Saturday morning cartoons never held much appeal for my mom and dad. My siblings and I, of course, had our favorites. We watched Bugs Bunny for the witty slapstick that only Warner Bros. seemed capable of at the time. We enjoyed “Transformers” because it was the epitome of science fiction for our young minds. Cartoons like “Cops” and “Jem” were the elementary equivalent of a soap opera.
Over time, the innocence of many cartoons has come into question due to the rise in political correctness and the overzealousness of certain groups to play God with universal parenting tactics. In the wake of the appropriateness question concerning children’s cartoons, a whole new genre of animation has been spawned: the mature cartoon.
It started with “The Simpsons,” the first adult cartoon to really hit the airwaves in a big way. When Matt Groening sketched his first shorts in 1987, I doubt if he knew how successful it would be, or how a couple decades later there would be an explosion of cartoons made specifically for a mature audience. Today we have “Family Guy,” “South Park”, and “Drawn Together”, not to mention the variety of Adult Swim shows on the Cartoon Network.
It’s a mix of factors that make these shows appealing to us as adults. First, there’s the “kid” factor. Whether they’re made for the younger generation or the older one, cartoons are still connected with youth. Kenny might have died in every episode of South Park’s first season, but it was still a cartoon. In watching the animation, adults are given the best of both worlds: the ability to watch the R-rated stuff they were denied as children with the whimsy that cartoons brought to them in the first place.
There’s also the absurdity factor. A live action film that does the things a cartoon does comes across as B-rated and low budget. When animated, it’s funny. A talking dog and a diabolical baby don’t work in a movie. In “Family Guy” they add laughs to the show, making matricide and bestiality funny. Talking food just doesn’t happen. To even try it with live action is to bring about flashbacks of killer tomatoes. In “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” a shake, a piece of meat, and an order of fries seem to hold the keys to the universe. Or at least a half hour of entertainment.
Pop culture and the need to belong to something have a part in the whole adult cartoon phenomenon as well. Beyond personal enjoyment, it gives us something to talk about with our friends and co-workers. It gives us private jokes and one-liners to use over and over again for comedic purposes. For those who need something to debate, it gives us a complete lack of political correctness to draw upon, as well as a level of offensiveness you rarely find in a sitcom.
Does the popularity of adult cartoons reflect on us as a society? Yes, but not in necessarily a bad way. Many of them show us some of our own issues. The creators of “South Park” have tackled almost every offensive subject there is with no apology. Many of this cartoon’s topics are enough to spark protest, but for someone who really watches them, they also make a point. Whether the viewer agrees with that point is a different story.
Adult cartoons and the fact that they’re so widely watched is a sign that there’s a percentage of society that’s okay with not being taken too seriously. This sample of the population can enjoy an outrageous sense of humor that pushes the bounds of taste and offensiveness. When we feel that life is being taken too seriously, these animated shows give us a laugh and allow us to let down our guard for a half hour at a time.
With what seems like a new adult cartoon popping up every year or so, it doesn’t look like a trend that’s going to go away anytime soon. “Family Guy” was actually resurrected after being cancelled, a sure sign that the public takes their cartoon viewing seriously. The Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim was ranked the #1 ad supported cable line up in 2006 in several delivery categories, including adults 18-34 (“Adult Swim Dominates Young Adults in 2006 on Ad-Supported Cable Second Year in a Row.” Time Warner 19 Dec.2006. 20 Jan. 2007).
Adult cartoons range from plain ridiculous to outright witty. If you’ve yet to take the plunge into mature animation viewing, give it a shot. You might find it enjoyable and the adult content wrapped in a cartoon might give you that nostalgic feeling of being a kid again…only this time getting away with something fun.