I came to this realization last night as my sons and I spent some quality bonding time in front of the tube watching old episodes of "The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo." Shaggy and the regular gang were joined by Scrappy, a boy names "film Flam" and Vince Van Ghoul. There is, incidentally, no similarity between Vince and the painter of similar name. However, he is voiced by the legendary Vincent Price and, of course, looks like him, too. This is, in some warped way, a classic. Certainly having had the live action version inflicted upon us, it seems like high art.
As the oldest among five children--the youngest of which is still in High School--I had a long exposure to children's cartoons both the educational ones and the fun ones like Smurfs and Scoob. I continue to enjoy them. There is something inherently subversive about the medium as it appears on TV. These characters live in a fantasy world, they are sponges who sing, dogs who chase ghosts, little blue men and a creature with two front ends; a "CatDog," if you will. Even the evangelical vegetables in "Veggie Tales" can slap your brain into new and exciting directions. We're talkin' about a talking cucumber with super-plunger ears people! These shows all offer an alternative, often funny window on their world and on ours (and I haven't the time to even touch upon South Park and The Simpsons).
Certainly we now know, thanks to Tom Hanks, George Lucas, "Scooby 2" et al, that you can make cartoons look real. Whoopee! I am happy for them but it defeats the point. It is taming a medium where a Moose and a Squirrel can help us laugh at the cold war while teaching us a valuable lesson. Why can't a purple chain smoking giraffe drive the Polar Express? I see no reason, myself. What about you, Mr Hanks?
Anyway, that is not why I am writing about cartoons today. Yes, I am thinking about Buster Baxter. He is one of my sons' favorite characters. Yes, he is a bunny who talks and goes to school, hangs out with an aardvark and visits Vermont-where-they-do-those-civil-unions. Yes, the Department of Education is angry. Yes, according to my morning paper, that episode has been pulled by PBS (although WGBH contiues to sell it to individual stations). I say "Good for you Buster! Stand up for your medium! You make me proud to be an 'animaniac'"! The world needs art that challenges our assumptions. We need an education system that does so, too.
When I was in high school, I went through a brief country music phase (like you didn't!). The only lasting result of that experience is an undying affection for the work of Kris Kristofferson. Sometimes, lately, I have been drawn toward one of his earliest songs:
Mr Marvin middle class is really in a stew/Wondrin' what the younger generation's coming to/And the taste of his martini doesn't please his bitter tongue/Blame it on the Rolling Stones.
I wonder, in these days of Spongebob and Buster, if cartoons are the new "Stones." Maybe it is just television, itself. Maybe this is merely a facet of the same gem that brought us "Murphy Brown vs. Dan Quayle." I don't know. What I do know is that I will keep watching them and their envelope pushing antics. Sometimes they are shocking. Sometimes I disagree. However, even Old Scooby can make us think.