I grew up on cartoons.
My early life lessons were indelibly etched on my memory with images of coyotes (Lupus injurious) holding miniature umbrellas above their heads as tons of rock and debris squashed them into conveniently located sardine cans. The moral being: rabbits with a New York accent and fleet-footed birds were not on the menu.
Good and evil could be clearly delineated with the tutorials offhandedly tendered by George of the Jungle, Tom Slick, and Super Chicken. For youngsters with more liberal sensibilities, “Scooby Doo” taught us that “those meddling kids” could always overcome someone named “old man (fill in the blank).”
To those of us who grew up in a time when television (then a piece of furniture that also housed a H-Fi) carried four stations of crap — instead of today’s 150 stations of crap — Saturday mornings made the rest of the week worth living. This, while teaching us Loony Tune morality and exposing us to a fair dose of classical music.
A bowl of Lucky Charms, pjs, and low-level radiation from a flickering cathode ray tube was as near to nirvana as a suburban third grader could achieve. And tanning beds weren’t needed; we merely scooted closer to the TV set during the “Wacky Racers” (what kind of a tan can a kid get from an iPhone?).
Our pilgrimage began at 7:45 sharp. Slippers on — the younger ones dragging a “binky” — to the kitchen we marched. A raided cabinet yielded some colorful box filled with corn/wheat detritus supplemented by massive amounts of sugar, and we gleefully trooped to our assigned seating … 6 inches from the screen. A flick of the switch, the crackle of coursing energy, and a 30 second interlude before the tubes heated up (yes, tubes). We trembled with excitement, awaiting dancing images that would carry us to a world of diversion. A place were the laws of gravity only kicked in when noticed, a place where a simple pocket could contain an anvil, and animals had a wicked sense of humor (ah Heckle and Jeckle).
“Magilla Gorilla,” “Bullwinkle,” “Johnny Quest,” “Josie and the Pussycats”… the fare went on and on until around 11 a.m. — a time when even the worst hungover parent at last staggered out of the bedroom to face down their sugar-addled spawn. This act was usually followed by two simple words, “Go … outside.” By that time, we were red-faced and sweating from our fructose overload, and needed to burn off some of the 5,000 calories we had ingested.
Sunday morning was a wasteland. The antithesis of hallowed Saturday. But children would watch anything in the days of four television stations, at least until their parents threatened some corporeal abuse.
The offerings of “Davey and Goliath,” Kathryn Kuhlman’s “I Believe in Miracles” or the long running “Lamp Upon My Feet” were not commercially viable with the 3- to 12-year-old market. No GI Joe ads during these time slots. But the show must go on, and children would always gape, transfixed, hoping for entertainment in any form.
“Lamp Upon My Feet” was an interfaith combination “Playhouse 90” and liturgical “American Bandstand” (it could have been called “Jesus and the Pussycats” if it could have played a day earlier).
Then came the sorceress of strange. Kathryn Kuhlman’s mannerisms and vocal inflections were entrancing. It was difficult to look away. No doubt, subliminal messages were added demanding credit cards and cash to be funneled through some numbered Swiss bank account. The younger children found her discomforting and they sometimes cried when her sagging scowl filled the screen.
“Davey and Goliath” was a blatant attempt to inculcate biblical lessons into children’s intellect. By use of a pseudo-claymation format and a talking dog, the Lutheran church attempted to punctuate the socio-psycho behavior children acquired via Foghorn Leghorn but with introduced biblical references. This allowed young viewers to realize the didactic value of Bugs Bunny causing Yosemite Sam to discharge a firearm into his foot a la Luke 6:13. It was just funnier when Bugs did it.
“Davey and Goliath” was surreal in many regards. Parents were introduced into the plot, and not some Tom and Jerry’esque calves that entered into the frame accompanied by a swinging broom, but as people who said something beside “whah whah” like in Peanuts. Dogs that spoke were not “far out” but a dog spouting parables in a voice like a methadone patient was outside the norm. Don’t get me wrong, some of my favorite pets went through methadone treatment, but I never heard them speak (at least not until after my first semester at college).
Finally, sports would shoulder out the three-piece-suit TV evangelists (this was pre-Benny Hinn though at the time his Nehru jacket would have been “groovy”) allowing youngsters an ample helping of healthy violence. We had come full circle with American values: suspension of disbelief, religion, and controlled violence courtesy of big business, advertising, and the miracle of modern electronics. It made us who we are today.
So when the SWAT team begins to close in on your fortified position, tell ’em Mr. Know-it-all sent ya.
(With a tip of the antlers to Jay Ward)