Saturday Morning Cartoons are dead.
They've sucked for a long time, really. I mean, they haven't been good since I was a kid.
But this fall they officially died–the last programming block of running saturday morning cartoons has been replaced with "educational" content instead.
This, of course, makes me feel old and nostalgic. I feel like so much of my humour was shaped by cartoon television. I mean, would we like and share "Epic Failz" if we weren't predisposed to laugh at such painful follies by the likes of Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote?
I have some questions for the autopsy report:
1. Will this hurt the television cartoon medium?
Like a post-modern Humphrey Bogart, I find myself saying, "We'll always have Netflix." Obviously Netflix is the pack leader on a whole new way of distributing formerly televised content. But a strange symbiotic relationship has always existed between cartoons and the toys they're trying to sell. (As a kid I wasn't young enough to be jaded by the tie-ins and cross promotions. This video of the Ninja Turtles hocking pizza on a Pizza Hut sponsored live tour seems so artistically bankrupt now, but I totally would've bought into it back then.)
It may sound strange to say this, but I think the old structure eventually served the purpose of cartoon artists. If the show wasn't entertaining and engaging to its core audience, the show wouldn't sell toys. Now that Netflix and similar online distributors have become the main place kids go to watch cartoons, the medium could become a preview reel for a movie– in other words, the cartoons are one step removed from trying to sell the toys, and their quality suffers.
I mean, let's not be surprised by these sophisticated ad campaigns. For those of you who saw Transformers 4 this summer, I hope you are aware how you essentially just paid Chevrolet to watch their extended car commercial. And I hope you can sleep at night.
Advertising lines up with the interests of storytelling when the products and services being advertised contribute to the purpose of the story, obviously. Unlike these hilariously bad product placements. In the recent "Secret Life of Walter Mitty", characters in the film stop to have a conversation about the greatness of everything from eHarmony to Cinnabon, and it totally takes you out of the plot.
But cartoons had a simple anciliary function before: when I watched Spider-man cartoons, I wanted to buy Spider-man toys. It's likely that this will continue, provided these new cartoons have higher standards on their new medium. And it's probably for the best that unhealthy commercials like this are never targeted at children ever again.
2. Does every future thing have to be so dang educational?
It seems as though all children's toys, products, and television shows now need to be teaching kids something in order for them to have inherent worth. In their own innocent way, children avoid preordained experiences and choose to reflect their creativity by avoiding their fake iPads and letting their Furbies collect dust in the closet. No wonder kids prefer to play with the box.
3. Will we create a cartoon playground for this next generation, or will we continue to blur the boundary on age-appropriate entertainment?
Already the MPAA rating system is broken beyond repair, and Netflix still doesn't have appropriate locks and boundaries on their user profiles to prevent your kids from seeing adult content. But most importantly, without discretion we are blurring the line between what is targeted at children and what is meant for adults. "The Simpsons" was the defining program of this trend, even being targeted by then-President George Bush. Shows like "Robot Chicken" and "Family Guy" have continued the trend that programs like "Beavis and Butthead" and "Ren and Stimpy" started, as crude cartoons with exclusively adult humour– but the advent of entertainment-on-demand means these programs are available to younger and younger audiences. Of course, it's a parent's responsibility to safeguard their children's viewing practices– but now that we're shifting away from channels and broadcast times, who will reinforce the boundaries and let kids remain kids when they're watching TV?