Some observations and questions about 80s cartoons

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False Prophet
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Some observations and questions about 80s cartoons

Post by False Prophet » Wed Jun 02, 2021 11:40 pm

I recently talked to a French-Vietnamese who went to America in 1980s to study, and among other things we talked a bit about 80s cartoons. He raised some good points and questions that I would like to bring up here:

1. There was a lot of entertainment for children in the 80s, but there was also a dearth of variety of quality, which was why so many children stuck with WWE and low-quality animated show.

2. There was a weird relationship between America, violence and moral in the 80s. People didn't bat an eyes when they make animated shows for children filled with violence like Rambo and G.I. Joes, but were ready to go up in arms for whichever rap, punk or metal albums.

3. Life always suck if your family is poor, but because toy commercials were everywhere, it really created a sense of isolation if your parents couldn't afford the latest toy.

4. Not a lot of people actually remember how terrible shows like Thundercats were because there were very little to them. They had selective memory, but not even for the show. When they ask for something like a reboot, that is just because they want some of that "feel" they had during childhood.

What do you think about these opinions? I have only watched the reboots of some of these shows like Thundercats, so I have no idea how good or bad the originals were? If they were bad, then I wonder how many changes have the reboots made?

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Re: Some observations and questions about 80s cartoons

Post by Seto Kaiba » Thu Jun 03, 2021 1:49 am

False Prophet wrote:
Wed Jun 02, 2021 11:40 pm
1. There was a lot of entertainment for children in the 80s, but there was also a dearth of variety of quality, which was why so many children stuck with WWE and low-quality animated show.
Eh, yeah... it was, I think, mainly a function of most of the kid's shows from that period being merchandising tie-ins that were meant for little else besides promoting a toy line. A lot of the companies that jumped into that arena simply were not prepared for how much animation cost to produce. They DEFINITELY weren't prepared for that cost to go up rather sharply in the mid-80's when a trade agreement meant to undo some massive trade imbalances played merry hell with exchange ranges esp. in SE Asia and effectively sank the Postwar Economic Miracle.


False Prophet wrote:
Wed Jun 02, 2021 11:40 pm
2. There was a weird relationship between America, violence and moral in the 80s. People didn't bat an eyes when they make animated shows for children filled with violence like Rambo and G.I. Joes, but were ready to go up in arms for whichever rap, punk or metal albums.
Oh, the kids TV shows got shades of "moral guardian" outrage too... but they got less of it, because they were already in sort of a self-censorship mode due to American broadcast content regulations. So you could have kids shows that had violence, but in many time slots you couldn't get away with showing characters being seriously hurt or dying. So shows like G.I. Joe and Transformers just had these massive laser gunfights where nobody actually got hit or injured, and some shows adapted from Japanese material like Voltron wrote out characters deaths and had the dead guys simply "go somewhere else" and periodically show up on viewscreen conversations made from stock footage.

Because nobody was actually getting hurt or killed, they'd worked around the broadcast guidelines on violence in kids shows and several of them threw in blatant PSAs like the infamous ones at the end of G.I. Joe episodes to render their content superficially acceptable to overbearing mothers everywhere.

(Of course, this later got into WEIRD territory when some of these properties got movies and COULD show characters being injured or dying, and running with it like crazy. The Transformers movie literally whacked almost the entire main cast of the cartoon in various grisly and graphic ways to make way for a new generation of toys.)


False Prophet wrote:
Wed Jun 02, 2021 11:40 pm
3. Life always suck if your family is poor, but because toy commercials were everywhere, it really created a sense of isolation if your parents couldn't afford the latest toy.
Yup. The 80's were an era dominated by merchandise-driven cartoons on a level I don't think we've really seen since. It got very blatant, because it proved to be so profitable at the time and quite a few of the most successful offerings were ones that were literally made for no reason other than to promote a toy line (e.g. Transformers). The late 80's and 90's were also kind of a weird experimental period where executives were seemingly willing to green-light anything, no matter how obviously insane it was. I think that was part of what ultimately burned it out somewhat, that the markets were just so glutted with the latest flash-in-the-pan toyline that the companies were suddenly losing money on most of their concepts.

(Some of the shows that came out of that period have premises so insane that they're memetically famous for being assumed to be fake shows made up for the sake of some joke by a famous reviewer like Biker Mice from Mars or Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills.


False Prophet wrote:
Wed Jun 02, 2021 11:40 pm
4. Not a lot of people actually remember how terrible shows like Thundercats were because there were very little to them. They had selective memory, but not even for the show. When they ask for something like a reboot, that is just because they want some of that "feel" they had during childhood.

What do you think about these opinions? I have only watched the reboots of some of these shows like Thundercats, so I have no idea how good or bad the originals were? If they were bad, then I wonder how many changes have the reboots made?
That's not limited to the 80's. Kids programming in general is not what you'd call sophisticated entertainment, and the material that's popular with kids generally doesn't stand the test of time once the audience grows up a bit. There are occasional outliers, but a lot of what drives calls for reboots and the subsequent dissatisfaction wtih them is the rose tint to those memories.

I see this a lot especially from the fanbases of shows that didn't succeed and spawn sequels like Robotech. After a while, it becomes really obvious the fans aren't even fans of the show itself anymore, they're more fans of what they've made of it in their heads and will happily insist that things that NEVER HAPPENED in the show were part of it. There's this one guy I know who was part of one of my RPG groups in the early 2000s who insisted, positively swore blind, the broadcast test version of Robotech had a scene where Scott straight-up executed Corg on foot with a missile rather than kiliing him in a dogfight like what was actually in the show.
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Re: Some observations and questions about 80s cartoons

Post by False Prophet » Thu Jun 03, 2021 5:25 am

Seto Kaiba wrote:
Thu Jun 03, 2021 1:49 am
Oh, the kids TV shows got shades of "moral guardian" outrage too... but they got less of it, because they were already in sort of a self-censorship mode due to American broadcast content regulations. So you could have kids shows that had violence, but in many time slots you couldn't get away with showing characters being seriously hurt or dying. So shows like G.I. Joe and Transformers just had these massive laser gunfights where nobody actually got hit or injured, and some shows adapted from Japanese material like Voltron wrote out characters deaths and had the dead guys simply "go somewhere else" and periodically show up on viewscreen conversations made from stock footage.

Because nobody was actually getting hurt or killed, they'd worked around the broadcast guidelines on violence in kids shows and several of them threw in blatant PSAs like the infamous ones at the end of G.I. Joe episodes to render their content superficially acceptable to overbearing mothers everywhere.

(Of course, this later got into WEIRD territory when some of these properties got movies and COULD show characters being injured or dying, and running with it like crazy. The Transformers movie literally whacked almost the entire main cast of the cartoon in various grisly and graphic ways to make way for a new generation of toys.)
I've never actually found any documents about TV guidelines back in the 1980s, but from what I've heard from a few other forums I am in, it's just sound bizzare. And it was weird that TV get all those self-imposed rules while comics had shed the Hays codes in the 60s and music never have it. In fact the musicans at the time said straight up that they saw the "Parental Advisory" label as a way to make their albums seemed more "edgy" and desirable.

And the guy I talked to, he used this point to lead to another which is how weird is it that people seems to be just fine with gore and body mutilation, but an exposed nipple and you get a scandal.
Seto Kaiba wrote:
Thu Jun 03, 2021 1:49 am
Yup. The 80's were an era dominated by merchandise-driven cartoons on a level I don't think we've really seen since. It got very blatant, because it proved to be so profitable at the time and quite a few of the most successful offerings were ones that were literally made for no reason other than to promote a toy line (e.g. Transformers). The late 80's and 90's were also kind of a weird experimental period where executives were seemingly willing to green-light anything, no matter how obviously insane it was. I think that was part of what ultimately burned it out somewhat, that the markets were just so glutted with the latest flash-in-the-pan toyline that the companies were suddenly losing money on most of their concepts.

(Some of the shows that came out of that period have premises so insane that they're memetically famous for being assumed to be fake shows made up for the sake of some joke by a famous reviewer like Biker Mice from Mars or Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills.
Yeah, and I don't think things have got better that much. Nowadays kids are being bombarded all the time by Youtube toy reviews masqueraded as "education" or "entertainment". My cousin has two kids in kindergarten, and she ask everyone to not show Youtube to her kids to avoid that.
Seto Kaiba wrote:
Thu Jun 03, 2021 1:49 am
That's not limited to the 80's. Kids programming in general is not what you'd call sophisticated entertainment, and the material that's popular with kids generally doesn't stand the test of time once the audience grows up a bit. There are occasional outliers, but a lot of what drives calls for reboots and the subsequent dissatisfaction wtih them is the rose tint to those memories.

I see this a lot especially from the fanbases of shows that didn't succeed and spawn sequels like Robotech. After a while, it becomes really obvious the fans aren't even fans of the show itself anymore, they're more fans of what they've made of it in their heads and will happily insist that things that NEVER HAPPENED in the show were part of it. There's this one guy I know who was part of one of my RPG groups in the early 2000s who insisted, positively swore blind, the broadcast test version of Robotech had a scene where Scott straight-up executed Corg on foot with a missile rather than kiliing him in a dogfight like what was actually in the show.
Say, where does the presumption that kid entertainment needs to be overly simplistic come from? I mean, just because kids see things different than adults, that doesn't mean they are dumb or not perceptive. And entertainment for children that treats them like people with intellect seem to be doing well even back in the 1980s, like Ursula Le Guin's novel and Ghibli's features.

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Re: Some observations and questions about 80s cartoons

Post by Underrated GM Custom » Thu Jun 03, 2021 1:17 pm

False Prophet wrote:
Wed Jun 02, 2021 11:40 pm
2. There was a weird relationship between America, violence and moral in the 80s. People didn't bat an eyes when they make animated shows for children filled with violence like Rambo and G.I. Joes, but were ready to go up in arms for whichever rap, punk or metal albums.

4. Not a lot of people actually remember how terrible shows like Thundercats were because there were very little to them. They had selective memory, but not even for the show. When they ask for something like a reboot, that is just because they want some of that "feel" they had during childhood.
I was actually talking with my wife about #2 the other day. Growing up her cousins got a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gift but had to be returned because their mother thought it was too violent. While the comics sure are violent, the cartoon show was heavily modified. TV back then meant if you had sharp weapons you could only use them on robots, thus you had Ninja Turtles slicing apart robots instead of people.

For #4 heck a lot of people watched Thundercats for the first time around the same time Gundam Wing first came to the states so nostalgia is not as big a factor compared to Voltron that would have aired when the same group of TV watchers were young kids.

It's not a bad show by any means, and like many kids programming at the time it does a good job trying to instill some morals alongside the action of the week. I still recall one episode where I think it was Jaga who chastizes Lion-O who is mad that the people he helped didn't thank him. Jaga told him he shouldn't choose his actions based on whether he'd get thanks or not, he should do it because it's the right thing to do. Paraphrasing a lot, it's certainly been a while, but it's a valuable and simple to explain lesson that children can pick up on.

Never saw the remake so can't comment on it.

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Re: Some observations and questions about 80s cartoons

Post by Seto Kaiba » Thu Jun 03, 2021 10:02 pm

False Prophet wrote:
Thu Jun 03, 2021 5:25 am
I've never actually found any documents about TV guidelines back in the 1980s, but from what I've heard from a few other forums I am in, it's just sound bizzare. And it was weird that TV get all those self-imposed rules while comics had shed the Hays codes in the 60s and music never have it. In fact the musicans at the time said straight up that they saw the "Parental Advisory" label as a way to make their albums seemed more "edgy" and desirable.
Broadcast standards and practices aren't entirely self-imposed... there are some FCC rules and guidelines that are also involved which can lead to fines and other punishments for violators. Like the Comics Code Authority and the Entertainment Software Rating Board, the TV networks established Broadcast Standards in an attempt to show the government that they were self-regulating and didn't need the government to step in and mandate restrictions on content by legislation. Thanks to the "won't someone think of the children" types, almost any media format has a regulatory body like that, and there are similar organizations in most countries.

You're definitely wrong if you think comics got out of their regulatory body in the 60's... they had the Comics Code Authority censoring their output clear up 'til 2011. Music got off easier, since the Parents Music Resource Center that was responsible for those "Explicit Content" stickers folded in the late 90's. As with movies, video games, and other formats, not having the blessing of that censorship board basically made a product unsellable for a good while. Many stores refused to carry books not sanctioned by the Comics Code Authority, and many stores stopped carrying albums tagged with the so-called "Tipper stickers".

Musicians were pretty universally against the whole parental advisory thing, and while a few made noises about it making their albums more attractive from a "forbidden fruit" sort of angle most just expressed dismay and how a pack of obnoxious Washington housewives appointed themselves Judge, Jury, and Executioner over free expression in music.


False Prophet wrote:
Thu Jun 03, 2021 5:25 am
And the guy I talked to, he used this point to lead to another which is how weird is it that people seems to be just fine with gore and body mutilation, but an exposed nipple and you get a scandal.
Yeah, that's America for ya... prudish beyond belief, but surprisingly OK with violence. It's got a lot to do with the country glorifying war while also having a lot of religious demagogues who demonize anything to do with sex.


False Prophet wrote:
Thu Jun 03, 2021 5:25 am
Yeah, and I don't think things have got better that much. Nowadays kids are being bombarded all the time by Youtube toy reviews masqueraded as "education" or "entertainment". My cousin has two kids in kindergarten, and she ask everyone to not show Youtube to her kids to avoid that.
Eh... yes and no? I mean, commercials are more prevalent thanks to advertisements on streaming media, but the way it was back then was that the kids shows themselves WERE commercials. They were, for all practical intents and purposes, 24-minute long toy commercials that were themselves bookended by MORE toy commercials. They were real hard-sell pushing their toy lines right in the show and encouraging kids to ask their parents to go out to buy the toys.


False Prophet wrote:
Thu Jun 03, 2021 5:25 am
Say, where does the presumption that kid entertainment needs to be overly simplistic come from? I mean, just because kids see things different than adults, that doesn't mean they are dumb or not perceptive. And entertainment for children that treats them like people with intellect seem to be doing well even back in the 1980s, like Ursula Le Guin's novel and Ghibli's features.
Mainly from the people developing it, who have interesting ideas about what content is and is not appropriate for particular age groups, and partly by the broadcast standards enforcement group who have their own rules about what you can and cannot do on television.

A lot of kids shows, especially back then, really were quite simplistic and delivered their seemingly obligatory end of episode Aesops with all the subtlety and nuance of a brick to the head.
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Re: Some observations and questions about 80s cartoons

Post by False Prophet » Thu Jun 03, 2021 10:17 pm

Seto Kaiba wrote:
Thu Jun 03, 2021 10:02 pm
Broadcast standards and practices aren't entirely self-imposed... there are some FCC rules and guidelines that are also involved which can lead to fines and other punishments for violators. Like the Comics Code Authority and the Entertainment Software Rating Board, the TV networks established Broadcast Standards in an attempt to show the government that they were self-regulating and didn't need the government to step in and mandate restrictions on content by legislation. Thanks to the "won't someone think of the children" types, almost any media format has a regulatory body like that, and there are similar organizations in most countries.

You're definitely wrong if you think comics got out of their regulatory body in the 60's... they had the Comics Code Authority censoring their output clear up 'til 2011. Music got off easier, since the Parents Music Resource Center that was responsible for those "Explicit Content" stickers folded in the late 90's. As with movies, video games, and other formats, not having the blessing of that censorship board basically made a product unsellable for a good while. Many stores refused to carry books not sanctioned by the Comics Code Authority, and many stores stopped carrying albums tagged with the so-called "Tipper stickers".

Musicians were pretty universally against the whole parental advisory thing, and while a few made noises about it making their albums more attractive from a "forbidden fruit" sort of angle most just expressed dismay and how a pack of obnoxious Washington housewives appointed themselves Judge, Jury, and Executioner over free expression in music.
Wait, so the comics code still had power in the 80s and 90s? I thought by then only Archie followed them? Then again, those series which break the codes would most likely be sold in specialized stores for nerds only, while you could stil buy Archie in the newstands, so I guess it makes sense.

And the 1980s really seems like when America started to bother with all of these "culture war" things, which is even weirder to remember how you got idiosyncratic figures to led that first charge like Tipper Gore, Nancy Reagan and... Mike Love of the Beach Boys?

Anyway, I actually find it a bit insulting how Americans back then put so little effort in their extended toys commercials. I mean, even if a show is heavy merchandised, it doesn't mean it has to be dumb or ugly. Just look at the British sci-fi marionette shows made by the Andersons. They are surprisingly sophiscated for their time and budget.

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Re: Some observations and questions about 80s cartoons

Post by Seto Kaiba » Thu Jun 03, 2021 11:00 pm

False Prophet wrote:
Thu Jun 03, 2021 10:17 pm
Wait, so the comics code still had power in the 80s and 90s? I thought by then only Archie followed them? Then again, those series which break the codes would most likely be sold in specialized stores for nerds only, while you could stil buy Archie in the newstands, so I guess it makes sense.
Yeah. The Comics Code Authority had a lot of power because a lot of advertisers refused to advertise in books that didn't carry the Comics Code Authority's seal of approval. It wasn't until the late 90's that advertisers gave up on it and started buying adspace in whatever books were popular without regard for content. That move greatly diluted the CCA's power, which was mainly derived from the threat of advertisers avoiding unendorsed books.

Once Marvel Comics told the Comics Code Authority to go bag it in mid-2001 and stopped submitting their books to the CCA for review, it caused a number of other publishers to take similar steps. The Authority was still going until 2011, when the last two publishers pulled out: DC Comics and Archie Comics. It's only been dead for about 10 1/2 years.


False Prophet wrote:
Thu Jun 03, 2021 10:17 pm
And the 1980s really seems like when America started to bother with all of these "culture war" things, which is even weirder to remember how you got idiosyncratic figures to led that first charge like Tipper Gore, Nancy Reagan and... Mike Love of the Beach Boys?
Yeah, the mid-80's and 90's were a weird time.

It's hard to discuss why without discussing the political motivations behind it. There's a particular demographic on one of the aisle that has always been very religious, very gullible, and very reactionary. In the 80's, that group got a bug up its butt and decided it had to Do Something (or at least be seen trying to do something) about the various conspiracies that it believed were afoot to corrupt America's youth. I think the start of it can be traced back to an incredibly cheesy book by a pair of Canadian psychiatrist fraudsters that claimed that child abuse was linked to an enormous Satanic conspiracy. This triggered the so-called "Satanic Panic" where people gullible enough to believe that kind of thing started seeing conspiracies everywhere. Anything that didn't jive with or endorse their specific takes on religion, politics, sexuality, etc. was part of some Satanic or Communist conspiracy theory to undermine and brainwash America's youth and destroy the country. That led to the PMRC "Porn Rock" hearings in '85, to the widespread attempts to ban children's entertainment with supernatural aspects (even Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons were accused of "brainwashing" children into studying witchcraft or making Satanic pacts). It didn't start to die down until the 90's, but even now continues to rear its head in places with deranged conspiracy theories like Pizzagate.


False Prophet wrote:
Thu Jun 03, 2021 10:17 pm
Anyway, I actually find it a bit insulting how Americans back then put so little effort in their extended toys commercials. I mean, even if a show is heavy merchandised, it doesn't mean it has to be dumb or ugly. Just look at the British sci-fi marionette shows made by the Andersons. They are surprisingly sophiscated for their time and budget.
Animation was, and is, very expensive... but Americans perceived animation as being pretty much THE format for children's entertainment so you had a lot of these toy companies coming up with hackneyed premises trying to go jump on bandwagons with very little prep time or planning.

My favorite hobby horse, Robotech, is actually the offspring of one of the worst, laziest attempts... by the Revell model company. They tried to roll out a knockoff of Transformers using Dougram, Orguss, and Macross kits and it tanked hard in its pilot comic book, which led to them strongarming their way into Harmony Gold USA's attempt to dub Macross in order to save their investment.
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