Thursday, April 11, 2019

Saturday Morning Sundown

One small loss of the modern age I've always been interested in is the death of the Saturday morning cartoon. For over half a century they have lingered in the memories of just about everyone alive in the western world as part of some long ago age that will never return. But nobody talks about them beyond nostalgic musings. The problem with that is they require a deeper look than that. I don't think it's clear exactly why they do not exist anymore, and it is important why they do not.

Ten years ago I could have been safe in assuming that anyone reading this would know what I'm talking about, but just like the mall, arcades, and rock music, this is another part of twentieth century culture that Gen Z has never truly experienced. They've been gone for a long, long time. It's a bit hard to believe but it's been nearly two decades. This is another tiny piece of culture lost to the mists of modernism.

But the question has always been to ask why they are gone. Why were they executed, buried, and forgotten? Because everyone knows they did not die a natural death, but no one will talk about why that is.

There are no books on this topic despite the plentiful material that is sitting out there. Regrettably, despite the nostalgia obsession of Millennials and youth glorification of the Boomers, no one has deemed it suitable to chronicle this phenomenon that towered over the childhoods of multiple generations of children before being take apart and forgotten. That is strange. There are a handful of books and articles about sharing memories of lost youth peppered with comments from Boomers about how the '60s (of course) were the Golden Age of Saturday morning cartoons or general summaries of the four decades of the practice at its peak from the late '60s to the end of the '90s. But that is all. There is no in depth look at where they came from or why they are gone.

For the interest of being fair to anyone who might read this I should first define what I'm talking about.

Saturday morning cartoons were not just cartoons made to air on Saturday mornings but entire blocks the major networks formed in order to grab kids' attention and hold them while their parents slept in or got ready for the day ahead. It was a prime focus for them. Every major network back in the day had a block, not always with the same title through the years, for their programming that competed for the majority share of ratings both for advertisers and for the attentions of kids. In other words Saturday mornings were the domain of children. Just like with the mall and arcades this completed their triumvirate of childhood past-times for those who grew up in the second half of the twentieth century.

It wasn't just profit and toy sales that made them important. These blocks also helped preserve works that would otherwise be forgotten.

Cartoon blocks kept the old Warner Bros. and MGM movie shorts alive thereby keeping Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry in the public consciousness years after they would have otherwise been lost and forgotten. Reruns of old series were given new reprieve and found wider audiences. That canard about kids not liking to view older works was a blatant lie back in the day. Before the '00s kids would watch anything as long as it was good. Daffy Duck, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Adam West Batman, it didn't matter what it was or what era it had been made in. They watched them all if they were good. This preservation of the past is routinely ignored these days but no one ever questions why it has shifted to the vague and unprovable "kids don't like old stuff." No one questions it even though it is observably false.

Best of all this created prime creative ground for fresh ideas and up and coming creators to come around and make something new. Shows that would never have otherwise existed were brought to life in this highly competitive area. There were new ones every week and season. Constant creativity. Kids had their pick of whatever they wanted to watch and there was a lot to choose from. In essence, the Saturday morning block was the Golden Age of western cartoons. This is inarguable, if ignored by hacks today.

It was a perfect storm for everyone. Advertisers and networks had prime audience material and kids had something to occupy their Saturday mornings (and a reason to not sleep in!) to look forward to on their big day off. After a hard week in their chain-gang schools it was nice to have something to look forward to. It worked out for decades.

But of course this was the western world in the 20th century. Once something successful exists there has to be someone to come in and ruin it for everyone else. Someone had to destroy it. And that is exactly what happened.

In the 1960s a group calling themselves The Action for Children's Television (ACT) was formed by Peggy Charren to fill this void. She did not like commercialism, violence, or anti-social behavior, in cartoons and wanted more educational programming instead. To do this she shoved her nose in and forced companies and the government to listen to her very special demands and alter the industry to her whims. ACT was the PMRC of cartoons but worse in that it ended up killing its medium in the end. She crusaded for decades with her vague quest to protect the children from escapism and fun.

But it wouldn't be an activist without clear bias. She was against censorship for adults and was for more sexual content on television. This woman's views on censorship were hypocritical at best.
Peggy Charren, head of Action for Children's Television, said the decision was chilling. "Too often, we try to protect children by doing in free speech," Ms. Charren said. "Indecency to some people might be sex education, and that's the problem. 
"Who defines indecency? The censors define it."
Rules for thee and not for me. Adults should be able to watch pornography on mainstream television but children can't watch a hero shoot a villain with a gun. Sex can be educating but violence can't be. This is how the world was supposed to work in her mind. And busybodies listened to her.

For those who don't get it, because I still see such arguments today, there is a difference between portrayals of violence in stories as opposed to sex. One is useful and the other never is. Violence is a fact of life that exists in stories to show that some threats cannot be solved with hand-holding and positive thoughts by the campfire and allows confrontations between heroes and villains to hit fever pitch. Nudity mostly exists in stories because the producer wants an excuse to masturbate and not look like a pervert. One has far more story potential than the other.

This is not to say that violence cannot go too far. Gore is rarely used correctly in most stories and should never be used for children as they do not need to see it to get the point of any story across. In a more complicated adult yarn it might have its place for effectiveness as they are more mature and able to understand the intensity. There is also nothing wrong with looking at an attractive person dressed sexily in a story for adults but explicit sex itself is never necessary. This should be obvious. Kids don't ever benefit from any sexual content in their stories. It says something about which of the two prudes such as Charren were more obsessed with ejecting from entertainment.

Clown world has been with us a long time.

As you can tell, throughout the twentieth century there was a push for more degenerate material on television for general audiences. The Rural Purge in the early 1970s was specifically created for social engineering purposes in making the city look cool and hip and the country to look antiquated and stupid. Of course crude sex jokes and racier plot lines soon followed. Ratings drops weren't far behind as were fractured audiences which continued on to this day. Note that there has never been any "Urban Purge" to date despite this failure. That's what happens when you create something intended to split the base.

Whether you like having more sexually explicit shows is a bit beyond the point. That is an argument worth having and discussing, but all of those in favor of more open portrayals of sex and drugs for adults on major networks at the time were also against portrayals of violence and commercialism in any forms in programming for kids. Kids should be kept in a hermetically sealed bubble prison and adults should be walking the red light district every time they leave the house. This act of talking out of both sides of their mouths is what led to the confused mess western culture is in now.

And for those of us who grew up with those cartoons . . . they were tame, even at the time. Compared to a network series like Miami Vice in cartoons like G.I. Joe conflicts are positively pacifistic. Compared to a comedy like All in the Family cartoons like Muppet Babies and its pop culture comedy was wholesome for the whole family. If anything the Saturday morning cartoons already offered healthy alternatives for those that didn't want that hardcore (for the time) content in their material. It all looks antiquated now because the push for more extreme content never stopped. This helped destroy any continuity in visual culture and the arts. But for the time their quest was asinine. There really wasn't anything to complain about on a moral level. But instead busybodies like Charren insisted that adults be served under-cooked sloppy junk food at a burlesque house and children sanitized and carefully manufactured pills served without any dessert in their locked rooms.

All to make a better and more free world, of course. What a bang up job that ended up being.

It didn't make any sense, but Boomers rewarded her regardless by giving her a Trustees award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1989 and passing an act named after her group to censor children's cartoons in 1990. This eventually spread to killing the form dead by the decade's end. And of course they gave her a Peabody in 1991 for anyone who ever thought that award was worth anything. Because of this she disbanded her group in 1992 after getting everything she ever wanted.

She also received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 from Bill Clinton. All for taking freedoms away from networks, advertisers, and children. Yes, from the same administration whose members helped to spearhead the PMRC. You can't make this up.

In fact, this was one of the times even classic Simpsons got it wrong:

Those pushing forward educational cartoons and censoring what kids wanted were members of ACT who were rewarded for the deeds by Bill Clinton's administration, the same one certain hack Simpsons writers in a commentary track insisted was one of the greatest presidents ever. Yes, the man who helped to murder their medium was one they look up to without a hint of self-awareness. The straw-man in the above clip is just that. It's simply not reality and Peggy Charren had no problem with degeneracy at all.

From the above:
"The activist, ignoring the surveyed facts of a substantial increase in children's programming, lacking congressional approval or court precedent," Quello says, "are playing the emotional 'C' - the children's card - for all it's worth. From a First Amendment perspective, they're dealing from the bottom of the deck."
Won't somebody please think of the children, indeed. The Simpsons didn't even realize who they were parodying with that one.

Swing and a miss, fellas.

This was after the 1980s was basically spent as a war-ground between Ronald Reagan and his chairman of the Federal Commission Mark Fowler against Charren's group because the former dictated that the marketplace should decide which children shows live or die and the latter decided the kids should be forced to watch only what was good for them. Of course she would be the one to decide what that entailed. She was the one arguing for good citizen propaganda while creators were still trying to put out what they wanted despite her interference. If you want to know why the '80s had so many adventure shows that previous decades didn't, this was the reason why. It was the closest they ever got to being able to make them the way they wanted due to audience demand being louder than ever. But it wasn't enough. Several shows were still successfully barred from air by ACT and many more were altered by her group's interference. So much for a group that prided itself on being anti-censorship and has been ignored by free speech champions to this day.

Peggy Charren won despite the people, the creators, and even the law at the time, being against her. She was shouted down and told she wasn't wanted. Subversives never admit defeat, they just sneak in through the back door. ACT succeeded in censoring Saturday morning cartoons entirely by government-mandated morality and the audience and advertisers left. Now they no longer exist.

And look at all those alternatives for kids around now.

What ended up killing Saturday morning cartoon blocks was nothing as obvious as changing trends or demographics, they did after all live for near half a century, but because of moral busybodies and self-proclaimed paragons of justice. You see, cartoons needed to "teach" children and instruct them in the proper ways to be a good citizen and worthwhile human being before becoming porn addicted and drug-addled adults getting drunk every night in the pleasure center. It never made sense, but then it was never meant to. The important part was that they won and you lost.

Peggy Charren led the charge to require cartoons to pass junk educational standards which ended up killing off both audience interest and companies from producing works. No one asked her to do this, and she had no right to do it either. Instead of entertainment cartoons were now required to foist proper education upon their audience to continue their school work into the weekend--the audience's only time away from their glorified prison cells. She took away what they wanted and the elite applauded and rewarded her as she did this heinous act.

Doesn't that sound familiar.

Of course Charren is not the only reason for the downfall of the practice of Saturday morning cartoons, but she led the charge in making them targets and western governments and elites helped her to make it as difficult as possible for them. Once she got in the damage from everything else flowed from there. Saturday morning cartoons still otherwise exist in other countries such as Japan, after all. Heck, because of her interference Japan had free reign over the rest of the world to import their uninfected anime which have long since overtaken those from the west. Want to know why anime has taken over while western cartoons died? You can thank Charren for that.

Many production companies and brands were dead by the end of the '90s, but few were able to come up after them due to these new restrictions she imposed. They turned to other avenues such as first run syndication and after school blocks. Eventually these blocks had to go away to make room for more profitable endeavors thanks to junk standards and practices weighing them down. Kids were the ones who missed out.

By the mid-00s Saturday morning cartoons were completely dead. Even afternoon blocks such as Fox Kids or The Disney Afternoon didn't make it through the '90s. The only networks that still aired cartoons on Saturday mornings were cable networks like Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network, both of which did not put anywhere near the focus the major networks did and are now shells of what they once were. Now there are no blocks remaining for kids to watch or get excited for. This is the end result of ACT's crusade.

The problem with looking back is not that you get trapped in a prison of nostalgia but that you start to see familiar patterns at work used to take apart good things that should still be around today. The nostalgia charge is a smokescreen for those in the Cult of the New pretending that things are better than they ever were and that the only reason one would ever want to look back would be to live in the past. They do not possess the means to self-reflect on anything. Don't live in the past! Things are better than ever! You're only looking back because you can't handle the wonderful future you live in now. You're afraid of change!

This couldn't be further from the truth.

There's a reason Gen X are overly cynical, Gen Y are overly nihilistic, and Millennials were taught to never look back and are incapable of doing so outside of empty novelty. How much has to be lost before it can be admitted that maybe a wrong was made turn somewhere? Even in this little sandbox of western youth no one is willing to admit that it should not have been filled in and paved over for an empty lot leaving the kids with nowhere to play. No one asks why and therefore nothing improves.

Instead we play definition games because we no longer have a shared vision of truth and are all acting in our own interests instead of working together. It's all just a bunch of individuals screaming at each other and using their muscle to get what they want and everyone else be damned. It will take more than getting the right individual in charge to fix this mess but a whole revamp in the way we see things. No more downhill slide. That's going to require a level of self-reflection we aren't currently capable of.

Nonetheless, it never should have gotten this far in the first place.

After Charren died there was not one piece written to charge her with what she did. No criticism, no reevaluation, and no reflection. Sure she might not have been John Money, but what she did had no positive affect on the state of the world. We are worse off due to what she did. But I suppose you can't expect much from journalists or the media these days. These are the same people that rushed to throw teenagers wearing red hats under the bus and gleefully insulted Norma McCorvey when she died due to her views. These people are not on your side. Expect worse things down the road due to their behavior. Covering up the past is only a part of it.

My youth was not perfect and I do not wish to ever go back to it. But by the same token the current generation has nothing I did when I grew up. They objectively have less, and that is not acceptable. For all of Charren's obsession with censorship children can now get exposed to pornography via one bad search term or click and the uncensored adult television she wanted is a disgusting wasteland of bland ideas, ugly desaturated colors, and hopeless themes. Peggy Charren and ACT failed the children she was apparently out to help and instead left them with nothing but a crater of filth where better things once were. There is no possible way I would have ever imagined things being this bad for future kids when I was an eight year old watching Garfield & Friends on CBS back in the day. Now what do they have to look forward to?

The older of us have to emphasize this to those we failed. Nothing we had as children is available to the kids of today. None of it. It was all taken away from them and disposed of before we even realized what happened. And we can't make up for it so easily. The old days are gone, and they aren't coming back.

So talk about it. Write it down. Share it. We can't hope to make anything better until we admit how bad we let things become. It's not hopeless, not yet, but we owe it to those who lost out to show them what they were robbed of and what we lost due to mindless progress. Saturday morning cartoons are just a piece of it. Maybe those coming up can build something even better.

We've got a lot of work to do, and a lot to make up for. This time let's try not to mess it up.


  1. Born in '83, I believe my generation had the happiest childhood of any on Earth. And our disillusionment equally superlative.

    Beyond a century-long social engineering scheme, advancing, insidiously and ingeniously like the slow-creeping tortoise of the Fabian society's logo, via organizations like the CIA, MI-6, Tavistock Institute, Esalen Institute, UNESCO, on and on and on, beyond this biblical-grade oligarchic psyop, we also had 9/11. The latter is the chapter break. 2001 will sit, epoch-shifting, alongside 476, 1054, 1453, 1789.

    I'm kind of rambling here, sorry. But, blogs like this, Brian Niemeier's, John C. Wright's, YT talks like by E. Michael Jones et al are great signs of hope to me. The Spirit is renewing the face of the earth once again. Not quite the wildfire for which Christ wished, but more than a spark.

    Our Lady of Fatima, ora pro nobis!
    Terror of Demons, ora pro nobis!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! We definitely need all the prayers we can get in this.

      The '00s were a terrible time full stop. But it is good to see so many other out there also realizing how much we've lost and how much more there is to gain. It should be very interesting to see where we go in the upcoming decade.

    2. Depends on whether we follow the example of the Ninevites or the Sodomites.

  2. ACT targeting Birdman after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy didn't start the fire, but it was the accelerant used to kill worthy cartoons of all stripes.

    Blank Slate Theory at its finest, delivered by the Helicopter Moms from Hell who couldn't foresee any consequences of their actions, and wouldn't have cared if they could.

    Cartoons died away through the 70s until the import of Starblazers, and even then the 80s resurgence was just a vehicle to sell toys and other merch for most American/Pacific Rim series.

    While the '96, '97 years were the turning point for much of culture, Hanna Barbera cartoons and their competitors, as well as the first incarnation of Marvel Comics Group, were given the death blow in 1968. They sort of stumbled around, zombie-like until the SJWs picked up the decaying corpses to wear like a skin.

    I posted this elsewhere before, but this Fantastic Four fan site has an interesting take on 1968 and the sell-out of Marvel Comics Group:

    1968: the year Marvel sold out

    1. A lot of people determine Marvel's decline as being in the '90s but it was once they stopped truly creating new ideas way back in the 1960s they began to go downhill. You might be able to name good runs of popular characters created be Kirby, Ditko, and the like, but you won't find many new ideas.

      This assuredly has contributed to the state of western comics now being on their deathbed. Japan and France still have strong comic markets so there is definitely something there that the dying old markets no longer have.

  3. Check this post and the lone comment for why 1968 took a legal turn for the worst.

    Hanna-Barbera’s 1960’s Superheroes and Super-Adventure

    President Johnson and the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (NCCPV) did in Hanna-Barbera's superhero lineup.

    Blank Slatism again. May God deliver us all from self-identified do-gooders and saviors of society.