Animation used to serve up tons of satire in years gone past. Where has it gone and what have we lost as a result?
Believe it or not, but I’m in the process of watching Animaniacs at the moment. The show is on Netflix and what’s more surprising than how well it’s held up, is just how good of a satire on Hollywood it actually is. In fact, it’s far from the only early-90s show that took aim at authority and the establishment. Pretty much any one that you can think of did exactly the same.
In the intervening years, either by way of generational change, or just increasing conformity, we’ve lost that desire to mock. Cartoons today are safe. They may proffer to highlight social justice issues, or even raise awareness of important causes, but they do so in a neutral inoffensive manner.
C’mon, nobody ever accomplished anything by being inoffensive. If you want to change the world, you need to get dirty up to your elbows. You cause a bit of a ruckus. You make a racket that directs attention to your cause.
Satire is a tried and tested method of doing just that. The Simpsons is a family sitcom that set out to poke fun at all the established family sitcoms out there. The show stood out for being animated, but making the characters and their dynamics different made it shine. The show quickly discovered that going one further after society leaders began to denounce it. If you’re going to be ridiculed anyway, why not make fun of those attempting to do so?
We’ve since lost that ambition. Shows (even web series) are focusing more on entertainment. My article for Animation Scoop last week laments the need for a contemporary Ralph Bakshi, but really, we need more than that. Animation and cartoons in general are the perfect vehicle with which to mock the deservedly mockable.
Politicians, silicon valley wonks, terrorists; all are so very ripe for plunder yet remain untouched. Even the Simpsons has lost its formerly hard edge. Has western society embraced a degree of political correctness that emasculates satire? It seems that way doesn’t it? Of course provoking unwanted responses isn’t helping, as the Charlie Hebdo attack of last year proves. Not everyone enjoys having their faults and weaknesses exposed and many are wont to seek revenge on those who do.
Yet animation’s unique place in the entertainment and art spheres means that it can tackle such complex issues without losing its humurous appeal. Satire is the most accessible way of doing so, and it’s a shame it seems to have vanished form contemporary shows and films. Here’s hoping it comes back.