Wednesday, March 22, 2017

One Man's Trash is Usually Treasure

In many critical circles, the argument is made that modern animated children's programming has become far too neutered; ignoring quality for income, relevance, and quantity. Rather than entertain via more expansive attributes such as engaging plots or palpable characters, it is said that the vast majority of shows dive instead into a pool of dumbed-down simplicity.

Though beginning with more openly subversive content often cited as being first seen in The Simpsons, relatively new series such as Adventure Time, Gravity Falls and Steven Universe are among the key examples used to describe the contrast between more the artistically aware and the corporate-minded; each show presents itself in an unrealistic fashion appropriate for a commonplace animation, yet holds it's own weight by having legitimate depth. - with multifaceted writing and a focus on creativity over typically market friendly concepts. Simply put, not unlike the classics of similar mediums, there is a quite obvious soul to each show.

The argument itself can be summed up with the following anecdote; "Shows produced for children should not treat the audience as mindless". Children are smarter than we often imply, and thus, it can be beneficial to expose them to more broadly existential topics such as introspection, fear, or even the very critical thinking that has pushed this topic to the forefront. Surely not every cartoon must be Shakespearean - some slight levity is fair, as a cornerstone of the genre - but there must be a sense of purpose overall.

To this, I disagree entirely.

Kids are smart - but they are not geniuses. It is wise to stimulate their developing minds - but absolutely not necessary, within this circumstance. Entertainment is produced for one core purpose; to entertain. Children may feel far more dramatically vast emotions while enthralled in the dramatic pits of The Secret of Nimh, but they will feel a quite similar rush with the bubblegum fun of Despicable Me. They almost certainly will see a difference in scope, but they will also easily identify an entertainment value that is perhaps lost in the midst of storytelling.

As more adult themes are piled onto a concept that is recognizably childish, I find that two reactions occur. One appeals to the aware mind; as a juxtaposition between safety and harsh reality, we feel an unfamiliar impact in what we have been conditioned to see as upbeat. The second, however, is the more important in it's detrimental qualities; it becomes distant to the young viewer. In aforementioned example Nimh, this is hardly an issue; as the film itself was geared toward the critical viewer who would naturally have the means to understand it's levity. It uses it's juxtaposition for an understandable reaction, setting itself in a distinguishable atmosphere. However, with likewise aforementioned modern televised examples, a show that is explicitly geared toward a simple audience takes fault in overwhelming them with dramatics.

Art has an unwritten fairness; even in cases in which there is a juxtaposition, there is also an unspoken focus for which it is totally designed. A setting in which it shall exist - even if that setting is one that intends to shock, or create uncomfortableness. Breaking this norm is not an offense, as often creates rather impressive works via challenging the frames with which it has given itself. However, it is an entity that a creator must be aware of. By introducing parallel attributes to a work, you must consider the entire piece. Will a cartoon glove match the wrist within a  photorealistic portrait? Will an upbeat keyboard riff blend amongst the troughs of shredding guitars? Is there a purpose to this change - or will it instead be an inconsistency?

Children do not see this challenging world of artistic conceptualization. They see intriguing visuals, enjoyable tones, and welcoming writing. Children may recognize the differences in quality between certain programs, but their enjoyment of said programs absolutely does not correlate. It is a somewhat foreign mindset, but not one that is totally beyond comprehension. Above all, this audience wants to be enthralled. There is a place for the so-called stupid, the absentminded; it appeals to an equally underdeveloped audience. Is it truly wrong to pump out media that is altogether little more than cheap jokes and colorful imagery if that is exactly what there is loud demand for? Perhaps these productions are not of no worth - they simply are designed for a very specific set of eyes. 

So, no, children's shows should not consistently be designed as artistic masterpieces. It's simply illogical, directing focus on aspects often too unusual or too uninteresting to the target. Focus on entertainment trumps all; a point that can be applied, and seen in countless forms of media today. To be blunt -there's a reason schlock has survived unscathed, while the challenging has consistently morphed and collapsed upon itself. There is an equal place for more 'quality' shows, of course - but they are not the so-called forerunners of a new age of enlightened children's animation.

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