I came across this article today which was an interesting read, and y’all should totally go read it because she brings up a fair point. I was just thinking about this the other day about how cartoons of my day and before were steeped in classical songs and capital L literature. I actually had this memory of a Popeye cartoon where they were building some skyscraper to a classical tune, but I can’t find the video anywhere — it’s probably copyrighted. Anyway, I watched a documentary a long time ago (this was before the internet, kids) about Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies which explained the purpose of the producers was to introduce classical music through the antics of the cartoon characters. And it grew from there. It also says that in the wiki:
Looney Tunes drew inspiration for its name from Walt Disney’s musical series Silly Symphonies. They initially showcased Warner-owned musical compositions through the adventures of cartoon characters such as Bosko and Buddy.
I remember all too well watching cartoons on a Saturday (or Sunday) morning and really enjoying the music behind them. If it weren’t for those weekend cartoons, I may have had no exposure to classical music at all. I know my parents didn’t like it. Of course, I have no idea who the artists behind the “tunes” were, but I still enjoyed the music. And I will never forget, What’s Opera, Doc? with Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny… though I didn’t learn until years later what opera it’s from (which I promptly forgot).
Of course, these cartoon weren’t all classical music or capital L literature. No, a good deal were fluff and stuff, as they should be since the main purpose of most cartoons is to entertain. But the author of the aforementioned article doesn’t really go into that, nor does she give today’s cartoons a chance, because she admittedly only did a “a quick search of popular titles” for her rebuttal which was, basically that today’s cartoons are “…fluff, fantasy, and a focus on the here and now” and somehow this make them less than the cartoons of old. Which simply isn’t true, in my humble opinion. Yes, Loony Tunes had classical music and capital L literature, but does that make them in any way better than all of the cartoons that don’t have these features? I say it doesn’t. I say that so long as a cartoon (or any medium of art) serves its function — to entertain — they are on the same level. Not better, not worse, just different.
This all ties into an argument that many people have raised — what is an artist responsible for when they are creating their art? Are artists supposed to go beyond the vision of their creations and send le message du jour to the masses? For example: Can a romantic comedy simply be a romantic comedy, or should it also bear an underlying message about women’s rights? Can a comic book be just a comic book, or must it also preach about social justice? Can a book contain an actual racist character who’s mean and nasty throughout the book and allow that character to be in the story without any comeuppance, or is the author obliged to “teach” the racist character how wrong they are? I have always, vehemently disagreed with anyone who says that an artist must change their vision to conform to society’s wishes or mores. It’s wrong. It’s always been wrong, and it will always be wrong. One can disagree with the artist and their creation because art is subjective. One can criticise the artist and their creation because art invites criticism. However, one should not, ever, force an artist to change their creation to fit the observer’s view. Because then it is no longer the artist’s creation.
It is not the responsibility of the artist to change their work to fit the delicate sensibilities of the masses. Simply because there are 7 billion people on this planet and one person cannot foresee how 7 billion people will react to their one piece of art, even if only a fraction of that population will see it. It’s not an artist’s job to pander to the masses — unless they want to be commercially successful, then more power to them. But even then, there will be people who love their work and people who hate it. 7 billion people will never agree about anything. Ever. You say murder is evil and abhorrent? I agree with you. But there are people who do not, and that is why we need prisons. If we as a species cannot even agree that the taking of another life is bad and evil, how can we agree upon something so subjective as art? We can’t. And that is why I will always — ALWAYS — say, let the artist do what they want, even if I find what they call “art” objectionable. Just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean someone else won’t find it absolutely amazing.
I kind of got diverted there… I also believe, with every fiber of my being, that it’s not any artist’s job to teach our children, nor is it the artist’s job to send any kind of message within their art (unless, of course, that’s what they’re being paid to do… then it is their job, but semantics…). Yes, if an artist wants to do that with their work, they totally can, because that is their vision. What I’m saying is that no artist should be forced to do so because some group demands that a message or lesson be included. I’ve seen this online in so many blogs or vlogs about movies, videogames, books, comics, and yes… cartoons. There are dozens of blogs, vlogs, articles about how today’s games, books, videogames, cartoons are so bad for our kids. One thing the article above didn’t mention was some of the rampant racism that ran through the cartoons of old. Maybe she didn’t see some of that. Or even the drinking and drug use that went on in the cartoons of old. When I was a kid there was one cartoon where a cat or mouse or something looked at the audience, said “Now I’ve seen everything” and blew his brains out with a pistol. I watched it on Saturday morning with the rest of the cartoons. It didn’t affect me one way or another because things died all of the time in these cartoons (not like American cartoons today where nothing dies, and when it does it’s a big deal). Better? Worse? Neither. Just different. That’s just the way cartoons were at the time. And y’all have to remember, they weren’t made for kids, but to entertain people before movies, there’s a lot of adult context in these animated shorts. People just assume they’re for kids because they’re animated.
Again, I digress… I remember having a conversation in college about a story I was writing where the professor of the class explained how I couldn’t have a character do something because he didn’t (and I quote) “want the story to be about…” this thing because he thought that it (my story, that I was writing) should have “more meaning”. And clearly remember looking at him in the eye and saying, “but that’s what this story is about.” To which he replied, “but it should be about… something more.” It was shortly after that I stopped writing altogether. I switched majors from Creative Writing to Literature, because I could not take my art and make it into their art. I couldn’t inject “something more” into my writing because someone else thought the story should have it. My stories are what they are and nothing else. Which is why I feel so strongly about this.
One, not personal, example would be The Witcher series of video games, when the final game came out, there are all kinds of articles and vlogs about how white everyone was in the game and how there were no people of color. Well, yeah… because it’s set in a fantasy world based on Poland: Polish legends, Polish folklore, and set in a fantasized Poland and the surrounding areas of Europe… where everyone is, you know… white. It would make no sense to have people of color there. What’s interesting about The Witcher series is despite the lack of skin color differences, racism abounds. Here’s an interesting discussion on the topic. It’s amazing to me, how some people in this world think that skin color is the only thing that one needs to have and be a victim of racism. But that’s simply not true. Us against them is as old as humankind, and it will never go away. But again, I digress. What I’m saying is that I’m glad the makers of The Witcher video games (I haven’t read the books) didn’t add people of color into their world, because they didn’t need to, and it wouldn’t have made sense.
Anyway, I strayed from my original topic, which is that I disagree with the author of the first article who implies that yesterday’s cartoons are somehow better than today’s because they contain classical music and capital L literature while — so far as she knows (which she admittedly doesn’t) — today’s cartoons are bereft of such things. I don’t have children in the house anymore and so do not watch cartoons. I remember in the 1980’s when I was watching cartoons, social messages just oozed out of them like The Blob. It killed a lot of the fun sometimes. No one ever got hurt or died in the G.I. Joe cartoons in the 80’s. It was pretty hysterical, and so were their lame, “and knowing is half the battle” messages at the end. But I digress again. It’s funny how many side roads cartoons can have. ^_^ My main point is that it’s not the responsibility of these mediums, or any medium really, to expose people to classical music or Literature. If someone wants their kid to be a well rounded individual, they should introduce them to these things on their own. I will say though, that I’ll never hear the Barber of Seville without seeing Bugs Bunny dancing on Elmer Fudd’s Head. I’ll be honest with y’all, I can’t say whether that’s a good or a bad thing. ^_^
Just for fun, Monty Python: