You know, being an internet personality (I won’t say ‘celebrity’ because I’m not even Z-grade celebrity-wise) is fun most of the time. Strangers talk about things you did, people quote things you said and created, you get emails and tweets…
…Okay, so sometimes the emails and tweets are sometimes not fun. And I probably bring some of it on myself for not meekly taking it and instead excoriating people like gamergaters and folks who don’t think women should be fighters in fictional settings in a very public manner. I think people see that and figure ‘any attention is good attention, even if some guy makes me look like a boob in front of hundreds of people’.
Then again, people also just like hurling poorly spells abuse at anyone who has their head up, so maybe it has nothing to do with me. By the way, the ‘common wisdom’ among writers is to meekly take abuse. The mostly say this while hurling abuse, so take that with a grain of salt.
Anyway, on to excoriating a dude in a public manner and making him look like a boob in front of hundreds of people.
So. two weeks ago, while I was sick, I opened up my email to see a charming message from another chap who will remain nameless who, in the calm and dignified manner of all twelve-year-olds and twelve-year-old-like peoples of the internet, expressed his concern that I discuss and review too much animated fare on this blog.
To be more specific, he called me a ‘neckbeard manchild’ (spelling ‘beard with two e’s and no a) and then asked if I was gay because, and I quote ‘watching cartoons after you’re ten is totally gay’. After checking my calendar to make sure it wasn’t 2005 again, I sighed, rolled my eyes, deleted the email, and changed my filters to dump anything from his IP and address to be dumped to the trash (not even the spam folder).
After a few hours, it occurred to me that there is a meaningful conversation to be had about animation and the fact that in 2015, in the age where The Simpsons is probably one of the defining popular culture icons of at least two, maybe three generations (Gen X and Millenials at least), we’re still having the ‘cartoons are for kids’ argument.
And before anyone says it, yes, most American animation is targeted for children, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t stand on their own as quality entertainment for people of all ages if done right. Further, the simple fact is that this attitude is hurting our culture. Don’t believe me? Well that’s why this article exists. We’re going to talka bout why it’s time to throw that attitude away and watch (and make!) some goddamn cartoons.
‘For Kids’ Does Not Mean ‘Not For Adults’ (And Is Often More Mature Than ‘Mature’)
‘For Kids’ is basically an epitaph. When someone says that, they are not saying it in a nice way.
And while the main argument is usually to point out that animation is a medium and anything can and will be made in it, I think the first argument should be ‘So?’.
Hear me out here: older animated works… your Tom and Jerry, your Classic Loony Tunes… they weren’t made with children in mind and only later were relegated to being ‘for kids’. At the same time, modern animated works often follow the philosophy of making the work enjoyable by adults by away of adding jokes and easter eggs that go over the kids’ heads, but are fun for the adults who have to take care of said kids.
The end result is that these works become more enjoyable as you grow up. I didn’t like old Loony Tunes back when I was a kid and they were ‘for’ me. There were so many jokes I didn’t get and were just random in my eyes. Years, later, I get the historical context of those jokes and celebrity cameos and more ‘adult’ situations and some of those cartoons are hilarious now.
More importantly though is… so what if they’re ‘for kids’? If one enjoys a show, they should watch it. I don’t care if it’s goddamn Teletubbies; people like what they like. The secret to real maturity is knowing the difference between saying ‘I don’t want to watch this because it doesn’t appeal to me’ and ‘I don’t want to watch this because people I don’t know might think less of me’.
Liking ‘childish’ things like cartoons or Legos, or videogames, or reading YA books (all of which I do) doesn’t mean a person is immature as long as they honestly enjoy them. By the same token, listening to classical music and oldies but goodies, reading science articles and collecting ceramic penguins (which I also do) doesn’t make one old. You can’t actually control what you like and don’t like aside from trying things out and figuring out what’s to your taste.
Therefore, it really doesn’t matter whether a work was made for kids. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong for an adult to enjoy them. And frankly, I’ve found that a lot of E and Y rated works are strictly better written than the ‘Mature’ stuff because they’re literally not allowed the gluttonous excess writers of the latter gravitate toward.
With that out of the way, now we can say…
Animation is a Medium
It’s always odd to me that the argument is about cartoons in general and not specific titles or genres. Then this brand of elitism shows up in books, it’s targeted on the YA genre, not just ‘books’ or ‘novels’. You don’t even hear this argument in videogame circles. It’s really just movies and TV where bias against the medium through which the story is told is somehow worthy of ridicule.
Maybe twenty years ago, you could argue that it’s simply a matter of all animation being made for children. Well make that twenty-one years, as I know for a fact that MTV put out The Maxx in April of ’95. Aeon Flux was even earlier. Granted, I never liked any MTV animation until Undergrads. Of course, The Simpsons is nearly thirty years old now and that ushered in a whole generation of adult-targeted animation. There’s still an issue with this, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Then there’s anime.
God damn are people stupid about anime. Look folks, I don’t care if you can pronounce Toaru Majutsu no Index or can’t name a space ship from Cowboy Bebop. I don’t care if you like any anime at all. But please, please, PLEASE stop trying to argue that all anime is the same, for kids, and ‘all giant sowrds and tentacles’.
First: while there are giant swords like Cutsu’s from Berserk, Ichigo’s zanpakto in Bleach, and… er.. that… guy’s in Naruto (I haven’t seen much of the show), people who make this argument will inevitably called it a Buster Sword. As in From Final Fantasy VII. As in the premiere game for the Playstation One. AS IN A VIDEOGAME. A videogame is not an anime, jerkweed. Just because it’s from Japan… actually no. When you stop and think about it, the ‘Buster Sword argument’ is actually kinda racist. He Buster Sword is from something produced in Japan, therefore everything produced in Japan has Buster Swords.
Second: And I’m confident enough in my actual readership to bet that most of you guess what the problem is here, but for people who got this link from elsewhere because they were being asses to people about animation: Trying to argue that a medium is ‘kiddy’ by referencing works in that medium where people have graphic sex (I was going to say ‘assaulted’, but these days, there’s about a 70% chance they’re into it… which I guess is progressive?) with tentacles… is so stupid that my only response to this is to stare at the person who said it until they went away.
I’m not even going to dignify the ‘weeaboo’ thing with response. The internet is full of very stupid people.
But I’m going to be honest, that’s all I’ve got by way of defense of watching and enjoying animation. It boils down to the fact that in 2015, we are too far evolved culturally to need to defend it. My generation especially was shaped forever by cartoons. I don’t know a single person my age personally who can’t at least hum the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme even to this day. Plus the lessons of friendship, not punching the environment in the face, and the importance of Youth Centers still lives on with us.
Hell, the most reviled kids shows at live action: Barney and Friends and Teletubbies.
That’s beside the point. The real important thing here is getting rid of this attitude is going to become more and more important if we want to have quality geeky entertainment. Because right at this moment, the exact kinds of shows and movies that should be animated are not being animated.
Think back to all the cartoons you can think of, especially when it comes to those geared to adults and specifically not anime. Notice something missing there?
There aren’t any action-oriented animated series targeted at adults. They are either all comedies or sureal insanity like the early MTV stuff. Think about that for a minute: For all these folks like me who grew up with action cartoons like GI Joe, Batman: TAS, and Transformers… we have nothing specifically geared toward us in the US. We’re left essentially as a peripheral demographic to things like Young Justice, where success or failure for the show still relies on toy sales, or anime. Nothing is wrong with either, but– and here’s something that’s bugged me—why isn’t The Walking Dead animated?
Granted, I have no horse in that particular race because I hate zombies and everything they stand for, but it was originally a comic, and requires a good deal of make-up, animatronics and CGI anyway. You can say it’s to make the zombies and death more visceral, but weren’t they visceral in the draw comic?
Now, I understand that a producer should use whatever medium they feel is best for their work, but my point is that I’m willing to bet that having it animated was never an option despite having a number of advantages.
And yes, obviously, Walking Dead, could be made in live action because it was. But you know what can’t? At least not on a TV budget? Aquaman.
I don’t want to hear anything about him being lame because I think his appearances in Justice League, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and even his initial issues of the New 52 have handily erased any lameness Superfriends might have left him with.
DC, despite their constant and horrifying failings, agree on this point and have been trying to do an Aquaman show since around the time of Smallville. The problem is, every time they try to do a live action version, the most important element of Aquaman gets in the way.
Classical element, that is.
As in water. Water is not conducive to action. That’s literally the reason why Aquaman has super-strength: to fight the natural resistance of the water so he can actually do things down there. Sadly, actors are notorious for not having super strength and thus, they can’t fight all that well underwater.
The most impressive thing they could do was make him do the ‘swimming torpedo’ thing that penguins do:
I imagine if they did a full show with this, he would solve problems by ramming them. Underwater action has been an issue in television for a very long time and it doesn’t look any less clunky now than it did during SeaQuest DSV.
Animation therefore is the solution because animation isn’t bound by the laws of physics. We’ve seen badass and kinetic fights in animation for a long time. I know I keep touting Young Justice, but holy hell were there some good underwater fights there, especially in the episode Downtime.
Free of the completely arbitrary designation of ‘for kids’, animation simply becomes another tool in the box to be used when it would best fit the piece.
I’d say superheroes in general would benefit from this. Just look at the first two X-men films where they simply got rid of all the team’ unique and visually interesting costumes in favor of the black leather things they were wearing. Why? Because they didn’t think they could translate those costumes to live action. The Avengers movies have averted this, but for a long time, iconic costumes when in the garbage as a sacrifice to being live action.
And given that every CGI major shot costs nearly as much as a single animated TV episode from some of the better animation houses, and we might also tame some of those runaway budgets that make producers afraid to spend money on thigns that aren’t sequels and adaptations—or adaptations of lesser-know things. I’m looking at you Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle movie.
Wait, no—well not no. You should totally buy those because I spent a lot on a Mother’s Day (by the way…)–but in actual closing, I use animated shows as examples because there are some damn good animated shows and I don’t care if someone wants me to arbitrarily dislike them. And I will continue to do so. I just found Undergrads on Youtube, so that’ll be mentioned in the future.
One other item of business; in case people missed the news post, I put out an experimental first episode of my podcast, The Fifth Week Event. It is now on Youtube, so people won’t destroy my Dropbox bandwidth.
Next week, by popular demand: gnomes. Not a This old monster, just… gnomes.