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The Church of Saturday Morning: The Examination of the Effects of Cartoons on a Multi-celled Organism and How Zack Morris Kind of Raped My Childhood

I am irradiated. I am a one-time Saturday morning devout beholden to cathode ray caricatures in a desperate attempt to escape a the drudgery of “reality” force-fed down a childhood throat by grade school obsolescence. Saturdays began with cold cereal (or a gleaming silver bag of Pop-Tarts if they were on hand) and twitching phosphorescence. The week was over. No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks.

Habits born before the knowledge of that great childhood interruption that molests 180 of our allotted 365 carried over unassailed. There are no weekends before the age of 6, there is only Saturday and the other days. Saturday morning was when the cartoons were on. That was fact. Even when shunted into those institutions of mediocrity, it didn’t matter that five days a week the call to awakening before the hour of 7 in the morning was akin to corporal punishment. It didn’t matter that it took an alarm and a nagging mother to prod me from those tangled sheets five out of seven. On Saturday my eyes burst open at 6:50 on the dot and I was in front of the television with time to spare. As autumn was consumed by its closest sibling, that meant I’d be waking in darkness, the television my sunlight, the house still and quiet. Phantoms may have lurked outside the tall windows made of unconsumed coffee but that was okay, the cartoons were on. The living room was claimed, the flag planted. I was safe here.

These were old days, burly days, days of plaid and brown, days of mustaches and perms. The televisions were as thick as an armoire, the screens round like the belly of a soup bowl. Our signals were drawn in by rabbit ears, flying haphazardly through the air until caught and force-fed into waiting receptacles. There were three stations, and if you needed to change the channel, you crossed the room and shook hands with the television yourself. Sometimes the choice of shows you watched depended on the distance required to shift the channel. This required planning and an innate knowledge of Saturday morning programming grid held within the TV Guide. The entire morning required a battle plan. Sometimes it required you to run the gamut, flipping from ABC to NBC and then to CBS in order to catch the shows you wanted to see.

Sometimes two shows stacked up on top of each other. Choices had to be made. Reruns were an option, but time is a honeycomb as a child, slow and sticky. Why wait until tomorrow to whine about what’s on now?

Some choices were definite. Some choices were not truly choices, but mandates. Bugs Bunny uber alles. No Superhero shall be left unwatched. Superfriends, Spider-Man’s Amazing Friends, Hulk, and Plastic Man; Men of Super, Men of Bats, Men of Spiders — all took precedence. The lines forms just behind. There is no thrill such as a comic in motion. Designs by Kirby and Toth. Written by Marv Wolfman and Len Wein. The artificiality of the separation of comic and cartoon doesn’t exist here, where neon motion has escaped the lines of the panel and speeds across the screen at 24 frames per second. There are no prejudices here in the space between commercials. There are talking dogs and Conan with a lightsaber. There are small blue creatures and cavemen in capes. There are fat orange cats and teens that turn into cars.

Anything goes. Everything is welcome. No idea is too big or too small, there is nothing outlandish. It’s Saturday. Hey hey hey, it’s Fat Albert. Stay Tuned for the Pink Panther. Thing ring, do your Thing. And now back to Hong Kong Phooey.

Real people — those dullards of flesh and bone whose heads can not withstand an anvil — are not welcome here. If you are not hand-drawn, you do not belong on Saturday morning. My week was full of real people; my Saturdays are for that kaleidoscopic break from the concrete world, where a 100-story drop ends not in mortality but in a poof of dust, and a shotgun blast to the face only causes your bill to spin around and your face to blacken with soot. Keep the real world caged within the commercials that peddle their cereals and toys and gadgets. We’ll be right back.

Here there be Darkseids and Gargamels and Dr. Claws. Outside, the family car is not Speed Buggy, and the world is small. Real people are only allowed if their corporeal verisimilitude is quantum-shifted into animated counterparts, like Harlem Globetrotters teaming up with Scooby Doo. Mr. T is welcome if hand-colored on animation cels. I pity the fool who tries to make me watch flesh and blood. Pee Wee’s Playhouse was never open for business here.

Eventually everything shrinks. Muppet Babies. A Pup Named Scooby doo. Flintstone Kids. The New (meaning, younger) Archies. There is a seismic shift noticeable only from a distance as the chandelier swings but more evident up close when you can feel the vibration rummaging around in your pockets for loose change. Cartoons based on video games pop their heads from the joystick. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Q-bert are Saturday morning superstars. Are we seeing the beginning of the end here, are these coded messages we just don’t have the knowledge to translate yet?

The writing is on the wall, but the wall is made of Alpha-Bits.

It’s imperceptible when it starts to happen, but as with all things, there is a shift. I’m waking up later. My eyes no longer spring open to stare unblinking at the television. I’m up before 8 now, just past the reruns of Three’s Company. The decade is rolling along, and I’m seeing more real people. My Saturday morning has been condensed. I’m losing time like my watch has sprung a leak. An hour of Bugs Bunny has been compressed to a half hour. Fleshy humans talk about sports instead.

Flip the channel. Drop the anvil.

Real high school students stalk the halls of a fictional school. What is this? Saturday is for retreating from school, not living it! Why do you exist?

Good grief.

It doesn’t end there. Slowly, the ABC the CBS and the NBC suffer exsanguination, programs dripping from opened veins. Fox picks up some of the slack, but I’m getting older, and I’m getting tired. Saturday morning has undergone a radical change. Educational and informational programming has overtaken the landscape. Learning can no longer camouflage itself behind entertainment. Now it has to parade itself in blatant Terpsichore.

This is just reality cloaked in cel-paint. And the infection started in Mr. Belding’s school has spread, as copycats and clones of teens with bright shirts litter the land. Teen drama! Teen angst! Detention for you, young man with the uber-cool hair and the hundred-dollar sneakers. Scooby Dooby Doo … Where are you?

No reply … not even a whimper.

Decades pass. I take a cursory flip through the graveyard of Saturday morning. It’s overrun with weeds and crab grass. Collapsed stones with fondly remembered names have crumbled, leaving behind nothing but the echo of an echo of an old radio station on a shattered transistor radio, like a faded magazine faintly visible through thrice-cracked sunglasses. The shattered stones bear names like Quick Draw McGraw and Herculoids and Popeye.

I taste Pop-Tarts in the back of my throat, that dense strawberry punch coated with a thick icing that reached to the corner of the flaky crust.

It tastes like a ghost.

12 thoughts on “The Church of Saturday Morning: The Examination of the Effects of Cartoons on a Multi-celled Organism and How Zack Morris Kind of Raped My Childhood

  1. Well, there were some cool live-action shows too on Saturday mornings when I was a kid: The Secrets of Isis, Shazam!, Ark II, Space Academy, Land of the Lost, H.R. Puffnstuff, hell even the Hudson Brothers’ Razzle Dazzle Show was always good for a giggle.

    But fer sure, Saved By the Bell just doesn’t cut it as Saturday morning fare.

  2. I too returned one day to aimlessly wander that devasted wasteland in disbelief, wondering what the hell ever happened to my beloved childhood paradise that I thought would last forever.

    Eventually I decided the only solution was to try and recreate that Saturday morning feel on my own by getting the DVDs (–itself now a “dated” technology *rolleyes*) of every precious show I could lay my claws on.

    Now, whenever I get the urge, I can recreate Saturday morning anytime I want — according to my own schedule. And if I get nostalgic for the commercials, even some of those can be found on YouTube if you search hard enough.

    I can even add more recent stuff that I find cool and worthy, like MOTU 200X, into my programming schedule.

    But yeah, I feel sorry for kids today who have no clue of what they have been cheated out of.

  3. true given how popular the show was not to mention the controversy that it was satanic would have made figures a must have from hype. plus the dungeons and dragons toy line was from the game with only the character of warduke showing up on the show and tamat is one of the rare big figures but not the cartoon version and the price to make a toyline would proably be costly due to getting the voice actors likeness okay or there estates if sadly dead

  4. actully some company supposibly as a europe release made figures of the kids from the dungeons and dragons cartoon but they weren’t atriculated

  5. I’m from the late nineties/early 2000s era of cartoons and when we were poor and couldn’t afford actual cable we didn’t have a channel that just played cartoons so we would watch the Saturday morning stuff on channel 14. One of things I remember is having to watch an incredibly boring show called the liberty kids just to get through for the cool stuff. Eventually with my childhood the shows on kfox disappeared and stopped showing. I heard that they’ve brought them back but it’s no longer anything worth watching.

  6. When my daughter who is now 13 was in Grade School every year we had what we called our Super Saturday Party. We invited her school friends and their Dad’s to come over early on a Saturday in October. They were to dress as their favorite Hero. I would put together a smorgasbord of old cartoons and goofy toy commercials from the past. I would get fun comics and put them on my old comic book rack so each kid could get a comic and gave away goodie bags with nostalgic toys and candy from my childhood. I always served cereal and PopTarts and I always managed to find Quisp and Count Chocula. Then we broke out the Hot Wheels, the Creepy Crawlers and RocKEm SockEm Robots. They loved that little taste of what we had. I miss those parties almost as much as I miss the old Saturday Mornings.

  7. Beautifully put! It is a shame kids these days don’t get the amazing Saturday morning cartoon experiences we had, but next to tablets and VR and smart phones, cartoons probably seem boring to kids these days. On the Saturdays I don’t work, I still live life like an 8 year old and put on G1 Transformers or Batman the Animated Series, Masters of the Universe or Thundercats or even Pirates of Dark Water to just zone out on awesome entertainment. Cartoons like Back to the Future and Cowboys of Moo Mesa seemed to be towards the end of the 2D animation hand drawn Saturday morning shows, then we got awesome stuff like Reboot and Beast Wars.

  8. You summed up my childhood pretty much, and I too felt like it ended with the introduction of the live actors and their dumb shows. I am sure that saved by the bell didn’t destroy just MY childhood,

  9. Never really had the same Saturday Morning Cartoon vibe here in South Africa. There were some – blocks of Warner cartoons, some dubbed stuff from Europe – but you had to dig around the schedule to find anything worthwhile. I used to hate Saturday evenings. Got dragged to church by my mom, only returning in time to catch (if we were lucky) the last 10 minutes of the Tarzan cartoon. And nothing sucked more than having what little programming there was being pre-empted by, yuck, sports!

  10. Great article! When I look at what Saturday morning has become from when I was little………maaan we had it good!

  11. nice article it sums up perfectly how saturday morning cartoons died and thus forever changed the viewing habbits of young generations to come.

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