A Generation Raised by Hanna-Barbera

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.

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Holodeck from Hell

As my friend, Tom and I, were driving back from Brooklyn on I-678, we had enthralling conversation that lasted till we reached I-91 in Connecticut–if you are familiar with interstates in southern New England, you would know that is a pretty long stretch of driving. This conversation was one of importance that parallels politics, global warming, and indigenous rights to natural resources of postcolonial nation-states. Our minds drifted through childhood television programs, and the likes of MASH, Rescue 911, and Unsolved Mysteries graced our thoughts, as we spoke of shows that we vividly remembered. We talked about these shows, recalling our affinity towards Star Trek: The Next Generation, and reminisced about one thing, that even then, when we watched the show on primetime, we made note of this egregious writer’s faux pas, the ever destructive Holodeck.

Now I can appreciate that writers of sitcoms cannot fill every episode with plot enhancing stories, which further the underlying objective of the starship Enterprises’ mission, and they cannot keep finding planets and new civilizations every episode, because, lets be honest, the solar system would then be teaming with so much life that it would seem a little ridiculous. Bantering our theories back and forth, we came up with a consensus on a this topic of conversation, and it did not bode so well for the creators of The Next Generation.

First off, the writer’s of the show needed filler, and with the creation of the holodeck, they had enough filler to last a lifetime. Like I said before, they could not stumble upon a new civilization every episode without it seeming ridiculous. Or neither could every episode take place on the bridge of the enterprise, knowing sheer boredom would emerge from this, so what is the writers best tool, a trope that gives them unlimited ability to create stories that have no connection to the underlying plot line of the series. Think about it, the writers are all huddled in a room, and one of them has this genius idea, “What if we create a room? And in this room, they can replicate environments and scenarios, like watching a movie, but they are part of it. It will be interactive…I mean its the future, why wouldn’t they have this? And this way, we can write in episodes that have nothing to do with the plot of the show. You know, filler episodes.” I can see them all, shaking their heads, agreeing with the greatest tool ever given to the writer of a sitcom, unlimited possibility. But wait, heres the kicker.

So the holodeck seems a legit idea for the future. In fact, it is probably the most sane thing they could have ever done for that crew. Think about it, you’re trapped on a starship, millions of lightyears away from earth, the same environment seen day in and day out, and the only chance of touching your feet to a planet’s surface is by joining the away team, that, well, if you are not one of the main characters, than you are sure to die–we will address that in a future blog. So this holographic room of recreation has its merits, I will definitely make this concession, but that is where my praise ends.

You are the captain of a starship, and your crew keeps getting locked within a room which seems to want to malfunction and kill you, don’t you think you might do something about this? So why is it that EVERYONE, at one point or another on that damned show, has been trapped inside the holodeck?  Don’t you think, that at some point, you would say, “Hey, maybe we should put an out of service sign on this thing?” Better yet, why would you constantly keep going in there after you’ve been stuck inside many times before. Ok, human nature aside of a propensity for sheer stupidity, it just seems a little over the top. Especially, when  a crew member does become trapped inside this hellish room, the rest of the crew searches for them and never thinks to check the holodeck, as if they wouldn’t inspect the one room that seems to want to kill people. At this point, this all seems illogical. But wait, there’s more.

Can you imagine the Federation of Planet’s contract bid process. You’re a company that has holographic room technology, and you wish to install your product on the ship, securing a strong monetary contract for your company. You know you have competition though, two other corporations are waiting to one up you, stealing the contract from you, and walk away a rich happy firm, lining their pockets with the good taxpayer’s dollars. The government agent leans back in his chair, and confidently asks why your product stands out amongst the rest. With a dry smile and straight face you lean forward and say two words, “lethal mode.” Ok, seriously, lethal! You have an option for your holodeck to be lethal. In what application would this ever be necessary or acceptable to use. How does this, in anyway, make practical sense? I see the government agent standing up in a burst of excitement, “Brilliant, that’s just the kind of innovative spirit we are looking for in a company. You have the contract.” So it is not stressful enough, being so far from home on a star ship, but then you have to wonder if this holographic death box of a room will malfunction and try and kill you every time you use it, which seems pretty damn often.

So, if you are a person who loves to watch reruns of television, and a tendency to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation, the next time you watch the show, think about the ridiculousness of the holodeck. Think about the fact that the ship has a room that can kill you, locks you in about twenty-five percent of the time, and then malfunctions and tries and kills you. Oh, and yes, I forgot, has the ability to make an evil sentient being, that then could leave the holodeck and plot to destroy the ship. Yeah, those writers were geniuses. Geniuses I tell you, “Hey, what do you think this episode should be about? Hmmm, let’s do a Sherlock Holmes episode on the holodeck. You know, filler.” Genius.