What Our Children Watch Matters

In July 2017, a website called Intellectual Takeout posted an article titled, “How Classic Cartoons Created a Culturally Literate Generation”  written by Annie Holmquist. I must admit that this is something I never considered, but after I read the article, I was impressed by the writer’s idea.

The article states:

I recently picked up Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court for the first time. Finding the plot rather amusing, I began relaying it to my father over the weekend. Because he had never read the book, I was rather surprised when he began asking informed questions about the story. In no time at all, he was the one schooling me on plot elements I had not yet reached.

“Wait a minute,” I asked. “Are you sure you’ve never read this book?”

“No, never have,” he replied, “but I saw a cartoon version of the story when I was younger and everything I know comes from that.”

His revelation was intriguing, and to be honest, not the first of its kind. Like many in the Boomer generation, my father grew up watching classic cartoons, numbers of which were produced by the likes of Warner Bros.

But those cartoons did more than mind-numbingly entertain a generation of children. They also introduced millions of young people to key facets of cultural literacy, particularly in the realm of literature and music.

Beyond the aforementioned case of Mark Twain’s novel, these cartoons introduced children to stories such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde through the medium of Bugs Bunny. Key quotations and scenes from William Shakespeare’s works were the main theme in a Goofy Gophers cartoon known as A Ham in a Role. And Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem The Song of Hiawatha was placed front and center in a Walt Disney short called Little Hiawatha.

Perhaps even more famous than the literature references are the many ways in which cartoons introduced children to the world of classical music, including both instrumental and operatic selections, one of which is the famous Rabbit of Saville.

There were a lot of criticisms of cartoons back in the fifties and sixties–watching the coyote drop things on the roadrunner would make children violent or encourage them to do stupid things. Somehow I don’t remember anyone attaching a rocket to themselves to enable them to run faster, but I might have missed something. We all knew that Tom and Jerry was not real.

The article also notes that the early cartoons were an introduction to classical music for many children:

In fact, as the famous pianist Lang Lang testifies, it was Tom and Jerry’s rendition of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody in The Cat Concerto which first inspired him to start piano at age two.

The article concludes:

These examples just brush the surface of the cultural literacy lessons which the old cartoons taught our parents and grandparents. Even if they never learned these elements in school, they at least had some frame of reference upon which they could build their understanding of the books and music and even ideas which have impacted culture and the world we live in today.

But can the same be said of the current generation? Admittedly, I’m not very well-versed in current cartoon offerings, but a quick search of popular titles seems to suggest that the answer is no. A majority of the time they seem to offer fluff, fantasy, and a focus on the here and now.

In short, neither schools, nor Saturday morning cartoons seem to be passing on the torch of cultural knowledge and literacy. Could such a scenario be one reason why we see an increased apathy and lack of substance in the current generation?

The lady may be on to something.

 

A New Low In Political Discourse

I really did not think that those who have decided to oppose President Trump because he had the nerve to win the 2016 election could stoop any lower. I guess I was wrong.

Mediate is reporting today about the latest production of Shakespeare in the Park in New York City. Shakespeare in the Park in the past has done wonderful things–Pirates of Penzance was absolutely awesome. Unfortunately they have forgotten that their purpose is entertainment.

Mediate reports:

Shakespeare in the Park, an annual summer program by The Public Theater that puts on plays by William Shakespeare in Central Park, kicked off May 23 with a performance of Julius Caesar.

But this rendition of Shakespeare’s tragedy comes with a twist — Caesar is played by a character that bears a striking resemblance to President Donald Trump.

…”The actor playing Caesar was dressed in a business suit, with a royal blue tie, hanging a couple inches below the belt line, with reddish-blonde hair — just like Trump,” Sheaffer (Laura Sheaffer, a sales manager at Salem Media) told Mediaite.

“I always go to Shakespeare in the park, but I wasn’t expecting to see this,” Sheaffer said, adding that the script was mostly loyal to the original Shakespeare, and that there was no explicit reference to the American president, though the intention was “blatantly obvious.”

In the scene before Caesar is assassinated, his wife Calpurnia begs him to stay away from the Senate, claiming she is having nightmares of his murder. According to Sheaffer, the actress playing Calpurnia bore a resemblance to first lady Melania Trump — replete with a “Slavic accent.”

Shaeffer also noted that in the scene, the actor playing Trump Caesar steps out of a bathtub stark naked, which she said struck her as disrespectful, and a “mockery of the office of the President.”

In the next scene the Trumpian Caesar is attacked by the Senators and stabbed to death as an American flag hovers overhead, according to Shaeffer. “They had the full murder scene onstage, and blood was spewing everywhere out of his body.”

This isn’t funny, it’s not entertainment, and it is not suitable for any audience. I don’t understand how this is acceptable as Shakespeare or as a political statement.