We'd like to point out that we're aware of the fact that some of the cartoons listed below did not originate in the '80s. However, they were on during the '80s, that's when we watched them, so they're '80s cartoons to us. It's like when we refer to bedwetting as "late '90s behavior." Without further adieu...
CARTOON: The Smurfs
LESSON: Communism works!
For naysayers who point to the Former Soviet Union as proof that communism is inherently flawed, may we merely direct your attention to Smurf Village, where everyone shares everything, wears similar utilitarian clothing, battles Gargamel and his turn-Smurfs-to-gold get rich quick schemes and obeys the dictates of a bearded, red hat-wearing, benevolent authority figure. Quoth Comrade Papa: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” Really, he actually said that.
How it affected us as adults: Secret communist agendas ceased being dangerous, or really any adjective of consequence, years ago. The worst thing communism does these days is make Ivy League
students waste a couple of years wearing ugly clothes and attending boring meetings. However, the sexual politics of Smurf Village, with its one female for every 30 guys, did go a long way towards preparing us for freshman year of college.
LESSON: Spinach is good for you.
Sure, it doesn’t taste as good as candy, ice cream or opium, but it’s full of essential vitamins and minerals that’ll make your muscles explode like battleship cannons. If you want to triumph over the bullying Blutos of the world and win the affections of your own lovely, leggy Olive Oyl, pound a can of spinach at least once a day. Or put it in your corncob pipe and smoke it, like everybody’s favorite ornery, mumbling sailorman. Toot toot!
How it affected us as adults: You only need to look at the steroid scandal rocking Major League Baseball to see that Popeye raised a generation that is willing to use performance enhancers. Also, it should be pointed out that Olive Oyl was the first anorexic sex symbol.
CARTOON: G.I. Joe
LESSON: Knowing is half the battle.
The other half of the battle is kicking Cobra’s terrorist ass. And with the coolest soldier codenames ever --Snake Eyes, Duke, Lady Jaye, Shipwreck-- winning the war on terror should be no problem. Good will
always win out over evil, because good guys work together (Team Work! Cooperation!), while bad guys are ruthless cowards who turn tail and run whenever G.I. Joe’s laser guns get to zappin’. As Sergeant
Slaughter once said: “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people and neither do we.”
Now that’s some good strategery.
How it affected us as adults: Actually, we’re pretty certain that our strategy for the Iraq War was conceived after a two day long G.I. Joe marathon in the Pentagon. They just implicitly trusted that the good guys were going to win, that firing off our guns would make the bad guys run for the caves and that giving everyone cute nicknames was somehow endearing. When things didn’t turn out the way they’d planned, the administration placed the blame on faulty intelligence, or in other words: “Knowing is half the battle, and we unfortunately didn’t know shit.”
CARTOON: Scooby Doo
LESSON: Trust no one.
Those phantoms in the fog are actually malevolent hicks, dressed up as ghosts to scare you off their spooky farm. That monster hiding in the attic is actually old man McGee, trying to find the treasure buried in the floorboards. And that happy-go-lucky frat boy, Fred, is actually a bloodthirsty killer. Don’t turn your back on him. Or the girls. Or your dog …Or maybe we’ve just been spending too much time in the Mystery Machine, and got a little contact high paranoia. Hey, it happens. You want a Scooby Snack? Yeah, it is dog food. So what? You’re really harshing my mellow man. What are you, a narc?
How it affected us as adults: We can’t be certain, but it would appear that our habit of, upon being dumped, grabbing hold of our ex-girlfriends’ chin and yanking upward, started with this show.
LESSON: It’s OK to be gay.
Look at this guy: golden locks cut in a tasteful bob, buff biceps, tanned, toned, hairless torso, a magic sword and most importantly, fabulous powers. What’s more, He-Man invites his handsome friends, the Masters of the Universe, to come hang out in his castle anytime. Of course Skeletor and his fugly cohorts are never allowed access to the secrets of He-Man’s dark, dry palace. Yes, we had He-Man toys, like Ram-Man, Trap-Jaw and even Castle Grayskull. We also had a favorite pair of tighty whiteys that had He-Man on one cheek and Skeletor on the other, battling over our asshole. But did merely owning and wearing that underwear make us gay?
How it affected us as adults: As regards the above question, it’s a very complex matter, but in a word: yes. (For more on depictions of homosexuality in '80s cartoons, please see Care Bears.)
LESSON: Grrrls rock!
OK, this was more our sister’s show, but we certainly watched it on more than one occasion, and learned that chicks with guitars and magic earrings kick ass. Jem is a sexy feminist living every young girl’s
dream: music executive by day and rock star by night. She has it all: a bubblegum pop band called The Holograms, a boyfriend in love with both her and her alter ego and, for some reason, a foster home for orphans. In addition to teaching us how much grrrls rock, Jem also taught us that love triangles between only two people are often messy, confusing and potentially hilarious. What? You’ve never seen Jem? Oh. Neither have we.
How it affected us as adults: Let’s just say the matching restraining orders filed against us by Debbie Gibson and Joan Jett didn’t happen on their own.
CARTOON: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
LESSON: April O’Neil is really hot.
She’s got red hair, wears a sexy yellow jumpsuit and gets down with anthropomorphic pizza-fiends. Most girls want nothing to do with dudes that live in the sewers, but not April O’Neil. She doesn’t even mind
hanging with that old man-rat wearing a pink kimono! This girl is a freak, for real. I’ve got one word for you dude: cowabunga. Cowabunga that chick in your underground lair all night long.
How it affected us as adults: Mistakenly thought our girlfriend would be cool with it if we called them dude, ate nothing but pizza and wore a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mask during sex.
LESSON: If we’re not careful, robots will kill us all.
This is a humbling lesson for any child to learn, but an easy one to accept, considering Transformers was one of the coolest cartoons of the '80s. Would the Unabomber have renounced his violent ways if he were to witness the sheer stunning spectacle that is Grimlock? Hard to say, since he didn’t have a TV. But we will tell you one thing: when machines replace humans at the top of the food chain, we’ll be standing on the sidelines, waving our Autobot flag with fervent pride. Because, let’s face it, getting eaten by an alien car would suck.
How it affected us as adults: The reason we stay away from Priuses and make our TV wear a blindfold when we sleep at night.
We look back at eight cartoons we watched as kids in the '80s, the lessons we took away from them and how those lessons can be blamed for the horrible mess we’re in today.