucky kids whose parents paid for cable (including my own at times) were blessed with Nickelodeon, a channel that carried vast treasures from Canadian and British kids TV, giving me a taste for "The Tomorrow People," "The Third Eye" and the unparalleled "You Can't Do That On Television" (but also, to be fair, the less stellar "Today's Special".) We didn't have fifteen channels of all-kids fare at our disposal, just the network stations, the UHF channel, and maybe Nickelodeon.

But even so, I came up during what now appears to be the last gasp of cool kids' TV -- I am (barely) old enough to remember the last days of the Sid and Marty Kroft empire (although I thought "The Bugaloos" and "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" were shows I'd invented in my head until I was in my early 20s)... hell, I'm old enough to remember "Land of the Lost" seeming technologically-advanced. And I expect I am among the last generation of kids to see cartoons that were not imported from Japan -- which isn't to say there's anything wrong with Japanese animation, just that it has rather taken over the cartoon landscape. And we had crap back then, too -- "Dungeons and Dragons," anybody? -- but most of our cartoons were still pure.

Today, though... ugh. When I was a youngster, it was accepted that the primary role of cartoons was to give corporations a place to plug sugar-coated cereal and cheap plastic toys to highly-impressionable young consumers, but there was still a sense that they had to earn our attention with reasonably cool cartoons. Now, apparently, they don't bother with the cartoons anymore, they just churn out extra-long animated commercials for their crap and assume the kiddies won't know the difference. I was witness to what is, I believe, the first cartoon based on a video game ("Q-Bert"); now, apparently, all cartoons are based on video games. That seems very... sad.

The specific cartoon that offended my adult sensibilities today was "Winx Club". This cartoon is about a collection of female entities that are sort of like fairies, and who are apparently able to pull convenient-but-previously-undisclosed powers out of their cute little asses without explanation. I mean, seriously, that's just sloppy storytelling; even Superman -- the most powerful superhero ever -- still has a set of specific powers and limitations; he doesn't just get to make shit up as he goes along. More important than these too-convenient powers, though, was the image of hyper-femininity portrayed. The Winx' primary purpose in life -- despite the absence of any apparent male counterparts -- was to be pretty, presumably for the benefit of other Winx. They squealed prettily, they sat around in vaguely-provocative poses, they apologized to each other for not having brushed their hair (yes, seriously), and they feared pimples more than death. This is nothing new of course -- yes, I had a few Barbie dolls when I was young, although they did tend to meet bizarre and disfiguring ends even without the aid of male siblings -- but at least Barbie was faintly artful about it. This was not only misleading about the real nature of femininity, it was enormously obtuse and insulting to one's intelligence in the process.

These cartoons -- I'm telling you, they're really making me consider whether it wouldn't be much better just to keep kids away from television until they're old enough to watch it critically. I say that with reservations -- even now I rather pity the kids that were raised in TV-less homes, with their woeful lack of knowledge about Cousin Oliver and Silver Spoons; we kids who were raised on heavy doses of bad television look slightly down upon the deprived with an air of damaged superiority, in much the same way that people who grew up in broken homes secretly look down gently (though enviously) on people who grew up with both their parents. We quietly say to them, "we sacrificed precious brain cells to "Muppet Babies," and we're going to talk about it uproariously and at length, and not care that you're excluded." Our damage is a source of pride. (Yeah, that's fucked up, but it's honest.)

And while I'm ranting, is it just me, or has there been an explosion in movies about princesses aimed at young girls? Didn't we already deal with this Prince Charming bullshit? Jesus... the two most damaging influences in the world to young girls are love songs and Cinderella: both are based on lies, and if those lies are believed, your chances of ever enjoying the real thing -- genuine, healthy relationships with men and imperfect-but-fulfilling love -- are immensely reduced. I'm against 'em.

Bah! Humbug!
5:44 AM ::
Amy :: permalink