Animation in America
Throughout history, animation has been a constantly evolving source of cultural and political satire. It continuously touches upon issues of race, sexuality, politics, and the general social structure of American culture. Due to its broad capabilities of expression animation has the ability to create television shows that are both amusing to children and thought provoking for adults. This can even be seen with some of the first animated shorts ever made. During the Great Depression, the rise in cinema's popularity gave rise to animations popularity. This time is often referred to as the Golden Age of cartoons where the animator had control. Unfortunately around the 1960's cartoons fell into the dark ages where the power was taken away from the cartoonist in an attempt to make as much money as possible. However within the past decade there has been a rise in quality animation with the creation of such shows as The Simpsons and such networks as Comedy Central and Cartoon Network.
From the beginning, animation has touched upon such controversial issues as race and war. These cartoons are so controversial that many of them are not aired Fig. 1: Bosko and Honey in Hold Anything (WB 1930) anymore. The most perfect example would be Warner Brothers who aired their first cartoon in 1929. The Cartoon was named Bosko, the Talk-Ink Kid and starred a character named Bosko who was a stereo typed African American boy, who looked like a monkey more than a human (see Fig. 1). These cartoons, intentionally or not, portrayed an image of the social culture at that time: "We never knew what he was," Ising claimed in an interview, years later. Actually, despite his little black animal nose, audiences could easily see that he was a caricatured black boy unacceptably stereotyped by today's standards, but not mean-spirited, nor considered insulting by the standards of the time"
-Don Markstein's Toonopedia The creator of these cartoons, Leon Schlesinger, then created Looney Tunes in 1930 followed by Merry Melodies in 1931. Originally they were made as two distinct series, however these two shows would become indistinguishable in the later years. These cartoons were also used as cultural satire, in fact a handful of these cartoons made around World War II are no longer aired and were made unavailable for sale due to their racial stereotypes of African Americans, Germans, Japanese, Italians, and Jews. One of the more popular characters of the series, Speedy Gonzalez, was also made unavailable due to its depiction of Mexicans. This has been discouraging to some animation enthusiasts who feel that these shorts should be open to the public. The impact of World War II along with the Disney animators strike of 1941 lead to the slow downfall of cartoons that some refer to as the dark ages of cartoons.
The dark age of cartoons is a term not to be taken at face value. Its use is simply to distinguish between the Golden Age of Cartoons. John K., the creator of Ren and Stimpy, distinguishes the dark age of cartoons as the time where power was taken from the animator and given to the network. The era can be epitomized by the cartoons of the 1960's. It must be understood that many of the cartoons discussed in the above paragraph were made to be in a movie theatre. When television was invented, and more specifically, made affordable to most people and not limited to prime time, it became a staple in a persons every day life. Each of the new born networks had to create and produce their own shows. When it came to creating cartoons, this lead to a dramatic change in power structure giving birth do the dark ages of cartoons. Contrary to the silver screen power arrangement, networks created their own cartoons and used animators as pawns. This coupled with the race to create newer shows in bulk lead to what I refer to as assembly line cartoons. These are cartoons created from a...
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