When animation trash gets called art

Last year, I stumbled over the blog of one of the directors for the Ren & Stimpy cartoons, by the name of Vincent Waller. I subscribed, curious to see what one of the people who’d worked on that horrible cartoon was doing nowadays. It didn’t take long for me to find out…

A few days later, he blogged about a cartoon made by one of his fans. He lavished so much praise on it that I watched it. It was an utter bunch of filth, filled with suggestive sex, curse words, violence and bestiality. It was done in the style of the Ren & Stimpy cartoons — same sort of animation, similar character movement, similar colors, etc.

I left a comment on his post, telling him that I couldn’t believe he’d posted that garbage to his blog. I honestly thought the guy knew better than that, but I was wrong. He deleted my comment. I left a subsequent comment. He deleted that as well. I contacted him via email. He answered back and seemed somewhat rational. I thought I might have a decent conversation with him, and I asked him out of sheer curiosity why the Ren & Stimpy cartoons ever got made. What was the rationale behind them? I told him I found them depressing altogether, and I found the subject matter crude and filthy. I said that as a child, I wanted to see cartoons on TV, and very often, only Ren & Stimpy were on in the evenings, so I had to watch them if I wanted to watch any cartoons at all.

He told me to go away and not bother him again. He said that there was something wrong with me, that I should have watched something else, and that he and the series creator happened to like them, and that’s why they got made. That was the end of that conversation.

But, it got me thinking about the people behind Ren & Stimpy and the other horrible cartoons that our children can watch on TV nowadays, or were able to watch until not long ago — stuff like Beavis and Butt-head, for example.

These people make this horrible crap that appeals to their sick and twisted minds, filled with all sorts of suggestive behavior and language meant for adults, and they put it on TV, where it gets shoved by the cartload into the minds of our children. Do they take any responsibility for their actions? No, they do not. They blame the viewer for watching their stuff if he or she complains.

What they also do not want to recognize is that stuff that’s on TV carries weight with people (yes, it still does, in spite of widespread cynicism). If it gets shown on the air, people assume it’s been vetted and there’s some merit to it. It’s a false assumption, I know, but most adults don’t know this, much less the children. They don’t know the stuff is crap. If it’s on Nickelodeon or the Cartoon Network, it must be good, right? Wrong.

Generally speaking, crap cartoon shows get made because the creator is friends with a network exec, or he’s worked on a successful series and can now pitch his idea with some leverage. But that doesn’t mean that these shows are any good or that they’ve been vetted responsibly. It only means they got into the channel through the back door, and yes, they smell like it, too. What’s more, series creators and directors often get “artistic freedom” once a show has been approved. Execs don’t dare censor stuff, because that would stifle the series’ “creativity” — and I use that word very loosely in this context. So a bunch of weirdos with no self-control get to put together shows that get shown to children. What’s more, they absolve themselves of any blame whatsoever if children are influenced negatively by their work, and call people who protest “legless, armless lumps” (that’s the term used on me by that director I mentioned in the first paragraph), because they should know better than to watch their stuff.

They do not want to acknowledge, however, that children do not yet have the power to filter things properly. They don’t have a fully developed moral compass, and more often than not, choose to sit in front of the TV and hope that something good is on. Or, these thoughtless, immature “artists” also pull out the parent argument. They say that parents ought to monitor what their kids watch. Well, it’s a bit difficult to do that when you’re at work and your child is at home. Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network are supposed to be fairly safe channels, so you can’t just disallow them altogether. If you can’t even allow them, what can you allow?

But does any of this register with them? No. All they care about is making their crap, expressing themselves “artistically”, and getting paid for making their crap.

The sad thing is that the creator of Ren & Stimpy (whose name is not worth mentioning here) is now enjoying some sort of fame, since he was one of the few people who still adhered to the old animation methods (storyboards, character development, hand drawings, etc.) when he made Ren & Stimpy. He’s getting praised on various animation sites for that, and for contributing heavily to the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive.

I think ALL of that praise is misplaced… You can follow all of the right methods, you can make all the storyboards you want, you can draw painstakingly well, but if your original vision is horrible, the end result will be horrible as well. Ren & Stimpy should have never made it to TV. It should have been released to tape, and I bet if that had happened, we’d have it archived in obscure, seldom-seen videos on YouTube, uploaded and viewed by a few animation geeks, because no one else would have liked it.

In spite of the fact that this man is doing his part to preserve a somewhat lost art in animation, he’s a poor example of putting that art to work. Judging by the stuff he’s created so far, he’s not fit to hold a candle to Preston Blair or any other of the Golden Age animators he is aping. There’s a LOT to be said about censorship in animation, and Disney, in spite of all his shortcomings, had a very, very bright idea when he kept an iron grip on what got made and put out at his company. He made sure it was okay to show to children. The man was a genius.

I’ve done a lot of talking about bad cartoons in this post. What about good cartoons? What cartoons do I think are appropriate for children? Well, it just so happens that I wrote a post on how to find cartoons for children last year. It’s a good read, so have a look at that. I encourage parents out there, and the younger folks as well, if you’re looking for good cartoons, don’t stop looking, and don’t settle for garbage. Go looking for better stuff. If you have to buy DVDs, buy them. You can also rent from Netflix.

Make sure the stuff you watch is good stuff. You’ll know it’s good stuff because it’s the stuff that makes you feel warm, fuzzy and comfortable when you watch it. When you get up after watching it, you feel happier and better. Look for the good stuff, and let the bad stuff go to waste, because that’s where it belongs.


11 Thoughts

  1. Pingback: Thomas TimberWolf
  2. I’m glad you like Animaniacs too!

    I’ll have to check out “The Groucho Letters”– watching their movies has become a family holiday tradition in our house. They just get better the more you watch them.

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  3. How could I forget about the Animaniacs! 🙂 I loved that show as well, and thought the writing and characters were very good. In spite of the fact that Dot was a girl, I thought the three animaniacs were modeled nicely on the Marx brothers, whose humor is still funny after all these years. Incidentally, I’m reading “The Groucho Letters” now, and they’re hilarious. 🙂 (I’ve also amended the list of my favorite cartoons to include them.)

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  4. I also despise Ren and Stimpy. Ugly, crude, not funny. I never let my kids watch it. I like your list of favorites, but I’d also vote for the brilliant “Animaniacs”: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105941/

    It had clever writing, a marvelous sense of the absurd, funny songs, and well-drawn, unforgettable characters. There was Katie Kaboom, a teenager with an unpredictable temper; Pinky and the Brain, the two lab mice who try to take over the world; Buttons the unlucky watchdog that babysits the impossible toddler Mindy, who insists on calling her busy working mother “Lady.” Chicken Boo, who wants to be accepted as a human, the irascible Slappy the Squirrel, and the high-energy Warner Brothers (and Sister) Yakko, Wakko and Dot. Alas, no longer on the air.

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  5. Not quite. Yes, you can do that, and I would encourage parents to do that, but that’s not the point. We can’t absolve TV channels and cartoon creators of any blame when they put out trash. They have a responsibility, because of their large audience and venues, to produce quality stuff, particularly on kids’ channels.

    If cartoon creators insist on making crap, then they should not get the large venues. They should have to work hard at getting an audience like the rest of the cartoon creators out there, by putting out their animation on their websites or on YouTube and gathering slow, organic support. Then their cartoons would have to stand on their own merits, and we’d see then how far they’d get…

    Basically, no one should get a blank check to inflict their crap on children. There should be a rigorous vetting process in place.

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  6. Well I can always take the road of – it’s the parents job to look at what kids watch, we didn’t have cable in my house growing up, I’m only 32 so it was fairly common for my friends to watch MTV. If there isn’t anything on tv, your kids should read, play outside or watch a video.

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  7. That’s just the thing, James. That’s what bothers me about them. They were shown on a kids’ channel, and were geared toward children by choice of venue. It’s the same thing with Beavis & Butt-head. They were shown on MTV, which one could argue is a channel meant for adults, but we all know its overwhelming audience is made up of children, tweens and teens.

    Their creators and fans can argue all they want that they were meant for adults, it still won’t fly with me, when I know it was mostly kids who watched them… It’s such a travesty that it stinks to high heaven.

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  8. I understand your frustration w/ cartoons that have what many would see as inapproriate material for kids, I never thought of REN & STIMPY to be geared toward kids and I know many adults enjoy the humor. As far as other programming for children that are valuable, we do need more.

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  9. Yes, the classics are great. Just about any classic cartoon is better than Ren & Stimpy, even the absolutely terrible ones. I’d take a cheap, mass produced 80’s action cartoon over Ren & Stimpy any day. Re: the part about hallucinogens, I can’t believe Ren & Stimpy was shown on Nickelodeon, a kids’ channel.

    I suppose you could argue that Scooby Doo was made for people who are doing pot, but I think that’s unlikely. At any rate, Scooby Doo had a decency and wholesomeness about it that you just can’t find in Ren & Stimpy, no matter how hard you look.

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  10. I’ve never been a Ren and Stimpy fan (and am surprised to find someone else out there who isn’t). They were too juvenile for me. What I’ve been told by fans is that they aren’t made for kids and, in fact, are made for adults — specifically adults who are doing hallucinogens.

    That being said, my nieces and nephews like the classics. They giggle and have so much fun watching “Scooby Doo.” Hearing my nephew trying to say Scooby’s “Rut-Roh” is more fun that I can say. 🙂

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