I read an article recently that brought up an interesting explanation for the disproportionately high levels of ADD and ADHD in the United States (Sadly, a half hour search did not turn it up again) It postulated that as a country, we’re more susceptible because it’s in our genes. Makes sense, who else would go wandering to a new world but people who were bored and no loner stimulated by the old one? Settlers went out, and now we’ve got a pretty good country.
Cartoons do a great job of capturing that idea, but they also pinpoint a few other issues of American identity, not surprising from an art that’s hugely influenced by the United States. They display our lack of attention, our cosmopolitan society, and they shed light on our changing values.
Now, let’s start with the easy one. I made the claim that cartoons really capture the whole atention deficit part of the USA, and if you need to see proof, just watch an episode of Animaniacs when their teacher attempts to teach the young dogs, or cats, or rabbits, or whatever just about anything. They never focus, they distract each other, and they raise heck in a way that would make most teachers cry a little. That’s the “hit you in the head with a hammer” obvious example. Less apparent is the structure of a cartoon itself, set up in 7-minute intervals, so that our subpar attention spans can keep up. If we can’t be convinced to sit for more than 7 minutes of entertainment, no wonder we moved out! How could anyone possibly live in just one place their whole life???
The next point was the point about cosmopolitanism in the United States. Everyone knows that we’re a “melting pot.” You want to see how true that is? Watch this video. It spoofs or references, among other things, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (by Mark Twain), a variety of food based puns, popular composers of the 50s and earlier, rural American life, and, of course, Medieval Europe. That’s cosmopolitan.
And that brings us already to point number three, which is the issue of changing value in the United States. We aren’t a people expanding any more. The West was won. The Independence was gained. The destiny was manifested. Now we are comfortable and what follows? Hanna Barbera. Now we have an era of cartoons that ranges from Scooby-Doo to Spongebob Squarepants and the idea of a cartoon is no longer a 7 minute snippet of entertainment. Now they’re short films in their own right and that captures the focus of the United States from quick thinking, quick moving, hardly focused individuals to people who actually do all of those things. Good? Bad? I’ll let you decide that.