Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The New Adventures of the Collectibles

It's flabbergasting to think about today, but there was a time when there were severe restrictions on advertising to children on television in the United States.  Specifically, there had to be a distinction between what constituted entertainment programming and the commercials that sponsored it.  You weren't allowed to, say, group a bunch of action figures together to star on a cartoon show.

You couldn't find a Speed Buggy toy in 1973 when the cartoon debuted.  Think about that for a minute.

All this changed in 1980, when the political poles shifted irreversibly.  It seemed Ronald Reagan's first act as president was to remove all restriction on toy marketing.  Now the manufacturers could, say, group a bunch of action figures together to star on a cartoon show.

"It's morning in America, kids!"

Thanks to President Grandpa, the distinction between commercials and programming has been erased across the board, and children watching today's TV cartoons are learning valuable lessons in collecting them all.

I'm surprised they don't just run a checklist instead of the credits.

Modern TV cartoons are as commercially motivated as ever, but they really can't hold a candle to the soulless, garbage quality animation of the 1980s.  The Reagan era of deregulation produced Snorks, Smurfs and Pound Puppies by the ton, all advertised in day-glo cartoons so poorly designed and animated they actually seemed to hate you. You can practically feel the writers and animators of drek like GI Joe or the Monchichis resisting the urge to kill themselves rather than devote another day to these insults to humanity.

Think I'm exaggerating, kids?  Well, take a look at my favorite cartoon product of the Eighties, Barbie and the Rockers.  I've long been fascinated with this masterpiece because it's the only example of storytelling I've encountered that features no conflict whatsoever.  Barbie is a famous rock star and everyone loves her around the world.  The closest thing she has to a problem is wondering what fabulous thing she'll experience next (and what she might wear when it happens).  She decides the only logical thing to do is head into outer space in her pink Barbie space shuttle to hold a concert for world peace.  She does so (using her connections at NASA, I gather) and (SPOILER WARNING!!!!!) the concert is the biggest success in the history of anything.

Take a look.  You'll wonder why they didn't just film the market research sessions they held with 6-year-old girls.

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