Monday, March 27, 2006

Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice

I spent many years of my childhood in front of the TV and a large percentage of these years were spent watching kid-friendly stuff (especially cartoons). As I think about my life now with watching very little TV, I'm starting to see a recurring correlation with making anything kid-friendly. In particular, I think about how superheroes (like Batman, Superman and Spider-Man) were watered-down for a mass audience. I see the same thing happening with so many other things.

Growing up, I never thought that a show like Batman (starring Adam West) or Super Friends was cheesy. These shows were on the TV and I found something worthwhile in them, so I watched them for hours and hours, day after day. Looking at these shows now, I see a whole bunch of campiness, but I don't think they're rotten. I don't wish to own episodes of them on DVD, but I wouldn't change the channel if they were on. Maybe I associate them with my "innocent" youth so I refuse to let them fall into the realm of dark cynicism. I don't know how or why, but I still get a kick out of hearing the Super Friends narrator saying, "Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice . . . " and seeing convoluted plots get all fixed up in the last minute of an episode.

These superheroes started out in kid-friendly comic books and were incredibly popular. Presenting a story in a black-and-white, good-vs.-evil world with color and square panels, this stuff was insanely easy for a young person to get into. I haven't read a whole lot of these "golden age" comics, but I get the gist that they were made strictly for kids. Somewhere down the line a lot of these characters became incredibly complex and dark (especially in the '80s with Frank Miller's take on Batman and Daredevil). I guess it wasn't until the '80s that comics started to be recognized in a market sense as not just youth fodder. However, plenty of damage had been done before then. Animated cartoons like Super Friends and live action shows like The Incredible Hulk took these complex characters and whittled them down to one-note/one-sided beings. That's perfect for a kid, but not for everyone.

TV is a great time killer; it passes the time but it doesn't fill it. When I was younger, I didn't have a lot of neighborhood friends to play with, so I spent a lot of my free time watching TV and playing with my toys. If I were to try and read Frank Miller's The Dark Night Returns then, I think I'd get turned off Batman in general. The Batman that I liked and understood was the one on Super Friends and the one with Adam West. I couldn't understand an anti-hero being heroic.

I think about a variety of things that get watered down for a younger market, especially music. Seeing an album cover like this still makes me groan and roll my eyes, but somewhere in my head, I see this as essentially trying to do the same thing that superhero cartoons did back in the day. Of course I can't help but criticize commercial exploits of a pure thing, but anything that resembles something that could be made into a mainstream and/or kid-friendly commodity is in firing range. This sucks to hear and talk about, but I know that if it weren't for these marketable commodities I probably wouldn't have gotten into them in the first place.

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