Miss Pop Rocks: Scooby Doo Hits 40, And A Nation Asks How
Last week saw the commemoration of a dark milestone in our country's history. Millions of Americans used this anniversary as an opportunity to reflect on the misery and hardship many are still enduring as a result. In writing this, I hope not only to correct certain revisionist interpretations of the event in question, but also to alert my countrymen that the struggle is far from over, and that action to counter further hostility might be needed much sooner than we think.
I'm talking, of course, about the 40th anniversary of Scooby-Doo.
The damage was mostly done to my generation; the kids who grew up in the '70s thinking that watching 50 hours of TV a week could never lead to vision/attention problems or unrealistic expectations of adulthood. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and other Hanna-Barbera product like The Flintstones also introduced us to -- and then made us accept -- lazy, sub-par animation as the norm. Worse than that, the show's craptastic influence spread far beyond its own imprint. The airwaves of that decade were saturated with knock-offs in the same "teenagers + wacky [animal/automobile/Pleistocene hominid] solving mysteries" vein. In those primitive pre-TiVo days, sitting through Captain Caveman or Goober and the Ghost Chasers while waiting for your Looney Tunes fix was excruciating enough to make you chew through your Stretch Armstrong.
Scooby and friends lingered well into the 1980s, though whatever meager charm it originally possessed had long since been diluted by a plethora of guest stars (Don Knotts?) and increasingly aggravating doggy relatives, culminating with the hateful Scrappy-Doo.
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Introduced in 1979 to boost sagging ratings, Scrappy was among the first in a seemingly unending series of annoying juvenile cartoon sidekicks and soon spread like a diminutive virus to just about every other animated property. You can draw a straight line from Scrappy and his ilk to Orko to Tiny Toon Adventures all the way up to Wonder Pets. In the final equation, I guarantee Scrappy-Doo will rank alongside Andy Warhol and Vanilla Ice in terms of negative cultural impact.
By the 1990s, Scooby and "those meddling kids" existed only in syndication. However, the now-adult children of the previous decades, their better judgment blurred by wistful nostalgia, kept their memory alive. Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon described his characters as the "Scooby gang," while Kevin Smith included a live-action homage in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. There's also the "Scooby-Doo ending" to Wayne's World, and an extended diatribe on the subject of the cartoon in Richard Linklater's Slacker. Meanwhile debate continued to rage among aging pop-culture junkies about whether Velma sans glasses was hotter than Daphne, or whether Fred ever came out of the closet.
As time passed, there was hope our long national nightmare was over. Even the two live-action films made little impact, as audiences moved on to the greener pastures of reality programming and Michael Bay movies. The Mystery Machine was free to cruise around exclusively in the minds of those who still claim to have been the first to equate "Scooby snacks" with marijuana. Life was good. Too good, in fact.
We became so complacent we missed the present-day parallels with 1969: a nation in turmoil, an embattled President, increasing calls for sanitizing entertainment (Hanna-Barbera created the original show in response to protests that their cartoons were too violent). Obviously Barack Obama is no Richard Nixon, but we really should have known this was coming.
Now I think I need a "Scooby snack."
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