With my current foray into 1980s and 1990s cartoons I unavoidably started thinking about and comparing the cartoons of my childhood with more modern cartoons.

The comparison was not favorable to the modern cartoons.  For example, let’s take one of the best cartoons of my childhood: Batman The Animated Series.

Everyone squee for Batman!

 Batman started in 1992 during a time where superhero cartoons were extremely popular.  It joined the ranks with The Uncanny X-men and later Spiderman in 1994.  All these shows were rather good, though X-men probably fared the worst with age.  Rewatching the X-men is almost painful during the first dozen episodes; the dialogue is pretty corny.  Batman, on the other hand, aged very gracefully and is still one of my favorite cartoon series.

But, looking to today, what do kids have?  Well, shows like Young Justice.  A show that allows the X-men to feel good about their dialogue.  Teen Titans is another in this basket.  In order to both appeal to the younger crowd, and meet the ever increasingly stringent guidelines for child-friendly TV, we end up with cartoons full of fairly whiney teens that seem more preoccupied with fitting in with their peers than actually fighting crime.

And it doesn’t just extend to the odd Superhero Cartoon; even the humor cartoons have dwindled.  The jokes are milder and there seems to be more of a focus on ninja-ing wholesome values and learning at children rather than entertaining.  In a comparison with today’s cartoons, Ducktails is down right racy with some of its humor.  Which is why it’s still rather funny.

So what happened?  Well, it started primarily with the downfall of Saturday Morning Cartoons.  As cable children’s networks started to take over the cartoon scene in the 90s, the need for a saturday morning cartoon decreased.  The problem there is that when you go from 7 competitive channels trying to put out cheap but quality cartoons in order to suck in the kids to 2 channels that don’t really actively compete with each other; there really is no need to try to produce something really good.  The lack of competition means the lack of innovative product; which is why 90% of the cartoons that come out these days are basically the same.  They found a jig that works well enough so they just cookie cutter new cartoons to fit the mold.

Further, around the same time, children’s advocacy groups started dismantling TV programming to fit their more extreme view of what the programming should be.  Less violence, more values; less humor more learning; less entertainment, more structured information.  The problem there is that, just like adults, children need a break.  Playing outside, watching mindless cartoons, hitting each other with stuff, etc.  So by trying to enrich which is essentially a break for the children, you marginalize the actual purpose.  Less cartoons are watched, and children gravitate away towards other, truly fun/entertaining things.

Further, these groups also cracked down on the focused advertising campaigns of companies who sponsored the cartoons (which is probably a good thing, actually).   So, with cartoons producing less income now that companies can’t pimp their new marshmallow explosion cereal or the new line of action toys, there is once again no real incentive to continue producing good cartoons, let alone bad ones.

This probably explains the rise in popularity of video games.  Kids need a break from all the enrichment (I know I did).  You can only take so much structured learning, ninja’d value lessons, and wholesome activities before you need something stupid, brainless, and fun without strings attached.  That used to be cartoons, play fighting, lawn darts, playgrounds, sports, and video games.  But with the introduction of the super parent who has nothing better to do than add more structure to everyone’s children, these things have been taken away.

Play fighting is now a thing of the past, lawn darts are now plastic and blunt, playgrounds are close to the ground and most of the more dangerous and fun equipment has been removed, sports are still around but funding isn’t really there anymore, and cartoons try to teach morals and education or just whine about middle school.  So we’ve got video games left on the list… and those are getting cracked down on as well.

So soon we’ll have children who are enriched on every front.  Everything they do is aimed at teaching them a lesson, giving them knowledge, or tricking them into learning.  They will live their joyless lives under the thumb of the wholesome entertainment we have provided for them; dreaming every day that they can grow up and start having fun.  Is it any wonder that kids are spending less time being kids these days?  We’ve done that, by design or by accident, it’s all on us.  So preoccupied with enrichment and wholesome activities for our children we have forgotten that, from time to time, they need to be kids.  No learning, no structure, no moral lesson; just kids playing for the sake of fun.  Why is that considered such a horrible thing?

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?

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