Since the dawn of the television age in the post World War II era, parents and authority figures have looked on aghast as children sit zombie-like before the all-to-familiar flickering screen. Yet who among us can fail to recall our own favorite cartoon TV shows?
With me today is Professor Jonathan C. Sludge, the director of the Cartoonological Science Department at Acme University in South Park, Ill. Professor, it's a pleasure to have you.
"Thank you, it's a pleasure being had. Ask me any question, any question at all. I have been studying television cartoons since I was a child."
Oh, really? That long? Do you remember the first TV cartoon you ever saw?
"How could I ever forget it? It was a Tom and Jerry cartoon. All I remember is that a cat was chasing and beating up a mouse, then the mouse was beating up the cat, and then the mouse was hiding in his mouse hole. Not much plot, but what a real classic!"
Uh, yes. Which brings up another question. Do you think cartoon violence on TV today is more or less in quantity and intensity than the cartoon TV violence of many years ago?
"Well, now, that all depends. Certainly the ways of initiating violence have changed. For instance, where years ago, a mouse might have just gone and hit a cat in the face with a frying pan. Now, the mouse might try, by psychology, to make the cat truly believe that being hit with a frying pan is an enriching and rewarding experience."
So ... you're saying the violence level is less?
"More or less, less. I mean, you can only see a Tweety Bird attack a Puddy Tat so many times, and then you start to wonder why the stupid cat just doesn't make himself a baloney sandwich and save himself all that trouble. The same goes for Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. We know the Coyote will never catch the Roadrunner, and yet the fool tries again and again, ordering millions of dollars worth of useless gadgets from the Acme Warehouse. Why? He could buy whole restaurants for all that money, and live it up, without falling down off of cliffs or being bashed by boulders."
So what you're saying is ...?
"What I'm saying is, too much of anything can be boring, even violence. That's why TV news shows' ratings are dropping like anvils on Daffy Duck's head. They show the same old violence. Murders, crashes, weather disasters. It's enough to make you yawn. I have kept abreast with the current shows, and have come to an inescapable conclusion."
And that is?
"I have concluded we cannot escape them. And also, that today's cartoons show more imagination than those of the past. Where decades ago, showing impossible acts of violence might have been enough, today's children find that severely limiting. If they watch the old cartoons, they wonder how on earth they can ever hope to get ahold of an anvil, even if they could lift it up."
You mean the kids want something with more plot and less violence?
"Generally, yes. Plot is the king, although a modicum of violence is still an attracting factor. Like I always say, nothing can beat a good, old-fashioned anvil on the head, that sort of thing. But today's cartoons are more like elaborate stories, each containing a beginning, a middle, and an end. Genuine humor in the story, surprises, all these factors add up to make the cartoons more interesting than ever."
But do kids know this?
"I would say they sense it. Also, adults who sit down and watch the cartoons with their children sense it, too, after a while. The funny thing, though, is that most adults belittle and ridicule today's cartoons without ever seriously watching them. And when I say that, I mean watching them with intensity, with no wandering attention."
And what do adults get out of the experience?
"Um, what? My attention was wandering."
How do adults benefit from watching today's cartoons?
"Oh. Well, they are able to compare modern cartoons with the ones they used to watch, as children. In addition, they are able to spend more Quality Time with their children, who may be glad that someone older can appreciate the cartoons they like."
Thank you Professor Sludge, this has been a very intelligent interview, for a change.
"You are quite welcome, Mr. Stach. And now I believe it is time for me to return to my office at Acme University, for I see the Mystery Machine is waiting for me outside. By the power of Grayskull!!!"
Well, it was going intelligently. For a while.