149. Why I Watch Cartoons

As many of my readers have probably noticed, I like cartoons.

Well, I like some cartoons. Others I would watch only on pain of death, and perhaps not even then. (I’m looking at you, SpongeBob SquarePants.) Besides loving many animated films—for example, classic Disney movies and everything directed by Hayao Miyazaki—I enjoy television shows produced for kids.

I also like literature, especially the classics. Explosions? Car chases? Sultry romances? Bah! Humbug! To blazes with such nonsense! Give me meaningful themes, compelling characterization and well-crafted plots.

Thus I decided to take no fewer than three literature classes in one semester when I was in college. (Where was Admiral Ackbar when I needed him?) For months, I was hammered by grim novels like Silence, a bleak story about the silence of GodOne Hundred Years of Solitude, a fantastical history of a disturbing, sordid society; The Penelopiad, a cynical postmodern perspective on The Odyssey; and several more depressing books.

It was not a happy semester.

Some notable literature is lighthearted—I thank God for cheerful authors like P.G. Wodehouse—but the good stuff is mostly depressing. Even stories by humorists like Mark Twain and James Thurber have tragic undertones. Thurber once wrote, “To call such persons ‘humorists,’ a loose-fitting and ugly word, is to miss the nature of their dilemma and the dilemma of their nature. The little wheels of their invention are set in motion by the damp hand of melancholy.”

I like cartoons because they’re innocent, bright and funny, and they’re unapologetic about it.

Do cartoons give a balanced view of the world? Of course not—but then, neither does much of the best literature. Cartoons remind me that the world can be a pleasant, cheerful place, even as literature reminds me that it can be a dreadful, hopeless one.

For me, cartoons are a kind of escapism.

Is escapism wrong? When balanced with realism, I don’t believe it is. To quote J.R.R. Tolkien, who is awesome, “I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”

A Farewell to Arms tells me there is suffering in the world. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic tells me there is good in it. The Great Gatsby tells me happiness can’t be bought with money or popularity. Phineas and Ferb tells me happiness can be found by two kids sitting in the shade of a tree on a summer day. Animal Farm tells me the good guys sometimes lose. Avatar: The Last Airbender tells me the good guys sometimes win.

The other reason I watch cartoons is because, well, they’re fun to watch.

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