I recall, with a strong sense of sepia toned nostalgia, the euphoric excitement that would erupt when at its usual scheduled time at 6pm, The Simpsons would open up with a ‘Treehouse of Horror’ Halloween special. These episodes were warped versions of the cartoon family’s normally light hearted comedy stylings; sinister parallel universes would be traversed, kids would be eaten by their teachers, Homer would swear. When you are under ten and the raciest thing you were allowed to watch on TV was Byker Grove, these specials were a big deal. Fortunately, we’re all now fully functioning adults, (ha ha) and therefore entitled to watch anything we please. My genre of choice the majority of the time? Adult cartoons. Let me explain why.
Despite having been existent since the 1970s with shows like Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, cartoons catering specifically for grown-ups did not quite gain their foothold in the TV viewing market until the 1990s, when stoner cartoon Beavis and Butthead and its subsequent MTV spinoff Daria unintentionally made their leading characters into cultural icons. Now there are a wide selection of channels (albeit primarily in America) boasting their own off-beat humorous animated show. Cartoon viewership among adults has never been higher.
Yet, this would not be a very balanced article if the controversy surrounding some more current animated hits was not addressed. Let us take Fox’s most successful Family Guy, for example. The show is perhaps infamous for regularly, and often inappropriately, making jokes of very real, very serious issues like abortion, incest, rape, paedophilia and homophobia. To this, I have no defence or answer. It is pretty unforgiveable, and could be easily avoided. But I would not call this offensive humour baseless, or anti-intellectual. Cartoons are frequently seen as exaggerated portrayals of everyday life – take American Dad or ABC’s Simpsons spinoff The Critic. The starring characters are caricatures of people we all encounter in our day to day lives. Perhaps any controversial opinions held by such characters are more ironic when viewed in the wacky context of the cartoons themselves. After all, the characters themselves cannot be taken seriously, so why should their opinions? It is then easier to distance one’s self from the darker and crasser jokes told, as they are not being acted out in the ‘real world’.
Despite this quagmire of mixed views on the subject, one thing that is undeniable is the massive popularity of the adult cartoon genre. And why is this? Why are more millennials content with watching a format originally aimed at children? Here is my theory.
The transition from childhood to adulthood is always tough in a multitude of ways, but combining that with higher university fees, rising mental health statistics among young adults, the death of David Bowie, and Trump’s election it is enough to turn any hard-hit millennial’s stomach. Could we be less eager to grow up because of this? You do not have to look far to see that ‘regression sessions’ are one of the most popular travelling club nights in the UK, and the nostalgic ‘you know you were a [blank] kid when…’ pages and memes on social media are inescapable. Cartoons take us back to our fondest memories of childhood – where caring about stuff was for grown-ups and birthdays were a celebration of another conquered milestone rather than a depressing countdown.
So kick back and travel drunkenly through space and time with Rick and Morty; despair at the depravity of has-been fame with Bojack Horseman, and marvel at Grandad Freeman’s unusual dating choices in The Boondocks. There is tonnes of funny, insightful and intelligent adult animations out there. We are millennials, and we deserve to have nice things.