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I'm Not Mad, Cartoon Network. Just Disappointed.

car•toon – Pronunciation Key (kär-tōōn) – n.

  • A drawing depicting a humorous situation, often accompanied by a caption.
  • A drawing representing current public figures or issues symbolically and often satirically: a political cartoon.
  • A preliminary sketch similar in size to the work, such as a fresco, that is to be copied from it.
  • An animated cartoon.
  • A comic strip.
  • A ridiculously oversimplified or stereotypical representation: criticized the actor’s portrayal of Jefferson as a historically inaccurate cartoon.

    Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
    Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

By now, everyone has seen or heard the news of Cartoon Network’s experiments in airing live-action films. The decision has raised a few eyebrows, to put it kindly. I hope others will forgive me for not letting my emotions get the best of me and for not engaging in a full-on violent verbal assault of the network, the experiment, the individuals involved in the decision, their children, puppies, kittens and (quite possibly) silverware. It’s their company. Ultimately, they’ll make the decisions they feel they need to.

I’m fairly normal as far as adults go (with normal being a relative term). I live on my own. I’ve been seeing the same guy for ten years. I pay my bills. I go out with friends for drinks and dinner. I try to watch my figure. I exercise. I play sports when I have the time and the weather’s right. I bet you’re wondering why I’m even bringing this up. Well, I wanted to establish a few things. I don’t weigh 300 lbs., I weigh 118 lbs. I don’t live in my parents’ garage/attic/basement. I also generally don’t write obnoxious diatribes on the net. This, obviously, is an exception to that rule.

“Know thyself”
Socrates, Greek philosopher (469-399 B.C.E.)

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you Socrates was a wise man. It’s important to understand oneself as an individual, a company and equally as a brand. Brand identity is the promise a company makes to its consumers. It’s a relationship of trust. If a brand has a strong bond with its consumers, then significant changes may diminish that trust and sever emotional attachments to the brand.

Believe it or not, I’m surprised Cartoon Network held out on deviating from their brand as long as they did. We’ve come to a time in cable network television where everyone wants to be the generic cable network with a slight twist. (And Seinfeld. Everyone wants to air Seinfeld.) They’ve stretched the definition of their original brands so far that they’ve all but abandoned them in favor of more advertising dollars and the hopes of reaching larger audiences. While I do not know for certain, I’m sure some of these networks receive many e-mails asking questions about shows that actually aired on other networks.

Getting ready for work this morning something hit me (not literally). I remembered an April Fool’s Day prank CN pulled a number of years back. It was fantastic. They did nothing but air one Screwy Squirrel cartoon continuously for the entire day. I’m sure they received hate mail and angry phone calls. Viewers likely swore up and down that they’d never watch their network again (and probably tuned back in the next day anyway). While reminiscing, I thought to myself, with a tinge of resignation, “Man, I miss the days when Cartoon Network had a set of balls.” (I hope those reading will forgive me the slight bit of impropriety, but I am from the Bronx.) This led me to analyze my gut reaction a bit further as to why CN’s decision to air live-action felt like such a significant step in the wrong direction.

Cartoon Network, until recent years, unapologetically showed animation in a country that largely perceives the medium as a form of children’s entertainment. That perception is only accurate as far as the industry allows it to be. Animation is a form of expression, largely commercial, but still art by nature. Art, in and of itself, is not restricted to one age group or gender. This medium is capable of transcending those gaps and reaching audiences of all types. My personal interpretation of Cartoon Network’s brand was, “We show cartoons. Deal with it.” Audiences did, and they even liked it.

Since Cartoon Network’s inception I’ve noticed a marked increase in the number of adults, of all professions and ages, who openly discuss animation. A generation has grown up with Cartoon Network and they’re now reaching the age where they’re getting married and having children. I’ve had dinners with co-workers (current and former, in multiple income brackets) and listened to them go on about cartoons they watch with their children. As they spoke, you could tell from their excitement that they very nearly wanted to watch the show more than the target audience.

And now, when cartoons have come so much closer to hitting the mainstream, Cartoon Network’s decision feels like a step backwards. That’s particularly disheartening when the problem with bad animation today is not the medium. It’s the lack of originality, the subpar writing, the poorly executed gags, the off-timing and the cartoon-by-committee feel. Much of what makes a gripping and entertaining cartoon cannot be found in CN’s current offerings.

Alas, Cartoon Network is a company, not a movement (despite what Sean Akins would have you believe). Expectations for them to be something more are unrealistic. That’s just something I’ll have to accept. I’d like to take a moment to thank them for their pioneering contributions to the industry, before we part ways and I continue to look elsewhere for my entertainment. Someone out there has to have the cojones to bring cartoons to the mainstream.

Eileen Delgadillo, a.k.a. Harley, is one of Toon Zone’s founders.

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