Fall TV Preview 2009
Scram, Scooby-Doo! Overdone 1969 Anniversaries Should Be Done Away With
Sunday, September 6, 2009
On a Saturday morning 40 years ago -- Sept. 13, 1969 -- American children blinked awake and encountered the first episode of "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!" on CBS. The episode was called "What a Night for a Knight," in which the semi-verbal Great Dane and his teenage companions encounter a suit of armor that comes to life and chases them around. They're still running.
Then came decades of more Scooby-Doo cartoons (including guest appearances by the likes of Phyllis Diller, the Smothers Brothers and the Harlem Globetrotters). Then came the pot jokes, as the toddlers who grew up with Scooby-Doo cartoons went to college and watched Scooby-Doo with profound self-awareness when they should have been in class. (Came also the lesbian hero worship of Velma Dinkley.) Then came a movie version, and another movie version, and amusement park rides.
It was the press release about all this (touting a new live-action prequel movie, "Scooby-Doo: The Mystery Begins," that airs next Sunday night on the Cartoon Network) that pushed me over the cliff of 1969 retrospectives. There's a relentless stream still coming, after Nixon's inauguration, after John and Yoko's bed-in for peace, after Judy Garland died and the drag queens rioted at the Stonewall Inn, after Apollo and the moon, after Chappaquiddick, after Woodstock (and more Woodstock), after all that.
In another two weeks, it will be the 40th anniversary of the first episode of "The Brady Bunch." In a month it will be 40 years since the beginning of "Monty Python's Flying Circus"; four weeks after that, it will be the 40th anniversary of the dawn of "Sesame Street," in which a slightly more frightening proto-version of Big Bird emerged from a New York brownstone and started asking basic questions of existence.
Combined with this Summer of Notable Deaths (Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Walter Cronkite, Ted Kennedy), it seems we are finally done in by the anniversary machine. The search engines and aggregators that spit out archives of photos and footage now groan with exhaustion. So do the actual human photo editors, librarians and researchers, united in a chorus of fatigue: We already ran that picture of Hendrix. We used the Cronkite thing in two different Kennedy clips. Are there any other pictures of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road?
We've had 10 years to get a new century started and have failed to do that, perhaps because the power of nostalgia is simply too alluring. Is the future really so spooky that we must constantly arrange ourselves around the kitschy marketing of our recent past? Scooby-Doo, where are we? (Or as they say on "Lost," when are we?)
Still, I admire how certain things in the trivial pursuits of retroland go together. Scooby-Doo started solving crime four weeks after the murder of actress Sharon Tate and others by the Manson Family cult members. (And they would've gotten away with it . . .) Charles Manson is always with us, and so is Scooby-Doo. It's yin and yang; ghouls and sleuths. One of the members of the Manson Family, Susan Atkins, who stabbed Tate 40 times and is now dying of cancer, begged last week for beneficent parole from the state of California. (Denied.)
These things go together in ways I cannot quite connect; as Scooby's constant companion, Norville "Shaggy" Rogers, might say, my mind is, like, blown. A cartoon has nothing to do with a grisly moment out the paranoia that accompanied America's counterculture.
And yet it does. After too many anniversaries, everything is rendered in broad Hanna-Barbera brushstrokes. My mind has been turned to B-roll. There's this constant pressure on us to remember. Did Scooby-Doo go to the moon? Did Joni Mitchell play Woodstock? (No! Remember? She wrote a song about not being able to make it, because she had to be on Dick Cavett's show. Everyone knows that, but does anyone know if Dick Cavett was ever on "Scooby-Doo"?)
When did they fluff up Big Bird's feather Afro? (It's flat in the "Sesame Street" pilot. It bothers me.) Were John and Yoko ever on "Sesame Street"? (If he were still alive, they surely would have been by now.) Was Joe Namath ever on "Scooby-Doo"? (He was on "The Brady Bunch," right? Or was America stoned? Or was he?) Was Nixon? (On "Scooby," on "Brady," on drugs?) How many people have written academic papers on "The Brady Brunch"? What sort of cross-references do I get when I type in "Cambodia" and "Marcia Brady"? What happens when I add "Cronkite"?
While Google looks for answers, I realize: These anniversary stories are just more death. I can't do 1969 anymore. Shaggy said it best, gang: Let's get outta here.