In my previous post, I noted that I grew up getting my ideas about marriage from The Flintstones.
Hint: This was not a good thing.
However, cartoons have evolved almost beyond recognition since I sat cross-legged in front of the TV every lunchtime, more or less surgically attached to “The Uncle Bobby Show.”
That makes animation an outlier, since pretty much every other entertainment genre – especially movies and music – has been in arrested development since the late 1980s.
Of course, both classical and computer animation have advanced artistically, thanks to advances in technology.
But story quality has become more sophisticated, too.
Characters – and, dare I say it, messages – are often more realistic yet more idealistic at the same time.
Some post-modern cartoon characters are even pretty good role models.
(At least, better than Wilma and Betty scheming to get their husbands to buy them mink coats, or Fred and Barney trying to keep track of the fibs they’ve told their wives.)
3. Hank Hill
When I showed up at a barbeque last weekend, the host was wearing a chef’s apron with Hank Hill’s face on it.
(The “star” of King of the Hill was a propane salesman, remember?)
“The perfect man!” I shouted across the lawn.
I wasn’t talking about my host. (Who’s a fine fellow, but still…)
Hank Hill might have been missing one dimension, but otherwise, he was one of the few admirable male characters on TV during King of the Hill’s 13-season run.
Sane, conscientious and remarkably patient (most of the time) with his often-exasperating friends and neighbors, Hank is befuddled by anything new, faddish and “modern.”
This particular trait annoys feminist critics of the show; one called him “a representative of traditional, hegemonic masculinity.”
I assume she meant that as a bad thing! It sounds pretty good to me.
I particularly admire Hank Hill’s tremendous work ethic and his dedication to protecting and caring for his family, no matter what.
2. Marge Simpson
Sure, Homer’s wife can be a pain.
The most common criticism directed at the blue bee-hived housewife is that she’s a timid, risk-averse party-pooper who frowns (literally) on her family’s crazy behavior.
But that’s not entirely fair.
Another way of putting it is that Marge is “the moral center of the Simpsons family.”
In fact, Marge Simpson’s “voice of sanity” disapproval of her husband’s latest brainstorms are usually based on common sense (and a laudable respect for law and order).
And besides, Marge has enthusiastically participated in all kinds of adventures. She simply prefers ones that are legal, wholesome and harmless.
One of my favorite episodes portrays Marge in such a multi-dimensional way that she seems more like a character out of Flaubert.
(I wonder if the women who created this episode of The Simpsons had ever seen Max Ophuls’ 195 movie masterpiece, The Earrings of Madame de…)
In “Scenes From the Class Struggle in Springfield,” Marge lucks out when she finds a deeply marked-down Chanel suit at an outlet mall. The normally plain and simple Marge feels transformed by the high-end designer clothing. It’s almost as if she is “possessed” by the outfit.
The suit impacts how others see her, too. Suddenly, wealthy women who’d never given her the time of day want to be her best friend, and she is just as eager to be accepted into high society.
As the well-worn suit begins to fall apart, ever-resourceful Marge tries to repair her passport to a “better” life. Driven to desperation, she…
I won’t spoil the rest of the show for those who haven’t watched it. However, this modern-day fairytale is one of The Simpsons’ finest (half) hours.
In her furious, out-of-character quest to be accepted by “the 1%,” the usually “perfect” Marge’s fragile “humanity” really shines through.
1. Kyle Broflovski
As far as South Park is concerned, I’m a big fan of hippie-hating, cat-loving Cartman (no surprise there).
But like Marge Simpson and Hank Hill, Kyle Broflovski is his show’s moral center.
That doesn’t mean he’s a milquetoast goody-goody. Kyle is, in many ways, a typical boy: imaginative, prone to using “bad words” (at least when there aren’t any grown-ups around), full of spunk and up for any and all troublemaking.
Yet Kyle is always the first to voice misgivings about the ethical implications of the gang’s adventures. In that sense, he seems older than his years.
Maybe that habit of mind reflects his Jewish upbringing.
He also gets the last word in every episode: his corny catchphrase “You know, I learned something today…” is supposed to be a swipe at good-for-you children’s programming, a la the After School Specials that South Park’s creators grew up watching. However, Kyle explains in Season Five that these summations are an attempt to “try and better myself.”
In the South Park universe, Kyle is a perpetual third (then fourth) grader. I doubt Trey Parker and Matt Stone intended it, but that’s part of what makes the character such a good role model. At his best, Kyle displays the moral maturity of an adult, but because he never ages, he retains a childlike wonder, candor and innocence.
How odd that in an age of “edgy” live-action shows like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, some of the finest people on TV aren’t people at all.