A friend of mine was complaining about how there aren’t any more Saturday morning cartoons on teevee. I wasn’t the only one who thought, “damn, bro, through the miracle of cable teevee we’ve got cartoons everywhere, all the time.”
Then I started to think about it from a historical perspective. Saturday morning cartoons started when local teevee programmers started turning their lights on early sometime around 1950, recognizing that small children were attracted to the boob tube like babes to teat. Somebody in the advertising community realized that kids have enormous influence over their parents’ breakfast cereal purchasing decisions. Not coincidentally, Kellogg’s came out with Frosted Flakes and Sugar Pops in 1951 and Sugar Smacks in 1953. Also not coincidentally, the incubation period for diabetes is about 30 years, which is why this particular plague has been devastating the Baby Boomers for over 15 years now.
In the world of commercial broadcasting, invention is the mother of necessity. Local programmers had no budget for Saturday mornings so they put on cartoons that were in the public domain, including silent cartoons and the works of the Fleischer brothers – no wonder my generation warmed up to LSD in the late 60s.
It didn’t take long for the network programmers to notice, and it didn’t take long for the packaged food industry learned just how seductive the phrase “pre-sweetened” was to baby Baby Boomers. Chocolate milk enhancers, flavored straws, powdered sugar candy, and something called “Maypo” which, in fact, was actually maple-flavored oatmeal. It was created in 1953, but its 1956 television commercial with the catchphrase, “I Want My Maypo” (animated by the legendary John Hubley) quickly became the most obnoxious thing uttered by children en masse since Woody Woodpecker’s laugh. It is no surprise that most, if not virtually all, such products featured cartoon characters or cartoon-like characters that could be used in animated commercials.
Nostalgia for one’s childhood delights is a powerful force, and not always a force for good. Nonetheless, it is a strong part of our popular culture business and of the comics racket in particular. Look at all the comic book revivals of GenXers’ cartoon shows such as G.I. Joe and Transformers.
Sure, now we’re worried about this “health” thing. Now that we’re craven sugar addicts. And, yeah, I blame Saturday morning cartoons for being the delivery system. But I am not pissed about it. I enjoyed all that shit.
Sugar Smacks became Honey Smacks which became, simply, “Smacks.” Personally, I would have changed the Smack word and kept sugar. But they didn’t sell opiates on Saturday morning teevee.
Until Rush Limbaugh came along.