One of the reasons I started this blog is because I found myself unsatisfied with a lot of the discourse among animation circles, especially online. The animation websites that I’m familiar with don’t discuss it much more beyond sneak previews to new projects, interviews with animators, reviews of new releases, and their box office numbers. Any discussion about these cartoons from a sociopolitical or media theory point of view would often be conducted with total ineptitude if not met with outright hostility.
Some years back, one of my friends made a Facebook post bemoaning the dearth of African-American protagonists in cartoons, particularly when he was a kid. His post attracted a lot of comments from other (white) animators and animation fans taking issue with him even bringing it up, saying things like “I don’t want to insert politics in my cartoons” or “Cartoons are innocent, we shouldn’t poison them with politics” or “Cartoons can be anything, why does this even matter?” Besides the obnoxious colorblindness, these types of responses my friend got were also decidedly apolitical.
I can see how being apolitical can be appealing. Personally, I’m a political junkie (as if you couldn’t tell by this blog) but I’m completely aware of how acrimonious, deplorable, and downright depressing politics can get. People have strong political views that they wear close to their hearts and disagreements often come to blows. Thinking about how our system of politics functions often feels hopeless and demoralizing, so it feels best not to ruin your day by doing so. Here’s the thing though, everything is political. A person can choose not to engage in politics, but they can’t completely remove themselves from it. Doing so would be like deciding that the rules of gravity don’t apply to you.
So when someone chooses to be apolitical, it is their way of opting out of the political discourse. But doing so is a tacit reinforcement of whatever the political status quo is. So yes, even apolitical is political.
To be clear, when I say political, I’m not only talking about things that is overtly conservative or liberal. I’m talking about anything that expresses any point of view whatsoever, no matter how benign or whether they intended to express that point of view or not. To relate this to animation:
These are fairly straightforward. The first picture is of a series that takes digs at Richard Nixon from a liberal point of view and the latter is a film that takes digs at Alec Baldwin among other celebrities from a conservative point a view (any readers offended by the language in this picture, I apologize; Matt Stone and Trey Parker have a childish fixation with this word).
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic doesn’t fall on such stark partisan lines, but the fact that the main cast of this series with the exception of Spike (not pictured here) is female is very political.
And this is just as political as My Little Pony. The fact that all of the characters shown here are male is political. The fact that the only major female character, April O’Neil, is often relegated as the damsel in distress is political. The fact that these characters always resolve conflicts through fighting is political. The fact that both My Little Pony and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became such commercial juggernauts with lots of merchandising behind them only makes them that much more political. They were thinking about more than storylines or character development when Twilight Sparkle became an Alicorn or anytime the Turtles used some kind of new gadget.
Which finally brings me to Drawn Together.
For those of you that don’t remember this show,
good for you this was a mid ’00s Comedy Central series that began as a parody of various cartoons and reality TV shows but devolved into a scatter shot mess that tried desperately to out-South Park South Park, but missing the point to South Park. Years after its cancellation, Drawn Together got one last hurrah with their straight-to-DVD film The Drawn Together Movie: The Movie! As with the series, there are about a billion offensive things about this movie; the crass language, the gory violence, the extremely vulgar sexual humor, and the cultural stereotypes. These are obviously all things Drawn Together borrowed from South Park’s comedy playbook. Which is why the most offensive and bewildering thing about this movie is its resentment towards South Park. Not to say that South Park is above any kind of criticism; I think this blog has made it excruciatingly clear that it definitely is not. The Drawn Together Movie: The Movie! comments on the fact that it got cancelled and the characters find out from the in-movie satirical South Park send-up Suck My Taint that they got cancelled because they didn’t couch their crude and offensive humor with social commentary, or in the movie’s terms, a point. The little Cartman look-alike Suck My Taint girl tells the Drawn Together cast that they can get back on the air if they traveled with her to Make-A-Point Land (a take-off of Oz) to ask the “Wizard” for a point. When the “Wizard” granted the cast the point, they decided not to take it and got on their soapbox about why they shouldn’t have to have a point to their vulgar and offensive comedy. This is basically Drawn Together stamping its feet and demanding its right to be apolitical. Here’s what’s wrong with that.
Here’s the thing about having a point. Having a point doesn’t only refer to expressing an overt sociopolitical point of view. Simply trying to be funny is a point in itself. On that aspect, Drawn Together has always had a point. Whether it achieves that or not is subjective, but in my opinion it doesn’t. The thing about shock humor is that if you are going to subject your audience to such relentlessly upsetting material, you have to give them a good reason for enduring it. The most difficult justification you could make for that is by rolling the dice and believing that your material is so undeniably funny, your audience can deal with the offensive material that comes their way. South Park justifies its offensive material by using it to make a sociopolitical statements on any given subject. The Boondocks is the same way. Hell, Shin-Chan (the FUNimation dub) justifies its offensive material simply by using it to spice up its character interactions and sitcommy scenarios. Perhaps if Drawn Together didn’t miss the point of this from the very beginning, the writing in the movie and the series wouldn’t have been so hackneyed. But that’s not a guarantee (Family Guy knows it has a point to make, but that in itself doesn’t keep that show from being insufferable).
The other thing about this petulant apolitical stance this Drawn Together movie is taking to justify its existence is BS on its face when you take two seconds to listen to any of its given jokes. Its political view may not be as coherent as Futurama or Team America: World Police, but it’s just as overt. For starters, from the very first episode the show lets the audience know that it finds racism and homophobia funny. Almost all of the jokes regarding Princess Clara are about her overtly racist and homophobic remarks. The show never quite decides if she is the butt of the jokes or her targets are. Xandir’s role in the show isn’t much more than as a big gay stereotype. Foxxy Love is a stereotypical jive-talking hypersexualized black woman. When Ling Ling isn’t being treated like a pet, he’s a stereotypical Asian (one episode shows him cause a major car crash simply by starting the engine and corrects his vision by “un-slanting” his eyes). One episode portrayed two Jewish lawyers as giant noses with Hasidic curls on their sides. Even within the movie, Drawn Together makes political statements about Israel’s occupation of Palestine and South Park’s libertarian politics. The show constantly mocks Toot as unattractive because she is overweight. I could go on and on.
So overall, The Drawn Together Movie: The Movie! is just one big, bitter exercise in self-pity and jealously over a longer-running and better written show. Poor Drawn Together. It just wanted to have a long life in being apolitical with its overtly political jokes and it only managed to have a longer tenure than every other Comedy Central show ever except South Park, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Reno 911!, and Tosh.0. Poor misunderstood (clum) babies.