Could you imagine being a kid and meeting SpongeBob, if he were real? My mother and father would most likely warn you to stay away from that “strange kid.”
What does that say about today’s cartoon television shows? What has changed over the past 30-some years? Could it just be that we, as adults, are just out of touch with today’s cartoons, or has our society — and cartoons — grown a little more cynical and off the beaten path?
According to KidsHealth, young children, ages 6 and younger, spend an average of two hours in front of a television screen, watching either daily cartoons or movies. That time doubles among kids ages 8 to 18. Consider the number of children using mobile devices every day has more than doubled in the past two years, and it would be easy to ascertain the influence of cartoons is much greater than it was when we were young. Personally, I did not have any mobile devices as a kid, much because none existed.
Now, comparing the likes of Spongebob Squarepants, Chowder and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack to 1980s and ’90s cartoons like Garfield and Friends, Thundercats and Care Bears may not be as bad of an experience as grandma would have with a Daft Punk concert; however, the takeaway from each experience could arguably be the same — not much.
Cartoons of Yesteryear Had More of a Moral Compass
Cartoons have traditionally aimed to not only entertain children, but to try and teach them something, be it a moral lesson or to encourage them to be more creative and active.
The Care Bears cartoon (1985-1988), for example, focused on being good to others and being honest. It helped children learn how to resolve differences and express their feelings. There were no off-the-wall antics, no farting noises or loud, destructive scenes. These elements are common in cartoons like Spongebob Squarepants and Chowder, which actually has an episode called “Famous Farts.” It would stand to argue that parents would like their children to learn more than the art of flatulence when watching cartoons. It is safe to say the 1980s and ’90s cartoons were, for the most part, fart-free.
Action cartoons 30 years ago, like G.I. Joe, Transformers, He-Man and Thundercats, also had a definitive line between good and evil and applied several lessons of what is right and wrong, along with the importance of teamwork to overcome adversity. These cartoons contained the essence of what we have come to know as heroes.
There’s no comparing the visual effects of cartoons 30 years ago to today’s cartoons. The advancement in animation and graphics have revolutionized how the common household television functions today. Perhaps that’s where our old cartoons stayed true; they weren’t saturated with noisy, action-saturated graphics. It’s like comparing an orchestra to a garage band.
For example, Ben10 (aired 2005-2008) centered around a typical boy who came upon an alien device which transformed him into various unearthly creatures with otherworldly powers, as the cartoon’s selling point. It’s comparable to Pokemon–the Rubix Cube of cartoons for adults today–in that numerous characters and high action compete for a child’s attention.
With 1980s and ’90s cartoons, the stories themselves captivated the minds of children, not the graphics and action. They were like an orchestra with simple, constructive tunes rather than the “garage band” type of cartoons you see today, where the louder and more obnoxious they are, seemingly, the more popular they get.
Beacons of Hope
Technology used in family life, on the other hand, is only moving forward. It is not uncommon for a family household to be equipped with a bundled service of technology, similar to what www.bundle.tv provides: feeding cable and high-speed Internet to the household. This, of course, provides access to an infinite plethora of games, shows and movies to every television, computer and mobile device under one roof. Thanks to technology like this, monitoring what children watch is something our parents can do with ease, compared to the past. There are ways of steering our children, especially our younger ones, toward more quality educational entertainment.
Not all cartoon shows today are bad. There are beacons of hope out there in the cartoon world. Two examples of cartoons with a moral compass are Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer and Disney’s Phineas and Ferb. Shows like Dora help younger children learn the basic knowledge of society, but go a step further, teaching viewers a new language (Spanish) while also entertaining them.
Paste Magazine considers Phineas and Ferb to be the best kids show on television, citing its relative plots to everyday life, its intrigue to viewers young and old, and its cleverness in humor. The show doesn’t oversell its characters; it keeps them honest and playful, yet mindful of each other and their parents. Its graphics are simple, yet colorful and never overbearing. It is because of shows like Dora the Explorer and Phineas and Ferb, there is a Care Bear still smiling somewhere.
About the Author
Ryan Harrison works for a pop culture magazine where he writes gossip about celebrities… shamelessly.