Saturday morning cartoons are a part of mass media that has been continuously scoffed at by the academic world. It doesn’t take a philosopher sitting up in an ivory university tower to realize cartoons are an important part of our society and our fragile social fabric. Most importantly, cartoons show how we — as caring, nurturing human beings — can relate and interact in the world we live in today.
Many cartoons explain (and exploit) my point.
To the average person who is untrained in the mysteries of interpersonal communications, Speed Buggy was about a racecar with a stutter, right? “Big race! Big race!” Speed Buggy would clamor merrily away to Tinker, his sidekick-driver. It all seemed rather wholesome and innocent to someone uneducated in these delicate matters, but in reality, something dark and secretive was churning and burning down in those metallic guts beneath that shiny, happy-go-lucky, orange hood.
You see, Speed Buggy secretly wished to be a woman (a Speed Buggyette, if you will). Yes, poor Speed Buggy. He knows all there is to know about “the crying game.” This isn’t me talking, folks, or even some “red state/blue state” nonsense that oozes into our politically correct culture on a daily basis. No; this is science.
Innocent Tinker never knew what Speedy Buggy really meant when the orange dune buggy would haphazardly inquire, “Are you going to drive me, today, Tink? Are you going to drive me today?” The racecar driver with the southern drawl never properly interpreted Speed Buggy’s cries of “faster, Tink, faster!” as sexual frustration subversively disguised in the form of some NASCAR enthusiasm.
Oh sure, on the surface, an innocent Tide car racing around aimlessly in circles never seemed so tawdry, did it, kids? But then untrained laypersons can never truly understand the deep symbolism behind Speed Buggy, can they? Are you beginning to realize the ramifications of what I’m talking about now?
Scooby-Doo, one of the most popular cartoons of the 1970s (and beyond), set and reflected the social standards for that turbulent decade. Four youths and their talking dog traveled around the countryside in their psychedelic van solving mysteries, but as simplistic as that plotline sounds, there was much more to it than met the eye.
The gang solved mysteries week after week, yet never received an actual paycheck for their work. Simply put, they were five deadbeats who were opposed to getting conventional jobs. They were always on the run, constantly evading the draft board and the Vietnam War. Which would you rather face: an enemy soldier with an UZI or the Ten Thousand Volt Ghost? (The North Vietnamese Army used AK-47s, not UZIs, but the average communications major wouldn’t know that, would they?)
The gang attempted a brief stint in college, but was thrown out when Scooby was caught in the dorm: No Dogs Allowed (talking or otherwise). That’s when they hit the road in their Mystery Machine. Freddy was always in charge of driving the van. It had to be that way since Shaggy, Velma, and Scooby were constantly getting stoned in the backseat – hence, the emergence of terms like “Zoinks!” and “Jinkies!” from Shaggy and Velma, respectively, and that obnoxious giggling snort from Scooby-Doo.
Shaggy was obviously the anti-establishment hippie and Velma portrayed the first major lesbian character in cartoons. One of my esteemed colleagues disputes this latter claim, stating rather that “Judy Jetson” was the groundbreaker. His theory was that even though Judy Jetson had many dates with male companions (i.e.: futuristic rock stars), she would always go home in tears, unable to deal with her true feelings. Interesting theory, Professor, but where’s the research – and don‘t even get the rest of the faculty lounge started going on and on about their thoughts regarding Marcie and Peppermint Patty.
Nevertheless, Freddy and Daphne represented atypical teenagers held over from the 1950s, conforming to the standards of their stifled parents’ generation. Freddy was always destined to take over his father’s hardware store, while Daphne’s loftiest goal in life was to make the cheerleading squad and sleep with every member of the football team. She eventually did.
And Scooby? Well, Scooby was just groovy! He was the innocent dupe along for the ride, hanging out and busting ghosts with such cult icons as Davy Jones, Sandy Duncan, and Dick Van Dyke – at least until the show’s third season, when this mystery mutt took on several of the same personality traits as Richard M. Nixon.
The kids themselves represented different facets of society, each week battling a new monster and solving a unique new mystery. Every monster represented a problem plaguing 1970’s society. The Ten Thousand Volt Ghost represented the constant threat of nuclear war and a prevalent energy crisis. The Miner Forty-Niner represented rising unemployment; The Abominable Snow Man was a symbol for hallucinogenic drug-users; and The Taffy Factory Phantoms (vanilla, chocolate and strawberry) represented the open sexual freedom, expression, and comfort of these post-Woodstock adolescents.
Good golly, even the words to the Scooby-Doo theme song were anti-rebellion in nature: “…and Scooby-Doo / If you come through / You’re gonna have yourself a Scooby-snack.” In other words, bow to the establishment (The Man) and you will be justly rewarded.
Scooby-Doo reflected turbulent changes during an entire decade when the world was redefining itself. Sadly, the show remained fresh and relevant until the 1980s when Scrappy-Doo (symbolizing an upstart Ronald Reagan) was introduced, subsequently destroying the show.