As someone who is on the tail end of Gen-Xers, I find myself drawn to the plethora of cartoon shows which are throwbacks to my childhood. Now, I am not referring to the crappy, computer generated Saturday morning cartoons that children watch today, unwittingly participating in a farce of this beloved tradition, which blossomed in the late seventies and took off in the early eighties. Clad in our one piece, zip up, feety pajamas, with some beloved character clad across the white torso area—the same pajamas that zipped up many a child’s penis inside its devilish teeth, as we screamed for relief, the only form of such aid, a quick tug. I equate this terror to aligning a dislocated patella. You don’t tell the patient you are doing it, or give them advanced warning, you just lull them into conversation, and snap, a quick yelp, and then they realize there is no pain, the look of excruciating pain actually preemptory, as their psyche anticipated searing pain to overcome their body which was never delivered. Anyway, I digress, back to Saturday morning. We sat glued, fixated on the screen as Hanna Barbera characters, Scooby Doo, GI Joe, Transformers, Muppet Babies, Snorkels, The Smurfs and so many others became essential to our survival as children. These shows became a daily tradition, a routine which became necessary for our weekend to begin. Friday night may have been the official start to the weekend, with our parents in the other room, huddled around the television waiting to see who shot J.R. or if on Falcon Crest, Cole would awaken from his coma, but Saturday morning cartoons made the weekend real. We sat in front of the crappy, nineteen inch screen with whatever sugared cereal was in the house, and became hypnotized by whatever was on at that time. We didn’t need our parents awake, we had cartoons to guide us. We were sucked in by shows like Pryor’s Place, where Robin Williams co-starred as a vagrant. We were a generation of Muppet Babies, and Muppet movies. Cartoons were part of our lives, and as such, it makes sense we accept them in our adult life.
I have noticed in recent years that there are more and more adult cartoons on television. From Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, which has given us The Venture Bros. and Robot Chicken, to shows like the Simpsons, Family Guy, Futurama, Archer, and Bob’s Burger, it is no wonder these have become beloved staples of our tv watching routine. For those cartoon lovers, much like myself, who frantically watched Jonny Quest, The Venture Bros. has picked up that tradition. Satirizing this favorite staple, their critique of the show, and its unadulterated version of a strung out Dr. Venture, who was also a boy adventurer and now has psychological problems from all the near death adventures, much like Jonny, is perfect and spot on, speaking to this generation.
New cartoons on Saturday morning lack imagination, and have no cultural value. Even Loony Toons, who showed the occasional accepted racism and bigotry of the time, had cultural jokes which transcended children and allowed the adult in the room to chuckle at Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope as chickens in Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. A whole cartoon was a Barber of Seville Opera with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, now that is amazing. Or take the references to Milton Berle, who is more famous for his third leg which reportedly was like a baby’s arm holding an apple. Either way, cartoons have devolved to the crap that children watch now. I am thankful that pioneers have found their way to make the adult cartoons that feature David Bowie characters and make pop cultural references to the eighties. Archer, may be crude at time, but the frequent jokes alluding to Archer’s proclivity to obscure references of which comes from his reading materials and strange knowledge of facts is amazingly witty. If anything, these cartoons draw us in, because as children, our cartoons treated us as if we searching for something more than banality. Pop culture was injected into our shows, and we drank it up with a straw.
So as I write this, my collection of The Venture Bros. DVDs in the other room is calling my name. I want to find footy pajamas that fit me, cut the feet out—because they were always too hot to wear—and get a heaping bowl cereal. Maybe Boo Berry or mouth cutting Captain Crunch. There is always the ever beloved Cookie Crunch or Apple Jacks, and wistfully, I would shove my hand deep into the bottom, hoping to find the jelly octopus which I would throw against the sliding glass door, and watch it walk down as gravity worked its wonder. We are a generation of cartoon fanatics, and they will always be part of our routine, maybe not Saturday morning, but somewhere in our lives, they help mark the time of the week, and bring us back to a moment in life which we wistfully yearn for, even if we don’t realize it.