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Afternoon Telly – The Utter Genius of Warner Bros Cartoons for Gen-X

2 November 2010

Hi, All.  I’m posting this excerpt from my book, Goodbye Crackernight, on the marvellous influence that the cartoons of the 40s & 50s had on children of the 70s.  Hope you enjoy and interested in your comments…

Every day after school, our front door in Howard Place was left open. Seamus O’Rourke was the little boy who lived down the lane – literally. My first friend from school, immediately after it Seamus would march up the lane, walk in and sit down comfortably on the couch next to me in front of the telly without even speaking. I thought it odd first time but soon got used to it. And oh, the TV we watched! If ever there was a key formative influence on my childhood, this was it. Yes, we watched a lot of it, but it was such good quality TV.

It all started with an addiction to Bugs Bunny, and to all the rest of those wonderful left-field Warner Brothers cartoons of the 1950s: Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Elmer Fudd, Pepé Le Pew, and Daffy Duck, Daffy always playing a Hollywood B-list try-hard, anything from a desperately incompetent Robin Hood to ‘Duck Dodgers … in the 24th and a half cent-ury!’ That cartoon, just for example, was visually magnificent. It begins with Duck Dodgers entering Space HQ on a moving walkway which draws him beneath a gigantic ‘all-seeing eye’. This sinister object, to which Dodgers seems oblivious as it tracks him, has nothing to do with the cartoon’s plot at all; it’s simply there. It has also long since been regarded by film critics as serious art.

Duck Dodgers!

Now, our parents enforced strict limitations on the amount of afternoon telly we watched. Maybe that was why Seamus was always over. If they’d ever realised what a marvellous education these shows were, what Heaven-sent stimulus they were for our budding brains, they would have done precisely the opposite. To them, cartoons were just trash TV, empty fodder for kids only and something they shouldn’t watch too much of. ‘Should be outside playing cricket,’ Dad would say, ‘or actually doing yourself some good by reading a book.’ They never understood that a lot of these cartoons were adult-level comedies, and here we were as children directly benefiting from them. I think it was one of the creators of Sesame Street who said that the best way to educate children and the deliberate approach of that show was to talk slightly above the kids’ heads, causing them to make the step up, thereby raising their own cultural competence over time. I believe this was precisely what we got out of the high-quality afternoon TV during the seventies. If only our parents had known…

Road Runner & Coyote - with his "Curse of Knowledge"

Road Runner & Coyote – with his “Curse of Knowledge”

From the Road Runner Show, for example, we were introduced to one of the cornerstones of human intelligence: a sense of irony. It was only years later when at university and studying film that I read Road Runner’s creator, Chuck Jones, confirming that, yes indeed, The Coyote had discovered Archimedes’ Principle for himself, yet with an ironic twist; namely, that if he had a fulcrum and a lever long enough, he could make the Earth fall on himself. Jones had consciously created Coyote as a parody of the human figure doomed by the ‘Curse of Knowledge’. Yes, each one of his cause-and-effect schemes to ensnare the Road Runner was immaculately reasoned and worked out on paper, yet it was his very ‘human’ rationality that brought him unstuck each time, by contrast to the Road Runner, who was merely instinctive. It was superb social satire.

We were even introduced to the notion of the ‘fanatic’, the Coyote having initially chased the Road Runner as he was actually hungry, only to lose sight of the end for the means. He’d started out with a knife and fork, these becoming discarded for his endless ‘ACME’ gadgets, until he became nothing but the ultimate consumer, the mail order ACME junkie.

There was some wonderful locally produced arvo TV as well. Cartoon Corner was a favourite, featuring some excellent improvised comedy by Daryl Somers, Ozzie Ostrich, voice-over man John Blackman, and Murray, their sound effects man.

Mum never caught on to the fact that their humour was pretty wicked most of the time. How could it be? It was only a kids’ show! At the same time, this team had just started their live Saturday morning program, Hey Hey It’s Saturday, a ‘variety’ format show featuring absurdly comic segments, competitions and a high level of audience participation. Audience members would turn up in weird and embarrassing costumes, sometimes on a given theme, sometimes for no reason at all, prizes being awarded not for the best rendition of a popular song but for the very worst. For me, the show’s supreme moments were when Blackman was able to reduce Somers, the show’s host, to tears of laughter. It was all live-to-air and he could be absolutely helpless for long minutes.

Well, dear readers, hope you enjoyed this excerpt from my book, Goodbye CrackernightAvailable now in paperback & ebook at AMAZON. CLICK HERE. In Australian bookstores HERE. For the SEQUEL, Memoirs of a Go-Go Dancer, CLICK HERE.



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