Tuesday, November 11, 2008

From the Horror File: The Get Along Gang

I've been revisiting my roots lately. I was a child of the 80's and many of the cartoons of that era were often viewed as little more than half hour toy commercials. Looking back that assessment was very accurate, but it's not the point of this blog entry.

Today's entry is in reference to another trend in 80's cartoons. Since cartoons like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe were bringing new levels of conflict and violence (as in the characters actually got into physical confrontations with each other) a counter-reaction was brewing. This counter reaction was the policy of writing by "parents groups." There were groups of parents who were aligning for the purpose of controlling the moral content of children's television. This affected the "toy commercial" programs in the form of a short moral at the end of each episode, but in some cases it was flatly ridiculous.

On the show Dungeons and Dragons (based on the role playing game of the same name) you had a cast of mostly heroic characters. The premise was that a number of teens went on a carnival ride together and said carnival ride sucked them into a world of wizards, warriors and monsters.

Each of the teens adapted to their new roles. The athletic looking one became the fearless warrior leader. The nerd received a magical hat and became a wizard and so forth. The one exception to the heroism came in the form of Eric. He had a suit of armor and a shield but no weapon. He was the sole creation of a "parents group" to teach children a lesson about being democratic. Eric ALWAYS went against what the group wanted and was ALWAYS wrong to do so. The lesson he was to teach is that you should always be "democratic" if all your friends want pizza and you want a hamburger, you're horrible and evil and need to be destroyed.

Nevertheless, they all seek to make kidvid more enriching and redeeming, at least by their definitions, and at the time, they had enough clout to cause the networks to yield. Consultants were brought in and we, the folks who were writing cartoons, were ordered to include certain "pro-social" morals in our shows. At the time, the dominant "pro-social" moral was as follows: The group is always right...the complainer is always wrong.

This was the message of way too many eighties' cartoon shows. If all your friends want to go get pizza and you want a burger, you should bow to the will of the majority and go get pizza with them. There was even a show for one season on CBS called The Get-Along Gang, which was dedicated unabashedly to this principle. Each week, whichever member of the gang didn't get along with the gang learned the error of his or her ways.

We were forced to insert this "lesson" in D & D, which is why Eric was always saying, "I don't want to do that" and paying for his social recalcitrance. I thought it was forced and repetitive, but I especially objected to the lesson. I don't believe you should always go along with the group. What about thinking for yourself? What about developing your own personality and viewpoint? What about doing things because you decide they're the right thing to do, not because the majority ruled and you got outvoted?
Fortunately this trend didn't last once parents discovered that this particular moral lesson could have negative ramifications when the stakes aren't getting into an unpleasant argument or sharing your toys but instead are things like drug use and premarital sex.

Once again, the Reagans came to the rescue of individualism. At least something good came from the "Just Say No" campaign.

What makes this even sadder is there is a trend/subgenre in slasher films, best exemplified by the film
I Know What You Did Last Summer, were a number of young people do something terrible and "democratically" agree to keep the secret "together." The beauty is that this usually leads to the ones who happily accepted this fact meeting terrible fates, while the one who stood up against the group is proven right and almost always saved in the end. It's a sad day when you need to search out slasher flicks for a sense of moral certainty that you can't find in "heroic" fiction.


Mike Vardoulis said...

Great observation, Landon! Note also the absence of firearms from 1990's cartoons as a similar response to kid show violence - even to the point where a uniformed police officer in the "X-Men" cartoon used a ray-gun instead of a gun!

Damien said...


I'm not sure these shows had the exact intent you think they had. Beyond that might there be at least some instances when not going alone with the group is a bad idea?

Landon Erp said...

Thanks Mike, for what its worth I think I have a few more articles in be based on the absurdity which could be found in abundance in 80s and 90s cartoons.

But, sorry Damien but I'll take the word of the guy who worked on these shows. According to Evanier this trend was so bad he later parodied it with "the Buddy Bears" on Garfield and friends.