Having a television set meant a great deal. A luxury to have one; royalty if you had two. You play outside with friends from noon to evening, and come back home to watch some TV.
As kids, the greatest skill we possess is making friends and enemies. So, my brother and I would sit and watch TV together, trying to find our friends. But, TV is a divisive thing. And, there was hardly any content for kids to begin with.
When I was around 8, and my brother 9, we chanced upon Cartoon Network. With its varied themes, and an eclectic set of characters, Cartoon Network immediately found friends in us. It was the only channel my brother and I would watch together. Primarily, because cartoons then were a lot better than the ones we find on TV today.
This could be an adult perspective I hold today, but even my parents, as fully functional adults, respected our time with Cartoon Network. It was the first time that children were being given their Time and Space in an Indian home.
Let’s delve into the world of toons that were aired when I was a kid, in the 90s.
1. Dexter’s Laboratory:
When you have a sibling of the other gender, there will come a time when you branch out into two completely different personalities. There is constant friction of choices, of thoughts, and actions. It feels like losing a part of you. Dexter and his sister Dee Dee presented this dichotomy beautifully. Dexter is a whiz kid who runs a science lab hidden under his house, and tries to keep his sister out of it. Exactly like my brother. It was an American show with a kid with a Russian accent, written and directed by a Russian guy. How’s that for fiction, eh?
2. Jonny Quest:
I had my favourites on Cartoon Network, as did my brother. Sometimes, we would root for different characters in one show – like the Swat Kats, or Scooby Doo. Jonny Quest was one show where we couldn’t choose our heroes. Simply because it did not have one. A sci-fi story of Jonny Quest, who accompanies his father on adventures, set in a projected reality of the cyberworld. Oh, and the trippy Intro tune!
3. Captain Planet:
The plot revolved around five characters from South America, North America, Africa, Asia and the Soviet Union, representing the five elements – wind, water, fire, earth, and heart. They got together to summon a superhero called Captain Planet. But, there was a catch. They could only summon him if they came together as a group. Captain Planet was born out of these elements, and so he had no resemblance to any particular thing. This taught us kids a valuable lesson, which we might not learn until late, that everybody is important in a group.
The perfect start to a Sunday. You are groggy, disoriented. You do not want to watch anything that conveyed a message. Or had a story. Laugh-a-lympics was the perfect answer. It was a cartoon about nothing in particular. All the characters from other toons would be competing in a race. They react to other characters in different ways. If you were Cartoon Network fan-fiction, this would be it.
I could go on with the list, but you get the drift.
Cartoon Network was more than the interesting plot lines, it was an experience. We had these ‘foreign’ friends who taught us things without pressure. The time between 7 to 10 pm was sacrosanct. The day would end with a show named Top Cat – a cool cat who bade you goodbye at the end of the night.
Then, a dynamite would count down – go KABOOM! – exactly at 10, and the screen would go blank. It instilled a sense of discipline even while watching TV. I wish I could say that about today’s television, but I understand the times have changed.
Today’s cartoons are a world apart. Every character feels the same, and every other cartoon has somehow internalized the stereotypes. There’s a fat one, a loud one, a stupid one, a silly one, a pretty one, a good one and the bad one. Rest of the characters are for consumption by these. It took me five years to know that Doraemon could actually have been a cartoon nicely told. And, Shinchan, for example, should be watched under child supervision, because as an adult, you won’t be able to take that for long. Pokemon, Ben10, Dragonball Z blah, blah, and more blah. They are kinda pathetic, don’t you agree?