– Animated Delights –
Perhaps it is an unconscious gesture of disgust on my part to the violent, aggressive world in which I live – a world plagued with wars, terrorism and disasters – or perhaps it forms the basis of some personal crusade or mute protest against the fast-moving, ever-complicated lifestyle of the twentieth century, but I seem more and more these nights to retreat into the soft blandishments of television; a strange paradox in itself, for the advent of television has probably contributed more to the development of present-day mass media communications than any other scientific or technical innovation. Within hours of the perpetration of some horrible terrorist atrocity, our small screens are filled with the harrowing scenes that always accompany such acts: torn and broken bodies litter the war-ravaged streets of a desolate Belfast suburb; an old woman nurses her mutilated face after a bomb attack on the London Underground; youngsters scream hysterically in the wake of a machinegun assault on a busy Tel Aviv pavement café; and so on, and so on, and always, always there is blood – streaking the walls, staining the pavements, darkening our very visions. A dam bursts, and thousands perish in the ensuing flood; the earth suddenly rumbles, opens dark, cavernous jaws and swallows up a whole city; an airliner, chockfull with happy holidaymakers, crashes into the side of a mountain: each time a camera will whirl, a tape will record and those magical electron beams will sweep up and down the silent reaches of space and halfway across the surface of the globe, bringing the stark reality of such events into our very homes. A war breaks, and the whole vista of the confrontation flashes across our screens; Communist kills Fascist, black man kills white man, white man kills black man, black man kills black man: the combinations are interminable. Our sets are fed a constant stream of this death and destruction. What ominous wonders indeed the magic of television has brought into our lives!
But it is not for thirst of the never-ending stories of conflict and calamity that I watch television. No more am I hungry for the up-to-the-minute, see-it-as-it-actually happens news coverage that is paraded before me each night: I want none of it! I lust instead for the programmes that will transport me far from the world of reality, with all its inherent horrors, to a world where no blood is ever spilled, where death is unknown, where the evil of man is not considered, debated, dissected and thrust into my vision. I go in search of the non-real world of entertainment, the Goon-like, Monty Python-ish world of slapstick and farce, of comedy and colour, of loud belly laugh and hearty guffaw, of snicker and titter. Feast my eyes with the sheer delights of vintage Chaplin or Laurel & Hardy; titillate my senses with the effervescence of Cleese and Idle, Barker and Corbett; deposit me in that never-never land of laughter and buffoonery; and I will be a happy man. But, more than that, let me carouse through the richly coloured world of the animated cartoon, and I will be a happy man for ever.
To me, the animated cartoon reaches the very pinnacle of entertainment. The immortal Mickey Mouse, the tongue-in-cheek Bugs Bunny, the irascible Sylvester, the brainless Goofy: what a wonderful extravaganza of fun and laughter, what a glorious kaleidoscope of colour and character Mr Disney and his contemporaries have bestowed upon us! Come with me now into cartoon-land – the land of frolic and caper, where the sun shines brightly in an azure sky, where grass is always green, where the moon is always large and full and yellow – and I promise you’ll want for nothing else. In cartoon-land, time itself stands still: an ageless Yogi Bear will always be duping the Rangers in Jellystone Park; little Jerry will always be playing his devious pranks on poor Tom; here’s a bedraggled Coyote in eternal pursuit of Roadrunner across a sun-scorched Arizona landscape; and, of course, there’s Felix with his magic suitcase, always, always cheerfully escaping the most perilous of situations. It’s a breathtaking land, populated by a multiplicity of endearing characters: there are cats and dogs, mice and birds, bears and rabbits, and I love them all.
Sadly, though, there seems to be a dearth of cartoon programmes on television. More and more, the bloodshed and horror is taking over the small screen, ousting the real entertainment. Eventually, I fear, my viewing time will be restricted to only a few hours per week. Sadly, too, the majority of those cartoons shown are repeats (sometimes into their ninth or tenth screening); they just don’t seem to be making any new ones. I don’t really mind the repeats, though, for I’ve come to know and love each zany move, each silly twist of their crazy plots. One cartoon in particular recurs twice or three times annually, but it is a beautiful little story, filled with a soft pathos and carrying with it a true moral – an odd occurrence in the normally simplistic world of animation. The story emerges from the tireless Tom & Jerry syndicate. It features young Jerry, apparently bored with the dull routine of his life with Tom, becoming increasingly attracted to the friendly, twinkling lights of the far-off Big City. Finally deciding to run away, he leaves a note for his old companion and adversary, and then he sneaks out into the dark of night, where he hitches a ride on a passing freight train. Soon, we see Jerry, wide-eyed and fearless, sailing triumphantly in an empty matchbox down the gutter of a skyscraper-dominated street in the heart of the Big City (obviously New York). Then we see our little hero wandering fascinated amidst the bright lights of the street, stopping only to regard his reflection in the polished leather of a streetwalker’s stiletto-heeled shoe. Next, Jerry, with the assumed arrogance of a young man-about-town, saunters into the plush elegance of a Grand Hotel. Strolling from one vast, ornate room to another, he suddenly emerges, red-faced and speechless, from the Ladies’ Powder Room. Then comes the most spectacular scene of all: to the muted strains of a full orchestra in the Hotel’s Dining Room, an enchanted Jerry waltzes sedately on a tabletop with a tiny paper doll, an exquisitely fashioned napkin, until the cork of a champagne bottle pops and he is jettisoned by a star-spangled rainbow of champagne into the pitch-black night, coming to land amongst the garbage cans of a dark alley on the seamy side of the City. Here, there are no friendly lights, only the evil gleams from the eyes of a dozen hungry alley-cats. Almost immediately, Jerry’s view of the Big City is transformed, and, in the closing scene, we see him rushing back to the safety and comfort of home, where he tears up the note he left for Tom before settling down for the remainder of the night beside his still slumbering companion. It is a touching story, the moral of which is self-explanatory.
And so it is that each night, after discarding the horrors and complications of the world outside, I settle down in front of my friendly television screen, ready to drink deeply of comedy and cartoon. Sometimes, though, in darker moments, whenever a tremor of evil steals over me, I find myself mentally placing my cartoon friends in real-life situations: Top Cat and his ill-assorted gang of cronies stringing hookers on Fifty-Second Street; Felix the Cat mainlining in a downtown Chicago dope-parlour; Mickey Mouse performing sexual acrobatics with elastic-legged Minnie; a drunken Popeye slapping around a hysterical Olive Oyl, her agonising screams reverberating through the tortured hollows of my mind. But it is a mere passing fancy, for I know that such things can never be, that it is always safe and clean and simple over there in cartoon land ... Officer Dibble whistles cheerfully as he patrols his vice-free beat; Popeye the Sailorman, his adorable Olive almost glued to his side, skips bow-legged down the heaving deck of a ship and hums croakily, ‘A life on the ocean wave, a life on the ocean wave ...’; Bugs Bunny nibbles his carrot and questions nonchalantly, ‘Eh, what’s up, doc?’; and as the blood-red sun sinks slowly beneath that perfect horizon and that large, luminous orb comes into view, we see the fading silhouette of Roadrunner, about to elude poor old Coyote yet again. ‘Beep! Beep!’ cries Roadrunner. ‘Beep! Beep! .......... Beep! Beep! ..........’
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