Cartoon Network’s announcement of Thundercats Roar, a reboot of a classic cartoon from the 80’s, caused a huge uproar of its own…mainly for being terrible. It’s a more cartoonish take on the old series with a style to match. The goal is to place a stronger focus on comedy and family-friendly goofiness. The fans reacted negatively, to put it mildly, and the phrase “Cal Arts style” was coined. Cal Arts refers to the soft, simple art style that has become somewhat of an epidemic in modern western animation. Shows like Steven Universe and The Amazing World of Gumball are prime examples of this style; however, my concern is not so much with the original content created but with a much darker trend that started with Teen Titans. And this trend, in my opinion, is indicative of the safe-space coddle culture that has made a comfortable home in the millennial generation.
Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans became very popular, with its quality animation and refined mix of drama and comedy. One episode could center around the intense darkness dwelling in the heart of Robin’s character and the next could be an adventure surrounding Cyborg’s car. The show was able to convey that powerful depth because it presented a believable tone. After all, life doesn’t have just one setting. We have ups and downs. We have days that make us laugh, days that make us cry. We have days we’d love to forget and days we hope to remember forever. Even at the darkest times of our lives, we can still find humor or beauty in things. Furthermore, the characters were solid and three dimensional with varying sides to their personalities. The show was so great that the network eventually decided to champion its return…unfortunately that return came in the form of Teen Titans Go.
Teen Titans Go uses the same cast and universe as its parent show. It sometimes even alludes to events or jokes present in the original series. Here’s where things get dark, and by dark, I mean light and stupid.
This new incarnation put the Teen Titans cast through a millennial make-over. And by that, I mean, it hammered off two dimensions, removed the drama, and focused on “random” humor. It was basically a network funded parody of the original program. And isn’t that just frighteningly fitting with today’s “safe-space” culture?
Safe-spaces are designated areas, usually on college campuses, where students can go when they’ve been overwhelmed. And that might sound fine until you realize it’s less for “too heavy a workload” type of overwhelmed and more “I heard someone say something I didn’t like” type of overwhelmed. The inside of these spaces can vary, but they mostly have a kindergarten theme. Soft things, calming music, finger paints and play doe. Let me repeat, these are for college-age people. People who are old enough to be shipped off to war are running to safe-spaces and bubbles whenever they hear someone say, “there are only two genders” or “you should get a job.” And, to me, the change that occurred when Teen Titans changed to Teen Titans go…is a symptom of safe-space culture.
Here’s what I mean…
Teen Titans GO removes all the edge, all the dark elements from the original show. It makes it soft and gentle. The dark elements have been amputated. All the menace has been removed from the villains. No more fleshed out personalities. No more nuance. No risk of seeing your favorite characters experience tragedy, or pain, or loss. No more worrying that a beloved character might turn evil or that two characters who you might want to see get together begin drifting apart. No more “sad” to compliment the “joy.” In other words, in the world of Teen Titans GO, consequences have been removed.
The idea underlying the change that happened to Teen Titans is the same idea underlying the creation of safe-spaces. The real world has everything, both tragedy, and happiness. In a way, it’s kind of like the original Teen Titans. A safe-space is not just a place to escape to, some have rules too. These rules can differ from place to place, but they can range from keeping a low volume of voice to forbidding words to how people interact. A safe-space is an artificial reproduction of the world with all the edge removed…just like Teen Titans GO.
That brings us to Thundercats. The original Thundercats also had its edge, its mix of 80s comedy and tragic elements. Mumm Ra was creepy and menacing. And because the cast was stranded on an unknown planet, there was an ever-present touch of sadness and tragedy. Character elements were heavy in the series, especially those involving Lion-O and his role as prince. Now that the trailer for Thundercats Roar has been released, we have every reason to believe this new series is going to be a new Teen Titans GO.
Everything about the style and the direction radiates the gentleness and the consequence-free mindset that has become a trademark for the millennial generation.
Now, I’m not judging shows like Steven Universe or The Amazing World of Gumball by the same standard. My personal focus has been on news shows with the same style that is based off a parent show. (Mooching off their parents…how much more millennial can you get?) And I’m focused on that sub-genre for a reason.
Thundercats got its fame from the 1980’s. Teen Titans gathered its fame between 2003 and 2006. Teen Titans Go aired in 2013 and Thundercats Roar is set to premiere in 2019. Do you see the problem?
In both instances, these shows are banking off the fame amassed by their predecessors. These shows are ten plus years old. Their core audience has grown and matured since then. They would want more of the same or even more mature stories being told. Instead, these new shows are lobotomized versions of the shows they’re based on. Their fans have grown, but to them, it seems maturing isn’t allowed.
An argument can be made that they’re trying to make the show accessible to new viewers. That’s an understandable position, but it doesn’t excuse the trash we’re being presented. For example, when BBC revived Doctor Who, it followed the same formula as the old version, but the first season remembered to put enough stuff in to make it accessible to a new audience.
Thundercats Roar is a telling example of what the future of television might hold in the era of the safe space. No consequences. No rough edges. No pain, sorrow, or tragedy. This is a time where society believes anyone under thirty should be treated like children; that they should be told what they want to hear and given what they demand. This is a dangerous mindset. The world outside that safe-space is one where you must earn things with time, merit, talent, and dedication. The modern-day obsession with infantilizing adults is a disaster waiting to happen. These people are going to be crushed by tragedy and broken by sorrow…because they have gone without those experiences for so long. Never create to coddle your audience. Create something human, something organic, and if you can…something genuine.