Monday, May 2, 2016

Are Cartoons Exclusively for Kids?

     Alright, so I have lots of unfinished drafts for blog posts that I will probably eventually get done but this was something simple that doesn't require too much research that I could bang out quickly. If all goes well, I will be graduating this year, and in order to do that, I am going to be very busy for the next few weeks, so I wanted to get something to you guys before that happens.
     Anyway, the short answer to the question I have proposed in the title is, in my opinion, of course not, but I will obviously expand on this. I don't just mean that anime is technically cartoons (another subject I will approach eventually) and obviously anime isn't always for children, or that some cartoons such as The Simpsons and Family Guy are exclusively created for adults (and teenagers), even though when I was growing up, a lot of kids watched those as well in late elementary school and in middle school. I am talking about actualy "children's" cartoons. Rugrats. Spongebob. Fairly Odd Parents. Regular Show. Animaniacs, even.
     For one thing, if you research when televisions were prevalent in American households, compared to when cartoons first began airing, you will find something a bit odd. Or at least, unexpected, smost likely. Let's go away from America for a moment and talk about the First Cartoon Ever: Fantasmagorie, a French cartoon which aired in 1908. However, it is debated whether or not this is the first cartoon, or if "Humorous phases of Funny Faces", which came out in 1906, counts. Fantasmagorie is more widely considered the first, though, because many do not consider Humorous Phases to actually be a cartoon, so we will go with Fantasmagorie. You can decide for yourself by watching it here. The first American cartoon, Steamboat Willie (1928) is the earliest appearance of one of the most iconic characters in cartoon history: Mickey Mouse! along with some other well known characters in the franchise such as Pete and Minnie.
     From my research, it appears that the first television was also sold for commercial use in 1928, but they were not common in households until the forties, and even then, they were much less prevalent than they are in modern times. In fact, in America, the TV's popularity peaked in the fifties and sixties, and prices ranged from a little over one hundred dollars, to a bit over a thousand dollars. To put this in perspective, there were no HD, 3D, or wide screen.
     Let's go back to the past though to what I was talking about earlier. Cartoons appearing before televisions. So...who watched these? Where did they play? Many cartoons were shown at theatres before a feature presentation. As stated before, this is a time when televisions were non-existent. Most entertainment for those too old to play with rag dolls, climb trees, ride bikes, and play in the dirt, came in the form of a radio, which almost every household owned at least one of. Radio dramas and comedies were common as well as music and talk shows, so when the first movie theatre was opened for the public in 1905, it was a REALLY big deal, and for years afterward, it was still treated as a special occasion, especially when the Great Depression hit. In other words, the movie theatre wasn't playing Little Nemo or Snow White (obviously. Those movies didn't exist, but my point still stands). From what I can tell, children rarely accompanied their parents to the theatre, and I can find no record of a children's movie playing there until the thirties. That doesn't mean it didn't happen, just that I can't find it. So, in other words, adults saw a lot of the older cartoons before the television was introduced. Children, if not being watched by someone at home, would stay in the nursery at the theatre so the parents didn't need to worry about them, but the cartoons would be played before the feature presentation, not in the nursery.
     Fast forward passed the days of black and white shows, and go to Disney. Disney became a huge sensation, and was a company that did cater mostly to children, displaying what would have been considered wholesome, innocent, and possibly childish entertainment for kids. I don't see a whole lot of adults in the forties watching Snow White (although Treasure Island doesn't seem to be too far of a stretch). Even if parents didn't watch these movies, the children did, and this lit a spark that would change generations. Nostalgia is a powerful thing and as children grew up and had children of their own, Disney continued making movies, and these children had their own children, and Disney continued content. Many parents began to enjoy watching movies from their own childhood with their kids, and would watch the newer movies with their children as well. Cue cartoon television shows, not just movies. Do you remember Looney Tunes, Animaniacs, and Freakazoid? You might not remember the last two, but Looney Tunes is quite the well-known franchise, and half of the jokes and gags would never be allowed on modern television. The 90s seemed to be the era of dirty jokes and adult content slipped passed the sensors into children's television shows, so the parents watching could actually enjoy the cartoons, not sit there mindlessly listening to childish nonsense. Although cartoons are stereotypically a way to keep your child occupied on a Saturday morning while you clean the house or cook breakfast, we've moved passed that era, and now have whole channels dedicated specifically to children's shows, mostly cartoons, such as (old) Disney channel, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, and Nickelodeon.
     Speaking of the 90s, my father, who introduced me to the show Animaniacs, didn't even start watching it until he was in college, and enjoyed it immensely, just like The Tick. Shows now a days have  followed a similar trend of slipping in jokes for older audiences, but it seems much more difficult now, with stricter and more observant sensors and over-protective, butt-hurt parents who think the mere reference to a gun or a spooky image will turn their child into a raging criminal who shoots up their school or scar them and give them nightmares for life. A good example for modern cartoons is one I semi-recently became obsessed with, and one that many people (including my grandmother) are surprised is for children (and honestly, I don't think catering to munchkins was necessarily Alex's intent) is Gravity Falls. Spooky images, occasionally dark themes, and many adult jokes makes up this gem in a current coal field of crappy shows and to me is a cartoon that is much more understood by teenagers (and older children) and young adults, but can be enjoyed by mystery-loving little ones who don't mind getting spooked. It is the epitome of a show intended for everyone, or at least for all ages.
     I think we've all had those times where we doubted the amusement we received from cartoons. Am I childish? Do I need to grow up? Are people going to make fun of me? And if you haven't experienced this, I warn you now, please don't doubt your interests, it really doesn't matter. When I was growing up, I was a pretty mature child once I got to be about fourth and fifth grade (and honestly, even a bit younger). I was gifted and cursed with an above average intelligence which has only grown as I have, and therefore was not able to connect with other children that well. Sure, I played with dolls and toy cars, and I liked to watch Kids Next Door and Dexter's Laboratory, but I was often stuck in the middle of the ages between children who didn't relate to me and adults who didn't take me seriously because of my young age. By the time I was in middle school, I was ridiculed for basically everything about me, and when kids found out I still played with Barbies at the age of eleven (how dare I!) I was often mocked for being childish and immature. I stopped watching cartoons, even if I wanted to, because I had convinced myself that I was much too old for such childish shows, and I feel I missed out on a big chunk of my childhood because I was convinced I needed to grow up. After a lot of bad things happened in my life, I began to realize that it really didn't matter, and by the time I was fourteen, I had come to the decision that I would do what I wished (within the confines of reality and the law...sadly) and if people didn't like it, well, it really didn't matter. Even something like Gravity Falls is something I didn't start watching until the finale to Weirdmageddon had already aired, although that was because I had been very disappointed in newer cartoons and figured it would suck like most other new Disney shows.
     The thing is, like basically every other genre of television show, there are many different types of shows for many different audiences. Just like anime (Japanese cartoons) aren't exclusively for children, neither are western animated shows. If you like mystery, you can watch Gravity Falls, if you like humorous insanity, you can watch Animaniacs or Freakazoid. Why is it that we place the innocence and fun of children on a pedestal, and often reminisce about our childhoods, but then condemn adults who are just as productive in society but happen to enjoy the childish innocence of television shows that is not even necessarily intended specifically for kids?
     Long story short, if you like cartoons, so what? Your age doesn't matter. Just like it's okay for a kid to enjoy more "adult" hobbies like reading and relaxing. We have progressed so much when it comes to disregarding gender roles and the confines of stereotypes and profiling, but age is a matter that doesn't seem to have evolved.
     If you want to learn more about the evolution of cartoons and why they are not exclusively for children, check out this video by Saberspark on YouTube.  

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