Thursday, April 12, 2012

Culture Shock: 04.12.12: '80s cartoons strike back — again!

Netflix has a section of children's programming it brands "Just for Kids," but pretty soon, I bet, a lot of 30-somethings will be clicking entry to relive part of their bygone youth.

Come to Cobra. We have cookies.

Last week, the video-streaming and DVD-rental service announced a deal with Hasbro to bring new and vintage cartoons based on Hasbro's toy franchises to Netflix's library of "watch instantly" offerings.

At the heart of the deal are Hasbro's latest cartoons, some of which are already available on Netflix instant: "Transformers Prime," "G.I. Joe: Renegades" and new versions of "Pound Puppies" and "My Little Pony." New seasons will appear on Netflix after they air on Hasbro's cable channel, The Hub.

I bet all of those college-age fans of "My Little Pony" — known as "Bronies," or so I've heard — are planning celebratory keggers even now. (Who am I to judge? When I was in college, I watched Nickelodeon's Canadian-import soap opera "Fifteen" every week — despite the shame that comes with watching any Canadian TV show that isn't "Kids in the Hall.")

But for those of us who watched weekday-afternoon cartoons during the 1980s, the big news was that the Netflix/Hasbro pact also included the original "Transformers" (before Michael Bay got his grubby hands on it), "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" (before Stephen Sommers did the same) and "Jem and the Holograms" (which no one has yet turned into a terrible live-action movie).

All three '80s classics will join Netflix's lineup later this year.

These shows are the forbidden fruit of children's programming. All were very popular in their day and built followings that even now still support comic books, T-shirts, DVD collections and retro-'80s-style toys. And all were derided when they originally aired as "half-hour toy commercials" because they were all based on Hasbro's popular toy brands.

Those of us who actually rushed home after school each day to watch "Transformers" or "Jem" didn't care one way or the other about commercialism. We just wanted to watch what were, at the time, the best cartoons around. (This was before "Batman: The Animated Series" upped the ante for action/adventure cartoons.)

Unfortunately, an unholy coalition of professional worriers, seeking to shield children from the twin bogeymen of commercialism and fantasy violence, agitated until Congress passed the Children's Television Act of 1990, which put restrictions on advertising during children's programming and mandated that broadcasters air more "educational" shows. The bottom line is the Children's Television Act made cartoons like "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe" less economically competitive in the brutally competitive world of TV syndication.

And that's partly why afternoon television is now wall-to-wall TV psychologists, TV doctors and TV judges — who just happen to be exactly the sort of professional scolds who demanded the federal government take action against cartoon commercialism in the first place.

If I didn't know better, I'd suspect that was the plan all along.

But revenge, as the Klingons say, is a dish best served cold. Today, Hasbro has its own cable channel, which is exempt from the rules that plague over-the-air broadcasters. So, Hasbro can produce new "My Little Pony" cartoons and sell My Little Pony ponies to the Bronies, and there's not much the killjoys at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood can do except mutter to themselves as they hand wash their Chairman Mao T-shirts — brand loyalty for commies.

And for those of us who refuse to pay another $50 a month to upgrade to the channel tier that includes The Hub, there's now Netflix, where the childhood Congress stole from us lives again.

Yo, Joe.

No comments:

Post a Comment