A question for the 90s’ and early 00s’ kids who might be reading this, do you miss those afternoons after school which you’d spent snuggling in front of the TV, watching stuff that blew your minds in ways that were somewhat incomprehensible to you? The answer is, in all probability, yes! Definitely! All I can remember is that there were lots of creepy monsters, powerful characters, quirky plotlines and age-inappropriate jokes which we only understood later when we rediscovered them as memes on tumblr or facebook. Where are those cartoons now, I wonder.
My daily dose of nostalgia, unfortunately, isn’t supplied by the TV, which has for a long, long time refrained from airing our childhood shows. What we have instead is an array of shows as inane and as dull to one whose childhood had been shaped by the scintillating cartoons of yore, as, say, a treatise on the mystical properties of tea-leaves would be to a nihilist. That wasn’t a very good analogy, but I hope I got the point across.
As most of us know, Cartoon Network was the first “kids’ channel” in India when it first began to air in 1995. What were the very first shows to be aired? Scooby Doo, Where are You?, The Flinstones and Captain Planet are a few of my earliest memories related to TV shows. I still remember having pretty intense fights with a close friend over which of the planeteers had the coolest power. But come to think of it, it was much more than just an awareness-raising propaganda piece going on prosaically on the importance of the environment. It gave us all an important lesson on diversity and the role of each and every continent and racial community in saving the planet, how the concern cut across the puny barriers of nations and racial identity. Nobody said these things out loud, they were instilled in us subtly, quietly, with a semblance of what they call ‘credibility.’ These were believable, acceptable values.
Scooby Doo actually took this to another level. Being a lover of all things creepy and unsettling, I relished the supernatural elements in the show, the mysterious settings, the whole thing about travelling with your friends without adult supervision, all their swagger, I mean I could just keep going. The unmasking of the monsters which revealed them to be criminals often seemed a little anticlimactic to the horror-lover in me, but as a mature adult (I wish!) I can see what they were trying to do. Not only were they helping us make sense of a hostile world around us with logic (The monsters were symbols of all those figures we feared, the scary Principal, the grumpy neighbor and the ultimate unmasking signified the revelation that they were just people like us), they were helping us overcome our fears and cultivating the ‘spirit of adventure’ in us, the drive to go ahead and gamble for the world.
Moving on, we get Samurai Jack, Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Courage the Cowardly Dog and Mike, Lu and Og. The early 00s were surely the golden age for old Cartoon Network, and we, the stinky, wide-eyed kids reaped the rewards. The badass Powerpuff Girls were extremely inspiring in that they embodied a protest against the belief that traditional femininity equals weakness. You could be sweet and bubbly like Bubbles, or a tomboy like Buttercup but that wouldn’t interfere with your ability to kick ass. This was an important lesson in an era infested with joint family soap sagas like Kahaani ghar ghar ki and Kyoki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi, which presented the ideal woman in quite a different light. My favourite of course was Courage the Cowardly Dog. You ask, why? Because it was the epitome of eeriness, of that unsettling feeling that Freud called ‘uncanny.’ It was a show aimed to disturb, with its surrealistic landscape, nightmare-like scenarios and deadly monsters who turned up at the Bagges’ doorstep every other day. Re-watching them now, I see the important lessons that were there all along, don’t get trapped in the bathroom with the creepy cousin who seems overly interested in you, don’t trust French ducks who try to fix your TV, or goose gods who try to break your family apart by winning your mother’s heart. Yes, that’s how weird this show was and I’d definitely want to devote a full article to it one day, but today is not that day, unfortunately.
Fast forward to the present. It should come as no surprise that Children’s television has moved on, but in which direction, I’d like to ask. Granted, there are many more channels. But what use will this abundance be of if all 24 hours are devoted to the same shows, and only certain ‘harmless’ episodes in those selfsame shows. I’m not naming any one show, but it saddens me so to see classics like Tom and Jerry disappear from the slots. What is it trying to do then? Are they eschewing good shows because they are beyond the comprehension of the viewers? But we were none the wiser 15 years ago and the American accent didn’t seem to bother us so much. This leads us to suspect a separate motive behind these moves, maybe they want us to stop asking questions. Or let me put it differently, they want us to stop asking the ‘wrong’ questions. Why not watch the thankless antics of cockroaches playing with lecherous cats, or a saffron-clad little muscle man who spews adages and moral lessons like your local politician spews promises. These are educational too, no? And who cares about such issues as feminism, paedophilia or the effect of divorces on young minds as these problems keep mounting in India? Right, no one. Repetition dulls the mind as kids swallow these shows up. The smart ones graduate to adult soaps, MTV or National geographic but most have no other choice apart from watching a horny 5-year-old flirting with grown women (Shin Chan) or lusty prepubescent boys peeking at naked girls through bathroom windows (Doraemon).
And we say this is 2016. What a joke.