These are troubled times. There are a myriad of pressing problems facing society, with no easy or obvious solutions. Throughout human history, older generations have put their faith in the young to make the world a better place. But today that faith is being shaken.
Reports back from the front-lines (in this case, office-environment workplaces and bureaucratic institutions) are that the so-called “millennial” generation is self-absorbed, difficult to deal with, and generally can’t be counted on to bring items to the office potluck, even if they say they will and write their names on the sign-up sheet on the bulletin board in the hallway. How are we going to address climate change and income inequality, if tomorrow’s emerging leaders can’t even muster up the energy to make a chickpea salad? You don’t even have to cook anything for Chrissakes; you just chop some things, add a can of rinsed chickpeas and put it in the fridge!
Our ability to thrive in later years depends on what we’re exposed to as young children. Fortunately, a comparative handful of us came of age in an era where our culture supported the growth of caring and empathetic minds. You only have to look at some representative children’s programming from my formative years to see why my peers and I have grown into such well-adjusted adults. For exhibit A, I will proffer the theme song to Dr. Snuggles, a cartoon from the early 1980s.
(Right away, you know that this was a program from a gentler time, as today a show entitled “Dr. Snuggles” would sound far too suggestive to be greenlit in this troubled age of paranoia and cynicism.)
Pretty good huh? A couple of notes the children’s choir hit are getting a little close to dog-whistle register, but that’s a minor quibble. Anyways, this intro has some positive messages for young and impressionable minds. The big theme is that if you work hard and become a Doctor, you’ll be permitted license to indulge in all sorts of eccentric behaviour without question. You can get around on a pogo-stick; hang out with a badger that wears overalls, and even pilot rocket ships that have been improbably constructed out of wood.
Dr. Snuggles was one among many great and positive cartoons from the early to mid-1980s that touted important virtues like getting along with others, trying your best, and not causing a ruckus. Other similar shows included The Get-Along-Gang, Care Bears, Kissyfur, and The Gummi Bears. The latter three shows all featured gentle and friendly bears as the principal characters. Of course, in real life, most bears are large, brutishly strong, eating-machines, but these children’s programs helped a generation view them in a different light.
Unfortunately, the era of “caring and sharing” cartoons was not long-lived, and it would be replaced but a few years later by a New World Order in children’s programming that fetishized violence and militarism. And leading this vicious vanguard was a war-like rabbit:
WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT. So now (in the early 1990s), tomorrow’s leaders were growing up with a program that brazenly celebrates war, violence, and horrible rap-rock music, the last courtesy of a theme song recorded by some downmarket Faith No More knockoff. They’re watching a show where each week there will be the implied deaths of dozens, if not hundreds, of presumably sentient amphibians in space combat, all celebrated by the bloodthirsty cry of, “let’s croak us some toads!”
Why are Bucky O’Hare and his cohorts in the sinister S.P.A.C.E organization (including the human child Willy DeWitt—presumably some sort of mercenary soldier), so committed to war? Haven’t they ever listened to Edwin Starr? Sure, I’ll grant that the toads (as depicted in the opening them) seem like they could be trouble. They apparently have a formidable space-navy and their uniforms and regalia have a distinctly imperial look about them.
But in this conflict, someone should’ve tried to be the bigger person (or animal, I suppose). Why couldn’t the S.P.A.C.E crew and a delegation of toads have gotten together at a neutral malt shop to talk over their differences? They might have found they were more alike than different, maybe even discovered they had a common foe they could have turned all their advanced weaponry on—like drug dealers. You never would have seen the Get-Along Gang becoming locked in an intergalactic war as these critters have managed.
Bucky O’Hare was the apex of early-1990s cartoon violence. It also represented part of a bizarre counter-trend to the “bear sanitizing” movement of the 80s, wherein animals that are generally feeble and unthreatening in the real word were portrayed as tough and menacing in animated form. For other examples, you can look to other mayhem-fueled cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Battletoads, and Biker Mice from Mars—dystopian nightmares all.
Is it any wonder that “millenials” today are aloof, difficult, and impossible to build consensus with? Of course they’re going to be unwilling to try and understand the viewpoints of others, or engage in the difficult slogging work of forging compromise. They’ve grown up being taught that if you find yourself at odds with someone or with a group, that you should just blast them with an energy beam weapon.
Let’s face it: if you were a child of the 70’s (or earlier) it’s too late for you. If you were born in the last half of the 80s onwards then you came into this world too soon. It’s going to take the people born in the narrow “golden window” of 1980-1984 to dig global society out of the mess it’s fallen into, and we’re going to need all the empathy and conflict-resolution skills built during our youth to do it. Godspeed Dr. Snuggles, we could really use your help now.