Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Yes, Always!

In my opinion, one of truest constants about getting older is that you start considering all the pop culture you had growing up to be superior to the pop culture that people younger than you are enjoying today. It's like what Grandpa said in one of the all time greatest Simpsons episodes "Homerpalooza": "I used to be with it, but then they changed what 'it' was. Now, what I'm with isn't it, and what's 'it" seems weird and scary to me."

And you know what? It will happen to you.

This leads me to wonder, is it just the inevitable nature of the passage of time and the changes of ideas and attitudes between generations that makes the past seem so much better? Or are we really on some sort of infinite suck spiral where standards of quality pop culture get lowered ever year? It sort of reminds me of the history of Saturday Night Live. The original cast's initial five year or so run is considered by many to be unassailably groundbreaking and brilliant; like the Beatles of late night sketch comedy. However every successive generation of "Not Ready for Prime Time Players" has always managed to be a disappointment when compared to the previous generation. The original years were better than the Murphy and Piscopo years, which were better than the Carvey and Lovitz years, which were better than the Farley, Sandler, Spade years, etc., etc. I used to think it couldn't have gotten any worse between Horatio Sanzs' non-acting and Jimmy Fallon's constant corpsing (yeah I couldn't believe there was an actual term for it) but low and behold SNL at the end the Aughts continues to find new and innovative ways to be unfunny.

In the end though, it couldn't be possible that a show has steadily maintained such an impressive downward spiral of humor loss for so many decades without it hitting rock bottom and being canceled, right? It's just a impression brought about by the generational changes in attitudes and sensibilities from a show, that by nature has to reflect those generational changes, right? Right?

Isn't this all possibly just postmodernism in a nutshell?

I ask the same questions to myself when I consider the state of Saturday morning cartoons. Being the cranky old codger of 23 that I am, I am filled with nothing but disappointment and sadness at what adolescent age America has to wake up to on Saturday mornings. It's bad enough they have to deal with contemporary problems like pedophiles on MySpace, increased school shootings, over medication, the standardized mess of the No Child Left Behind Act, and the Jonas Brothers; without Saturday morning TV being ruined. Everywhere I turn it's just some imported, post -Pokemon, budget animated dreck, most likely shilling trading cards.

Comparing some of the fare avialable to kids out there with what I had growing up just a little over a decade ago and it seems almost unfair. You put up shows like Batman: the Animated Series, Animaniacs, Tiny Toon Adventures, X-Men, and Gargoyles side by side with this Saturday's line up and it just looks flat out embarrassing (even that short lived Earthworm Jim cartoon series stacks up favorably). Or maybe I'm just an overly nostalgic fool who never changed, while the world continued on. Maybe in some incomprehensible way what kids today watch is in a different way just as good or even better than the shows of my youth?

With that though in mind, I present, in my opinion, the most brilliantly ambitious cartoon short ever created for mass consumption by children. The Pinky and the Brain short "Yes, Always!" from an episode of Animaniacs.

Even before I ran across it on the internet I had always remembered this short from when I watched it as a kid, not for its humor but for its lack of humor and overall pointlessness. It boggled my middle school mind as to what I was suppose to enjoy about this episode. There wasn't any gags, or cartoonish physical comedy, or even a plot. What was with the crazy meta (of course I didn't know the world meta at the time) concept of having a cartoon do a voice over for a cartoon? Why were they recording this bizarre dialog? Where was the slapstick? Why weren't Pinky and the Brain trying to take over the world?

In reality, which I would only discover about a decade later, the animators had created this extremely esoteric parody of the cult audio clip of Orson Welles having a temperamental time reading a series of scripts for commercial foods, known colloquially as "frozen peas". Aside from the lack of cursing and some minor editing, it is a near verbatim re-staging of the original clip. It was the ultimate culmination of all the not so subtle (remember that really bizarre black and white episode that parodied the "Third Man"? I think it was even actually called the "Third Mouse") references to Orson Welles.

You have to wonder; how did they ever get the funding for this? How did the writers pitch this idea with any intention of it getting made? I can't imagine a single member of the intended children's audience getting the reference nor even a great majority of the parents of the children getting it. Director Paul Hastings put it best when he described it as "a $250,000 inside joke." In the end there are obviously more entertaining, better written, more innovative cartoons out there. In fact, one might argue that the short was a total failure in terms of being an entertaining cartoon to kids. However one has to admit that there will never be another time where something like this would be created by a major network television show for kids to watch; and in that respects it should be hailed, in my opinion, as nothing short of pure genius.

Or maybe it's all my old man glorification of the past and I guess Yu-Gi-Oh! GX is just as good.

1 comment:

  1. Rosebud. . . Yes, Rosebud frozen peas. Full of country goodness and green pea-ness.