I'm a night owl. I love staying up until ungodly hours doing pretty much anything at all, then sleeping until noon or later. I've always been this way, thanks to my mom. She told me she used to keep me up late as a baby so I'd sleep in and let her do the same. To this day, there's only been one thing that will get me out of bed without protest before 9 a.m.: Saturday morning cartoons.
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Saturday morning cartoons were my introduction to destination TV. At the time, of course, there were no other options. If you wanted to watch a show, you watched it when it was broadcast. And I did, every goddamn Saturday from the time I was four until the onset of adolescence. Until I got an alarm clock, I used to have my dad wake me up before he went to work, then I'd load up on sugary cereals in the predawn darkness so I'd be good and hyped when it was time for those wonderful, ridiculous, overwrought toy commercials to start.
I was transfixed by the bizarre post-apocalyptic sword and sorcery of Thundarr the Barbarian. I learned the pain of a less-than-perfect adaptation there on the living-room carpet from the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, even if it did turn out to be pretty decent after all (another valuable lesson -- the adaptation can be a poor recreation of the original media, and still stand on its own merits). I suffered the pain of seeing an old favorite destroyed by a pathetic and heavy-handed attempt to update it when Scrappy-Doo came and shit all over the sweet, mystery-solving of the Scooby-Doo gang. Hell, I even survived the indignities of trash like Turbo Teen (a teenager who could turn into a car, because of course he could), even if it did probably hasten my exit from the warm cocoon of Saturday morning boob-tubing.
Those shows, as bad as most of them were, constitute some of my fondest memories of childhood. More to the point, getting up to watch them, indulging in a bowl or two of milk-covered candy (if you're being artist, what else can you call most of those "cereals"?), fighting with my brothers about what we were going to watch, then discussing the shows afterward ... those were good times. And I don't mean that in some sort of sad-bastard, "Well, my life generally sucked, so that's all I have to fall back on." My life was a pretty typical working class/lower middle-class suburban childhood -- no abuse, no neglect, no real complaints other than some terrible haircuts.
It's silly, because this is bad TV we're talking about, after all, but I get a warm fuzzy just thinking about it. And I know that all that stuff influenced my later geeky self -- the enormous Thundarr-influenced role-playing game I spent a year developing in my early teens is proof enough, not to mention my adult skepticism that any "real ghost" is just some crook in a stupid mask and/or some Adobe After Effects-enabled bullshit.
Kids these days will never really know the joy of Saturday morning cartoons. For one thing, they no longer exist. I looked into it a few years back, out of curiosity of what the kids were watching these days, and I was saddened to discover that the networks no longer schedule huge blocks of animation, or any at all, on Saturday mornings. No need, really. There are numerous channels dedicated to nothing but animation and kids programming now. Most parents have a DVD library full of dozens, if not hundreds, of kids' movies and cartoons these days, not to mention Netflix and YouTube. There's no reason for it to exist anymore -- so it doesn't.
It's sad, though. Kids today have so many more options, many of them genuinely great, but something is missing. It was never really about the content. It was about the ritual. There was something magical about getting up earlier than usual, planting yourself in front of the TV and just dedicating your morning to candy-colored nonsense devised to sell you toys and lunchboxes. Back then, kids didn't have their own TVs (well, not kids in my parents' income bracket), so it was usually the one time all week you could watch what you wanted, and because of that it was special. It's not like that anymore, and even if I forced my poor kids to wake up two hours early some Saturday to watch cartoons and eat the kind of crap that we don't normally allow in the house, it wouldn't be the same.
Still, I might just do it anyway.
Get a fix of cartoons and nostalgia tonight at Sexpot Comedy Presents: Cartoons and Comedy at Deer Pile. All your favorite '80s and '90s cartoons and sugary cereal, just like you remember! Only with the added bonus of local comedians riffing along, pointing out just how banal and shitty the shows that formed all those great memories actually were. Admission is free; beer and cereal available by donation. Visit the Facebook event page for more info.
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Find me on Twitter, where I tweet about geeky stuff and waste an inordinate amount of time: @casciato.