my life in saturday morning cartoons
January 19, 2002 05:21 AM

A cartoon show made me think about the privilege of my youth.

I know, I'm almost embarassed to say it. The specific cartoon, that is, is uniquely cheesy and moralistic. Lessons are learned in fifteen minutes. Apparently a half hour is too long to drag out one of the single trite plots, so we get two episodes. This show, Doug, is epitomized by its titles, which all run something like "Doug won't/can't/isn't/doesn't X" where X is a thing that Doug embraces at the end of fifteen minutes. Doug is a twit and a brat, but at least he's a changeable brat (and that would be a positive trait, if the combined accumulation of knowledge, can's, will's, and does's would ever materialize).

I was saying. The morning's first episode of Doug, to which I awoke purely as a result of our tendency for leaving the television muted but on all night by forgetting to set it to shut off at, say, one in the morning, had something to do with Doug's sister, whose name I might know if I ever saw this show when the television was not muted. Doug's sister has a perplexing haircut that appears to be shaved on the edges of where bangs (fringe) ordinarily go and is also somehow randomly artistic. [It has to be random so she doesn't eclipse the desperately dull Doug, I suspect.]

She is decidedly pretentious, even for a cartoon character. And Doug apparently finds this embarassing. Doug finds being alive embarassing as far as I can tell [from this I deduce that he is supposed to be twelve to fourteenish]. Today Doug's sister was on stage. Doing some sort of theatre / performance art. And essentially being every pathetic stereotype of acting and actors.

Quite a number of shows and films featuring real live actors present even more pathetic versions of these same stereotypes. Particularly of younger [high school] actors. And I've seen several actors who completely live up to these stereotypes. The high school drama class stars of stage and screen. I may see more of these partly because the actor training programs in this, the biggest small town in the south, are essentially endless high school drama classes with, fortunately, better scripts. But I'm not sure.

Could there be some truth to the stereotypes? People certainly adopt behaviours to identify with groups. I think a lot of people are deliberately strange in order to be more easily recognisable as artists.

If it's true. If theatre people are really like this.

Then my youthful artistic career was blessed. The only thing "theatrical" about my school and companions was our fondness for listening to other people sing musical theatre (its tragically bad website makes me wonder if the school itself hasn't devolved in years since, though).

We were smart kids. We were, most of us, assertive as hell. But I don't recall any of us adopting that look at me, let me entertain you attitude associated with The Actor. And several of us weren't, never would be, actors.

But. We didn't need to. You know, act like theatre people. We didn't need to create an artificial boundary between us and them with our clothes, our voices, with wiggling our hands around and talking about moments and how we felt. We had a real boundary around us. At least for half a day.

And yes, we did share that boundary loosely with the painters and sculptors and cellists and dancers and the (truly stereotypical) musical theatre kids. And we saw them as different, recognised that musicians were nerdy or anarchic and smoked pot, dancers seemed to mature more slowly, visual artists were likely to be complete freaks, and the musical theatre kids were loud, gay, and sang in hallways. If we saw ourselves as having distinguishing characteristics (we did, we were more verbal, more aggressive), it was only that we were all whoever we were.

Then there are nights. The night we went for dinner, my purple-haired self, ordinarily preppy but currently covered in white makeup best boy, large musically theatrical boy and self-styled punk rock girl. People stared. Did we go out like that to draw attention to ourselves? We might have. I remember how strange it felt not to be regularly stared at when I "grew up" and stopped wearing my hair that deep eggplant color.

I miss that color.

I wonder if we would have done what we did. Pursued what we did. If doing so meant being with a more melodramatic crowd [or rather, a more deliberate outward-facingly melodramatic crowd].

I'm glad of the privilege of having no need to distance myself from the rest of the world. Of having distance automatic. Of the convenience of defining a personality not by external type.

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