Apr 28

A Vast Wasteland

I find few things more irritating than the arguments of traditionalist scolds, especially the tired old tropes of “what about the children?” and “the good old days.” Generally speaking, with a bit of guidance children are quite capable of making their own decisions. Also, “the good old days” is often code for “nostalgia for an imagined past.”

I’ve been told Beachy sometimes watches television too mature for her. While I agree at her age she certainly shouldn’t be exposed to such things as graphic sex and violence, I assure you what she watches is much, much better than what I grew up with.

Seriously, would any children’s channel today air programming depicting this? (Click the image caps for video)

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This isn’t Porky Pig! Shocking!

Or this?

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No Curly? Outrageous!

Or this?

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No Sgt. Slaughter? Disgu … nah, this is still pretty hot.

Guess what? I watched all of the above and more during my formative years. Repeatedly. I didn’t even have to sneak in any Cinemax to do it.

Growing up in the 2T in the early 80s, where locally-produced kids’ programming was little more than a foreign legend, on a typical weekday morning you essentially had two options: soap operas or game shows. Guess which one I took? Yeah, there’s nothing like beginning an unexpected day off than with an hour with Bob Barker.

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“Cutting school again, eh Lane? Well, don’t forget to have your pets spayed or neutered.”

And that’s the high water mark. I was born in 1973, so for the sake of argument let’s say my prime years for children’s programming were between 1980 and 1985. Fine. Here’s what the world was like back then:

Children’s programming was limited to certain hours (usually school hours) on weekdays. You had Saturday morning cartoons which ended by 1 pm, and on Sunday you were flat out SOL. The golden age of animation was dead and buried by the mid-70s. There was no Cartoon Network or DreamWorks Studios. In short, no one was catering to kids very well. Even the pre-Pixar Disney spent about a decade dropping turds on theaters every couple years before they finally realized they should stick with fairy tales.

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And Martha Raye’s Polident ads were more entertaining than the early Disney Channel.

With few exceptions, children’s programming of the day fell into one of three categories:

-Prime time reruns and old short films not necessarily intended for children in the first place, including I Love Lucy, The Addams Family, The Munsters, The Flintstones, The Little Rascals (or Our Gang, whatever), The Three Stooges and Looney Tunes. Throw in Leave it to Beaver and The Beverly Hillbillies too. What the hell.

-Reboots of old cartoons and TV shows, including The All-New Popeye Hour, The Flintstone Comedy Show, The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show, Laverne & Shirley in the Army, The Real Ghostbusters, the (apparently fake) Ghostbusters and various incarnations of the Scooby-Doo franchise.

-Shows which amounted to little more than hard-sell commercials, including G.I. Joe, The Smurfs, Saturday Supercade, M.A.S.K., Challenge of the GoBots, and anything involving Care Bears, Shirt Tales, Teddy Ruxpin, Cabbage Patch Kids, Popples, He-Man, She-Ra, the ThunderCats or Lazer Tag. It’s a wonder some nitwit TV executive didn’t greenlight a show about a fad puzzle game.

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Oh wait, they totally did.

So in addition to the torture, alcohol abuse and risque content noted above, what else did these shows depict to kids of the day? How about misogyny, gender and racial stereotypes, juvenile delinquency, frequent armed conflict, gratuitous violence, dangerous stunts, glorification of war, animal cruelty, terrorism, elder abuse, unrealistic life expectations, attempted genocide, reward for misbehavior and/or incompetence, borderline plagiarism, and commercialism so crass and over the top it would make even Vince Offer wince?

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Yeah, plagiarism. The Flintstones blatantly ripped off The Honeymooners.

I and millions of others suffered through long years of this drivel. Watching this stuff again just makes it worse, as one notices the shoddy production values one disregarded as a kid. Bright spots were few and far between. Off the top of my head I can only think of one animated series from the era that was contemporary, genuinely funny and not a 30-minute commercial for a piece of plastic.

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Even if he did drive on the wrong side of the road.

So there you have it. Programming on today’s children’s cable networks isn’t anywhere near as bad as it was 30 years ago. What’s more, I turned out just fine, and today’s world isn’t an amoral, dystopian void after all.

Indeed, I’m glad I wasn’t sheltered and allowed to watch only “wholesome” crap like Superbook and The Flying House. I probably would have shot up a Taco Bell by now.

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“More like, ‘Live No Más’ bitches! HA HA HA!”
Image credit: Coolcaesar

Feb 23

My Saturdays Were Once Animated

It’s 6 pm on a Saturday and I just woke up. Yes, really. I’m not an early riser to begin with. I’m also still shaking off the effects from my fall. My head feels fine, but my side is still a bit sore.

Even though the day is shot to hell, I guess I’ll write something for y’all anyway. My daughter, who never knew a time before the Disney Channel, Cartoon Network and such, has no appreciation for the concept of the “Saturday morning cartoon.” Those of us who do know that once upon a time waking up this late on a Saturday would have been sacrilegious.

I remember the routine more than the cartoons themselves. Circa 1981 for me this would begin on Friday night with The Dukes of Hazzard. In my defense, at least this was before they replaced Bo and Luke.

After that it was time for bed. I made a point of setting my alarm to exactly 5:55 am. I had the radio tuned to a frequency between static and a country station for maximum effect. 5:55 am was early enough for me to get up and go downstairs, but it wasn’t so early that I’d have to waste time spinning my wheels.

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Pictured: too early.

As mentioned there wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy about the cartoons themselves. This is probably due to the fact many of them were blatant 30-minute commercials, more so than anything on TV today. Within a couple years my sister joined me in this ritual. She liked watching shows such as The Smurfs, which bored and annoyed the ever-loving crap out of me. There was many a morning I wished Gargamel would catch the little bastards and put me out of my misery.

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“Screw it. It’s breakfast time anyway.”

Then again, at least Gargamel was a somewhat credible antagonist. When it came to The Care Bears or *shudder* Cabbage Patch Kids, when it came to villains I swear they just locked some poor writer in a closet with a tube of airplane glue and hoped for the best.

“But Lane,” you might say, “even then cartoons weren’t just on Saturday. What about after school cartoons and shows like Captain Kangaroo and Hotel Balderdash?” All right, all right, all right. Yes, we had those too. I couldn’t tell you a lot about Captain Kangaroo, as I wasn’t near as gung-ho about waking up on weekdays. He was a bit past his prime by the time I came around anyway.

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Yeah, not really feeling it.

The after school cartoons became important later, around junior high or something like that. I’ll tell you about that some other time. I don’t want to use up all of my good ideas.

By the way, if someone from Kellogg’s is reading this, consider bringing back C-3PO’s. Not everything from the 80s sucked, you know.