Before animation and animae, there were only “cartoons”. I admit I am not very savvy when it comes to all of this. But I did start collecting “HEAVY METAL” magazines during the first year of issue, in the early 1980s.
When I was a kid I loved Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck in cartoons. Elmer was hunting “Wabbits”, Daffy was conning Bugs and Elmer, as was Bugs with the other two. I loved Popeye cartoons too, which given my adult career probably had some influence. I was just thinking that both my father’s and my generation grew up watching these animated stories, which were brilliant in that they appealed to both adults and to kids. Watching these as an adult, via YouTube, I realize that there were adult themes – politics, war, history, bigotry, wealth and poverty, as well as slapstick in them. And in the current generation, the nation’s past has to be scrubbed clean of anything that vaguely might offend a minority group. (I will not delve here into the obvious groups that animators and comedians purposely targeted for satire and derision.)
As a kid and into young adulthood, the competition between Wily E Coyote and the Roadrunner was funny, but I don’t recall any particular messages in them. In the cartoons with Bugs, Marvin the Martian, Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd, if you watch today, you might see pop culture references (1940s and 1950s), Americana, patriotism, the Space Age, the hope for the future, and yes, gangsters, politicians, dictators, and all sorts of American culture lampooned.
Sometime in my late childhood, cartoons changed. Super friends and Mario Brothers replaced the animated features that both adults and kids enjoyed. And then, I recall the first season of “the Simpsons”.
The Simpsons have been on television THIRTY years. That fact of the dysfunctional, smartaleck and rude kid, coarse “family” dynamics, seemed to have something to insult every race, creed, color and sexual orientation. It lampoons mostly politics and racial relations in the US. And then South Park came around. Even more coarse and insulting. Popeye retired to the Philippines, Bugs has moved to Sweden, Elmer was sued by PETA and is in a non-extradition country, the Jetsons had to sell their flying car to pay energy taxes to California, the Flintstones moved from the Stone Age to a condo in La Jolla, and the Super Friends went into rehab.
But Popeye the Sailor will remain my favorite animated character. And when Robin Williams portrayed him on the Big Screen, I felt that Popeye finally was getting his break for a new generation of fans. I’m not sure how it actually fared, but I do miss Robin’s comedic wit; as far as my watching Popeye as a kid, my parents had a much easier time getting me to eat spinach.