Back to the Drawing Board

Saturday has always been my favorite day. When I was younger, it was sacred. It was my day. During the week, I had time to myself in the evenings, or in the afternoon after school before my parents came home from work and started wondering why my chores weren’t done. On Sundays – sometimes – there was church. If not: more chores. But Saturday … ah, Saturday. Saturday was mine.

As I grew older, my waking hour came later and later. To this day you’ll hardly ever see me up and about before 10 am on a Saturday. But before I grew out of my childhood innocence and the allure of late nights – and all that comes with them – began their dominion over my time, I was an early riser.

I’d wake up to the smell and feel of the Texas day just beginning to warm. The quiet was immense. Outside, the grass was wet with dew and all of nature seemed to be holding its breath, waiting for the light and the heat, enjoying its brief respite.

I was usually the first soul awake in my house, apart from the dog. I’d creep downstairs to the kitchen, pour myself a bowl of cereal or warm up a Pop-Tart and get ready for the start of what I believed to be Saturday’s entire reason for being: a several-hour long marathon of cartoons.

I haven’t looked for them in years, so I don’t know if they’re still around, or celebrated as highly, but when I was younger, the only shows worth watching aired on Saturday morning. Today you can see animated television shows everywhere – even on the Internet. You can watch science fiction and fantasy in prime time. Hell, they make movies from videogames. Some good ones, too. But when I grew up, when videogames were in their infancy, Dungeons & Dragons was just beginning its reign over the world of interactive fantasy and Star Wars was barely more than a cool movie that everyone was talking about, people like me and you worshipped Saturday morning cartoons.

Some of the most fondly remembered were the worst, of course. Something changes in one’s mind when he ceases being a boy and becomes a man. I think we lose the best part of ourselves; the part that laughs unabashedly and takes joy in simple things. Who over the age of 18, for example, would be entertained by The Bugaloos? While not a cartoon, it was nevertheless a Saturday morning mainstay. Similarly, while I know many of us have fond memories of The Smurfs (or the freakish underwater knock-off, The Snorks), I can’t imagine watching it now.

In fact, if we’re being honest, most of the Saturday morning cartoons were terrible, but awesome. Spiderman and his Amazing Friends was notable for featuring an entirely new superhero, Firestar, who transcended the traditional morality gap between comic books and television and became the first well-endowed, spandex-clad woman (albeit animated) on television. Many an attempt to prevent young men from thinking about sex was scuttled by Firestar.

At some point, bears and other cute wilderness creatures became the rage, as evidenced by Kissyfur, Wuzzles, Berenstain Bears, Care Bears and Gummi Bears. Movie and television crossovers also made their mark with cartoon versions of Teen Wolf, Ghostbusters and even Mr. T, but the major revolution in Saturday Morning Cartoon Land came with the arrival of videogames.

There was a Pole Position cartoon. Dragon’s Lair made the leap from game to TV. Mario and Zelda were there. Even Dungeons & Dragons made an appearance, featuring a well-rounded party of adventurers facing off against the forces of chaos, and the indomitable chromatic dragon, Tiamat.

Today we live in a world where animation has reached mainstream acceptance on almost every level. Major motion pictures, like The Polar Express have taken the art form to new heights, and shows like South Park are animating their way to being the most relevant social commentary produced by man, dealing with important issues no one else will touch. When The Simpsons arrived – in prime time no less – it changed everything. For an entire generation of entertainment consumers, it was equivalent to the moon landing. Homer Simpson planted a flag on the mainstream media landscape, and suddenly animation was everywhere.

Curiously, videogames, too, are ascendant, becoming viable in the mainstream almost on par with animated entertainment. Games like Heavy Rain and Alan Wake are changing the nature of the medium, making it worthwhile to be a mature gamer. Games are getting the big screen treatment, too, and some of the movies aren’t bad. For lovers of animation and videogames, we are living in a golden age, and I am not ungrateful.

Yet I miss my Saturdays. The cartoons would run until around noon, when the programming shifted to more adult fare. By one or two o’clock, it would be time for sports and I would switch over the RF switch on the back of my TV and fire up the ColecoVision, or whatever gaming console I had at the time. Some days I would head to the mall or the bowling alley, and spend whatever quarters I had saved in the arcade, often with friends.

Maybe it’s better now, in many ways. Thanks to the internet, we can play games, watch cartoons and hang with friends simultaneously, and some games, like Team Fortress 2, let you feel as if you’re doing all three at the same time. Today there is a wealth of videogame and animated entertainment content we could only dream about when I was younger, and I enjoy living in today’s world every single day.

But I miss my Saturdays. These days, every day is Saturday, it seems, and somehow that makes it less special and more wonderful all at the same time.


Russ Pitts

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