If I’m being honest, my first lesson in consequences did not come from the Bible. Oh I know, we’re a Christian nation so it should be expected that everything we learn, our morals and our beliefs, they should all be Jonah and the Whale related.
No. My first lesson in consequences came from Goku sacrificing his life when he and Piccolo fought Raditz. I’m referring to Dragon Ball Z and if you’ve never watched it then maybe stop reading as this essay will read like the ranting of a overweight lunatic with a disturbing “Plenty Of Fish” profile and ninja stars in his underwear drawer (1 of those things is true). Goku held on to Raditz’s tail to immobilize, while simultaneously putting himself in harms way so that Piccolo could inevitably kill the villain. Sadly, this killed Goku as well.
I was 10 when that scene occurred. I grew up in the church and I can recite every book of the Bible as well as several key verses to ward off demons, vegans and other evils of the world. I know the story of Jesus and how he died for our sins. But sacrifice never hit home for me until that scene.
I, like most kids, grew up in the early stages of my life watching Disney movie heros. I assumed this was just like them. You know, at the last second they’ll escape or maybe just the villain will die and Goku would be standing there covered in black soot but with a smile on his face and his thumb up. No. Goku and Raditz both died. The end. Cartoon Network didn’t have a after-credit explanation of death or a warning for kids to not try this at home. Raditz and Goku died then the next cartoon came on. If that same scene happened at 4pm on a Thursday today every organization from PETA to the FDA would be in an uproar. They have to protect the children.
My question is simple…..why?
We grew up in the golden age of cartoon viewing but we also grew up in probably the darkest period of cartoon production ever. Don’t believe me? Try watching Ren and Stimpy again without your jaw dropping. Johnny Quest had a higher body count per episode than the Expendables. I’m not kidding. I watched Race Bannon level a village because they were talking shit about Hadji’s turbin. There was no explanation or warning. When people fell out of planes there was no parachute to reassure us that they lived in the end. No. That guy fell out of a plane over the dessert and then he didn’t exist anymore in the episodes following.
We learned about complex politics from X-Men and Gundam Wing. My mother asked me to explain X-Men to her once when she saw me watching it. My explanation went something like this.
“There are these mutants. What are mutants? Oh they happened because of evolution. As people evolved they gained powers. But then the government….well really the world, didn’t like them because they are afraid of them so they are trying to kill them or ‘fix’ them. So the X-men try to stop that. Then there is a villain Magneto. Well he isn’t really a villain, he is Professor X’s best friend. He fights the Government and sometimes the X-men because he doesn’t agree with the killings either. I guess you can say Professor X tries to do things peacefully and Magneto does things Violently. I understand Magneto though cause I would be mad too.”
I was 10. I was 10 years old and explained the entire concepts of the theories behind Malcom X and Martin Luther King. I understood the concept of racism, prejudice, genocide and reconciled and came to terms with an arch villain. Saying it now it seems so mature but In my mind this was just another aspect of the world I had to accept.
We had no protection, we just accepted our lessons and moved forward. We took those lessons and applied them to our lives and it made life just a little bit easier. We watched Dick Grayson almost take the man’s life who killed his parents and in that moment Batman didn’t stop him but let him decide which path was the right one.
There is always a choice.
We watched Aquaman cut off his own hand so he could save the life of his son. The real love of a father. We witnessed Liono become a man and learned that even cute girls can kick ass when we watched the Powerpuff Girls (shut up that show was awesome, I hate you). I tried to watch an episode of Justice League on the CW the other day and they edited out robot oil splatter.
Remember Samurai Jack? He was covered in robot oil splatter and we loved every second of it. We didn’t grow up violent, we exercised our rage and teenage angst with cartoons. In our awareness, we didn’t try and do the things we saw and we didn’t have to be told not to do so. I take that back, everyone has tried to do a “kamayamaya” wave at some point or at least try to summon the Thundercats with a fake sword or yellow broom handle (It was the 90’s, we all had that yellow broom). We learned life lessons in the rawest but safest way imaginable, television.
See, our parents struggled for what we had. We are 80’s babies. The 60’s and 70’s were hard here. Lynden Pindling and the PLP got us independence in 1973, people then started getting better jobs and wanting a better life beyond that which they were accustomed. Our parents tried to provide and do a little more than what they were afforded and as a result they didn’t have time to really pay attention to what we were watching. Think about it: We were just coming off of Satellite and Cable TV was new us. They heard “Cartoon Network” and said, “Yea….that seems safe”. Why would they think otherwise? In their minds its colours and shapes doing hilarious things as usual. So they could go about their day thinking about the dreams they could have realized if they had used a condom and we could watch Anime characters savagely kill each other with laser beams shooting out of their fingers. Life was good!
Listen to the lineup from today’s Cartoon Network. Adventure Time, Amazing World of Gumball, Teen Titans Go!, Steven Universe and Uncle Grandpa. What did we have? Thundercats, Dragon Ball Z, Beast Wars, Robotech, Transformers, Batman.
I don’t even have to try and make an argument here. The names alone speak volumes.
We have to save our kids from people trying to save our kids. We watched it all and knew our boundaries because we recognized that it was a damn cartoon. Cartoons have the ability to make us believe, dream and hope yet still keep us grounded in reality. A dark and honest reality but reality nonetheless. We learned that there was a bigger world out there, that shit happens and sometimes when it does…people die.
We got a first-hand lesson that there are consequences for our choices and it can be good or bad. We realized that sometimes there isn’t a happy ending, sometimes the hero doesn’t win. We loved Superman’s ambitions but understood Batman’s pain. We were forced to decide who we would be in the tough times, Magneto or Professor X. We had to make that choice because that then would define our perspective on things to come. They didn’t force feed us morality they gave us the information and left us sitting Indian style contemplating and analyzing that information and figuring out what to do with it.
I was raised by the 90s cartoon era. It wasn’t a perfect time and we didn’t grow up better than anyone else but you’d be hard pressed to say we weren’t the most informed and free-thinking generation hands down. We went into the rabbit hole and never came out of it. Why would we?