Lately in the news, Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir Fun Home has been involved in some controversy. Some incoming freshmen at Duke University were assigned Fun Home as a summer reading assignment and one freshman protested reading the book on the grounds that he was bothered by the portrayal of homosexuality in the book. I read Fun Home last year, and as someone who is not gay, I appreciated that Alison Bechdel told such a thorough examination of the struggles a person goes through in their discovery of their homosexuality. I particularly appreciated learning about the different experience Alison had in coming to terms with her homosexuality and the struggle her father had in being at peace with his. It was enlightening to me.
I ended up getting in an argument on Facebook with some who disregarded the educational value of Fun Home and referred to it as “indoctrination” based off of its portrayal of homosexuality. This person, by his own admission, hadn’t even read the book, but he insisted that he knew the story well enough that he could infer that reading it for a college course would be a waste of time. The attitude of this person and the incoming college freshman that raised a stink about it in the first place is something I find deeply frustrating. The insistence of some people to stay in their bubble and refuse to learn about other people different from them and their perspectives is a mentality I find deeply troubling.
As a young black kid who was a lifelong fan of cartoons, I learned early on that there was a pink elephant in the room that the large majority of the cartoons I watched. I never complained, but I couldn’t help but notice a dearth of characters that….looked like me. I would see the occasional black supporting character (Susie Carmichael) or black best friend (Gerald Johanssen), but cartoons with a focus on black protagonists or black families were novel. At the top of my head, the black cartoons I can remember from my childhood are The Proud Family, the short-lived C Bear and Jamal (don’t ask me how I remembered this!), the shorter-lived Waynehead (which I had never heard of until college), Bebe’s Kids (which I was too young to catch in theaters at the time), and Hammerman (which is one of the worst cartoons of all time so who cares).
(he can barely even rap his own theme song!)
But at some point in the early 2000s, I discovered a comic strip in the newspaper called The Boondocks. There was something different about this comic. Not only was it a comic starring black characters, it was a comic starring black characters that talked about being black. No cartoon or comic I had heard of at that point had ever done this before. I didn’t even know such things were allowed in cartoons! For a little pre-teen kid that grew up around people with an odd fascination with the way my hair curled, imagine my reaction to something like The Boondocks!
The release of the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton is just around the corner and is being heavily promoted with all of the “Straight Outta _____” memes on social media. The biopic is a tribute the highly incendiary and influential hip-hop group. Like them or not, the influence that NWA has had on not just hip-hop, but music in general, and artistic rights against censorship is still felt to this day.
So what is the connection to a music group with a slur in their name to something as innocent as Snow White and the Seven Dwarts? Well, I have always thought that the effect that NWA’s album Straight Outta Compton had on hip-hop music is very similar to the effect Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had on animation.
In somber news, today marks the one year anniversary of comedian/major animation fan Robin Williams’ death.
But in happier news, today also marks the 24-year anniversary of the debut of the very first Nicktoons, Doug, Rugrats, and Ren & Stimpy! Little did we know how influential these cartoons would be throughout the rest of the ’90s!
Earlier this week, Jon Stewart made his departure from The Daily Show after 16 monumental years as its host. During his tenure on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart earned the reputation as “The Most Trusted Man in News” despite being, by his own admission, “just a comedian”. The only other person I can think of that had been bestowed that honor was Walter Cronkite, who was most certainly an actual journalist. So how in the world does a man that made dick jokes on a nightly basis earn such a high honorific over actual journalists? Stewart came to become the face of the generational shift of how the public gets its news and learns about issues. Since the days of Walter Cronkite, 24-hour news channels came into development, the country’s economic model shifted, the FCC got deregulated, and our ways of accessing media became more disconnected. This turned our traditional news media into this.
Comedians tend to pride themselves as being the ones to tell the masses that the emperor is wearing no clothes, so I suppose it would have been inevitable for someone who identified as a comedian to be the one to tell it like it really is. And Jon Stewart took on the role as the leading liaison through all the fog in the dystopic worlds of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
I sit comfortably in the demographic that The Daily Show had the most viewers of. Like millions of others, I started watching it during my freshman year of college and absolutely played a role in the development in my own political ideology throughout my college years.
Like many others, I was blown away the first time I watched Paperman, the short film from Disney that accompanies the theatrical screenings of Wreck-It Ralph. The studio blended 3D animation and traditional animation in a way that was brand new, innovative, and looked absolutely stunning. The story itself wasn’t anything to write at home about (a very simple and conventional “boy meets girl” love story), but it sure was pretty to look at. I watched Paperman several more times and to my surprise, the “wow” factor of the film’s aesthetic wore off with repeated views. The only other thing the short offered was a story that was so by-the-numbers and derivative that, to be frank, it not only bored me, it annoyed me. I thought it was a shame to see such ambitious aesthetic choices and the immense talent that made it a reality wasted on a storytelling equivalent of a Hallmark card. If I never watch Paperman again, it will be too soon.