"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 11 August 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Ne'errative Do Well


[Photo of a robot, Chief Smoky, who presumably makes sure kids smoke... er, don't smoke.]

For those wanting a chunk of the

more than US$10 billion spent by

kids 4 to 12 every year, the


piled-to-the-ceiling clutter and

chaos of Saturday morning

television is a far more

effective delivery system than even

Philip Morris could have dreamed

up. Why? Because despite all the

action and color and barf jokes,

there's a certain special

ingredient missing in almost all

contemporary children's

programming: narrative.


[This is a cartoon of the Scooby-doo gang. Need I say more?]

Narrative is inherently

directive, and a thousand

different narratives point,

click, and drag us in a thousand

different directions every day.

Elemental stories suffice for

the kinder - chases, plots

foiled by meddling kids, and the

like - but the current crop of

kiddie content often lacks even

the barest whisper of story, and

instead relies heavily on a

cargo of pop iconology, a

disjointed collage of unrelated

incidents, and the friction of



[Another cartoon. This one is of Krazy Kat with Krazy Mouse, in the dessert, doing some kind of Third-World dance.]

There's nothing especially novel

in breaking the illusion of

linearity in this way. It goes

at least as back as far as

George Herriman and Krazy Kat.

Still, the content of these new

cartoons is so painfully thin -

basically an exercise in sensory

stimulation punctuated by

product shots, an electronica

video crossed with the Toys "R" Us

catalog - it makes us wonder if

all this of the metacommentary

isn't simply due to a paucity of

writerly imagination, or maybe

just a sense of drama determined

by dummy-pipe hits.


Children exposed to such empty

fare seem destined to become

cynical about the forms

narrative takes without giving

any attention to the value and

power of narrative itself.

Narrative is didactic; narrative

teaches and persuades; what are

the world's up-and-coming brats

likely to learn when the only

narratives left on children's

television are the ads?


Actually, advertising is probably

the most stimulating thing

children suck up on Saturday

mornings, apart from bowl after

bowl of frosted cereal. In

advertising, image will always

end up trumping story, but a

strong economy means bloated ad

budgets, so there's always at

least a chance that some clever

copywriter will sneak in a few

of what Walter Benjamin called

"dialectical images." While

Mickey D's (and the Mormons)

instructs youngsters in

citizenship, and Mountain Dew

reminds them to stay extreme,

Disney/ABC uses its clout to

create a sturdy fabric of

iconological inescapability. On

12 June, for example, ABC

started rerunning old episodes

of George of the Jungle to tie

in with the release of their

live-action feature film. Add to

this the fact that almost every

bumper between show and

commercial is related to the

movie Toy Story. Swizzle in a

large dose of ads for Hercules and

Hercules-related junk -

including a soon-to-be-released

Hercules "with Bulging Chest

Action" - and, well, you've got

more than narrative, you've got

the makings for an entire

mythological system.


[Another cartoon! This one is of a TV with the words: 'Children and Television' on it. ]

When children have no access to

narrative except through the

unfettered imaginations of

account executives and

copywriters, they become even

more attuned than their elders

to the machinations of the

culture around them. We've set

the stage for a generation that

will never ever feel betrayed by

sell-out because the sale is all

they know. The good news? A 2010

Rage Against the Machine

comeback tour is unlikely.


Perhaps it's no wonder, then,

that the generation gap is

widening. Adults produce content

that seems almost purposely

designed to induce emotional

affectlessness (not to mention

physical hyperactivity) in

children, then blame those same

children for being "wild,"

"rude," "lazy," and

"irresponsible." One study,

titled "Kids These Days: What

Americans Really Think About the

Next Generation," is an ominous

harbinger of generational

clashes to come. If only 37

percent of adults think "today's

youngsters will eventually make

the country a better place,"

just wait until those kids grow

up and start unplugging their

life-support systems and writing

policy studies of their own.

courtesy of LeTeXan

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