Wednesday, April 11, 2012

80's and 90's Cartoons Made No Damn Sense (And that's kind of why they were awesome)

Hey there, Internet! How's your week been? Me, I spent it learning more about Bob Dylan than I ever intended to. First I watched a three and a half hour documentary called No Direction Home then a two and a half hour movie called I'm Not Here and don't get me wrong, I enjoyed them both and I did learn a whole lot, but they were both so esoteric and both so far out of my purview that my head's a little explody right now. This was for a class, by the way. I didn't just say to myself "I feel like engrossing myself in the complicated life and work of a pop culture icon for a couple days" although that is totally something I do sometimes. Curiosity can be a bitch and Wikipedia is such an enabler.

Pictured: the reason I know so many things and have no idea why I know them.

So I think that and the fact that I slept for maybe twelve hours total this weekend for some reason are going to result in a shorter-than-usual post, but that's okay because I don't feel like this is a huge topic anyways. Not that it's not important or interesting, just that it's not expansive. It is petite, and pretty, and can't wear thick-rimmed glasses without looking silly because of it and somehow this post just turned into a girl. How did that happen? METAPHORS!

Tom's Manic Pixie
80's and 90's Cartoons Made No Damn Sense
(And that's Kind of Why they were Awesome)

So let me take you back to the era of the twenty-year span before we started to have to really struggle over how to refer to our decade (naughties for the win). It was during this twenty-year span that we, as a country, once again underwent the process of becoming a completely different people. We bickered with the commies,  almost blew up the world, made the internet into a thing, broke boundaries, re-established them, then broke them all over again, and all the while, pop culture exploded in ways and speeds previously considered unsafe for human consumption. Somewhere in these twenty years, video games became awesome, music became awesomer, movies became daring, and we were successfully able to shrink our portable devices to a size less comparable to a large print copy of War and Peace.

Portable in the sense that you can move it from place to place, not that you can actually use it places.

And, as is certain to happen at least once in a twenty-year span, people had sex. Which means they had kids! Which means they needed something to distract their kids when it was time for Mommy's "Special Apple juice" and didn't want to be bothered. Which, for me at least, really only meant one thing: CARTOONS! It was still a new and interesting phenomena at the time; ultimately defining yourself by the stuff you grew up watching on television. For me, personally, it was a lot of superheros and superhero-esque type things; Batman, Spiderman, a little Superman, The Justice Friends, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Thundercats (HO!), and so on. As a kid, this stuff was awesome; when I wasn't watching the shows, I was pretending to be a part of them. Now that I'm a man though, I speak like a man and act like a man and...

Nah, just kidding, my hard drive's totally stuffed to the brim with Batman, Dragonball Z, Tex Avery, and Studio Ghibli movies. I'm pretty much the most adulthood-avoidy-est person I know, and this has allowed me to view my own childhood through new eyes, meaning that I often end up trying to interpret my old cartoons which ends either with "This is so much more awesome as an adult" or "Jesus Aitch Christ, this show makes no sense" Granted, this didn't usually make them worse, people don't need their entertainment to make sense, the popularity of Jersey Shore and NCIS are evidence enough of that, but it did force me to notice something interesting. There's a noticable trend in the popularity of kids shows wherein, up to a point, the bigger they make their world while still relying on "Just because" the more awesome you thought it was as a kid. Lacking any really snappy way to say that in words, I made a pretend graph in MS paint. 

Click to Enlarge

You'll notice that the bigger the world gets without actually getting into sciency technical stuff, the more awesome we thought it was. It was like we, as kids, were applauding the writers for the relative mass of their balls. Then as we start really breaking down into the boring technical side of the stuff we loved, awesomeness broke down as well. I have decided to call this the "Just because" effect. Let's take a few examples of it in action.

In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, someone's handling some nonspecific toxic waste referred to as "OOZE" and, of course, they lose some and it mutates some turtles into dudes and a rat Martial Arts Dude into a rat, just because, and of course, the rat man has to teach the turtle dudes martial arts because, why not? 'Let's make the best of it,' he must have thought. So a Japanese crime lord, whose entire empire is seemingly restricted to New York City, just because, is repeatedly thwarted by Splinter as part of some obscenely backwards revenge drama that I honestly never caught on to because Kowabunga. 

In Transformers, there's an entire planet made of robots. Robots don't just live on it, it's made out of, and is a, robot. Just because. It's home to two warring robot factions, the Autobots and the Decepticons. The Autobots are in possession of the allspark, a nonspecific life-giving MacGuffin that the Decepticons really want and send the Autobots crashing to Earth in order to get because I guess Doctor Who was right and we really just do attract trouble like that. Despite never seeing or being created with Earth technology in mind, the Autobots and Decepticons hide in plain sight by adopting the forms of several Earth technologies like some kind of Greek Gods with lasers. Don't even get me started on why an advanced alien race was still using magnetic tape. 

In Pokemon, it's standard practice to send your 10-year-old out into the big dangerous world with a woefully untrained elemental monster to engage in monster cockfights with other 10-year-olds and it really really is never explained why this is okay. The children keep their pet monster slaves in ridiculously small balls which can vary from acorn to apple-sized because apparently the world of Pokemon has mastered quantum physics and used it to more easily facilitate the national pastime. The rate of identical twins is statistically impossible, the world's largest crime syndicate doesn't kill anyone and is routinely thwarted by said preteens, and healthcare is totally free, yet lemonade is several hundred dollars somehow. 

Do you see what's happening here? All of these properties have large (and I might add, infinitely expandable) universes full of colorful characters and epic battles but a lot of minor, but still very important details have been left out. You can chalk that up to lazy storytelling because kids aren't going to notice that shit and parents won't care (and let's be honest, most of us didn't notice) and maybe that's true, but I think that the reason isn't as important as the effect it had. Note that most of the properties on the chart, and especially the properties I just broke down, were created and designed to sell toys and games. Just imagine, an entire world just waiting to be fully flushed out and added to by the imagination of a child. Say what you will about stagnation, kids will always have a burning desire to create and imagine and by giving us a template, it just made it all the easier. 

This is especially true for Pokemon, which gave kids a literal world they could carry around in their pockets. As a kid, I heard that Giovanni was really Red/Ash's dad, that Blue/Gary's sister was your girlfriend, that you could catch Mew (which you actually totally can, by the way) and these were deliciously intermingled with the real mysteries like secret evolutions and missingno.

And it continues on to this day, yes, it totally does. We just hate them all now because we're all grown up and can pick out the inconsistencies and so we think they're just cheap imitations of the great cartoons we once had. Truth is though, that most of the "Crappy cartoons" of today make just as much, if not more sense than what we had as kids and the reason for that isn't that nonsensical stuff is awesome, necessarily, as much as we simply don't have the happy memories to associate with them. It's like saying that a new flavor of cake sucks because you didn't grow up with that kind of cake and damnit, you didn't need it.

God, cakes shaped into words are so stupid. In my day, we just wrote the words on the cake and THAT'S ALL WE NEEDED.

Here's an example, if Ben 10 was around when I, myself, were ten, I would have eaten that shit up. Here's a story about a kid who can become one of ten badass alien superheros at will. AND there's an extensive toy and game line that I can further dive into and have my own awesome adventures with. Hell yes, I know what I want for Christmas. As an adult, I'm largely ambivalent towards it because, well, I'm an adult. It's rightly made no effort to draw me in. I do recognize how cool that would have been a decade or so ago, so I don't exactly dislike it. Meanwhile I've heard people trash it and swear up and down that Thundercats was the best show ever in the same goddamn sentence. I mean, don't get me wrong, I loved Thundercats. It was one of those shows that I inexplicably watched even though it'd been cancelled for years already. Looking back though, it's a great example of how much cartoons haven't changed at all and frankly, I'm okay with that. 

In conclusion, cartoons make no sense.

And that's exactly how it should be.

Thank you, Goodnight.

1 comment:

  1. AnotherTomWhoKnowsTomApril 16, 2012 at 11:57 PM

    Try going back another decade (or two) and imagine what happened to young minds that watched too much Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Fractured Fairy Tales.
    Both of these were written with overlapping humor for kids and adults. So as you grew older, you would often see an episode again and say "Hey, wait, -what- did they just say?"
    P.S. Greetings from the north. The little people have been asking about you.