Saturday, February 10, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoons.

Once in a while, after a particularly extended Friday night... I'll wake up on Saturday morning with little else to do but to sit on the couch and stare at the TV. On these occcasions it's rare that I enter this state before noon. I'll dazedly flip through all four channels that we receive with our antenna, and see what is on offer. The pickings are slim. By necessity, my standards of viewing are lowered dramatically. It is at these times that I remember a simpler, more innocent time, when I had a similar lack of discrimination.

For many of my generation, Saturday morning cartoons were a weekly staple. It would have been taken for granted that at 8AM on that most glorious of days that my brother and I would be parked in front of the tube getting our dose of wacky animation. We'd sit on the floor with bowls of Cap'n Crunch, and stare at the screen with utter distraction. I imagine this tradition was a boon to my parents, who were able to sleep in with the confidence that we would be safely and peacably occupied for hours. This quietude was only occasionally broken by a short but intense tussle upon the half hour, when we disagreed about what came next in the program. We each had our favorites, but luckily deals could usually be struck.

Of course there were some slots over which there was no argument. The schedule almost always started with Superfriends. This wasn't one of my favorites, but at 8AM the options were limited. If I had to pick, I guess I liked Aqua Man the best, and of course Wonder Woman held some mysterious pre-adolescent attraction for me. The main alternative was Mighty Mouse, with guest stars Heckle and Jeckle. Those wise-crackin' magpies have to be coolest icons of the classic cartoons. Truth be told, I could have watched them all morning. Every once in a while, we would watch Popeye just for a change of pace. I always preferred the Jazz Age scattin' Popeye- he had more soul than a white muscle-bound sailor should have been allowed.

My brother was a big fan of The Pink Panther. Certainly that had the best soundtrack of anything we'd watch. But alas, the skinny icon was too sophisticated for my immature aesthetic... it would be years before I could appreciate the subtle French-ness of the show. I have to admit in retrospect that I found it a bit creepy. On the other hand, my brother wasn't into Scooby Doo, which I loved. This was during the pre-Scrappy years, when guess stars included the Harlem Globetrotters and Don Knotts. I think I mostly enjoyed the creepy plots with ghosts and monsters, and was always a bit disappointed when the supernatural elements were exposed as hoaxes. I looked very hard for anything that might have been a genuine mystery.

The classic cartoons though... the ones that constituted the centerpiece of our morning... were always the Warner Brothers icons. We knew the plots for all of the Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Roadrunner and Coyote shorts. And we liked them all... to a fault. They seemed to exist apart from time, and never became outdated. Sure there'd be the occasional sequence that would offend contemporary sensibilities, but those days predated the PC-era that would play some role in killing off the golden age of the Saturday Morning ritual. But in that last gasp of free, uninhhibited wackiness we got to appreciate it all. The standards like Tom & Jerry, Hong Kong Phooey and the Flinstones... as well as short-lived curiosities such as Pee Wee's Playhouse, Dungeons and Dragons, and The Littles.

You can still watch cartoons on Saturday morning, but they don't seem to have the charm or appeal that we were used to. Now it looks like they all contain elements of brain-washing. There's usually some moral message to receive. They are much more wholesome today. This takes all the fun out of it. The last thing we wanted on our day off from school was to learn something. Interestingly, they also seem to be relying more-and-more on computer animation. The warmth and comfort of the standards has been replaced by an alien aesthetic that leaves me cold. Everything changes... but I could never have anticipated feeling nostalgia for the type of cheap and easy entertainment that awaited us at the end of every week when we were kids.

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