The Societal Roles of Characters in Family Situated Cartoons

A large part of the development that a person experiences happens during childhood and the amount of animated visual stimulants that children are exposed to continues to grow exponentially partly because they are compelled and fascinated by the colorful images. Not only are cartoons someone’s imagination projected but they have always contained the artists’ social and cultural commentary about themselves and the way they have viewed the world.
The three family situated cartoons that I have chosen to focus on are Popeye, The Flintstones and The Simpsons. Even just looking at the names of cartoons a progression is evident. The development of the characters in these families moves from being focused on the development of the father with a supporting family cast to the development of the family as a whole.

Popeye emerged as a cartoon during the late 20’s which was a time when censorship wasn’t plentiful and media tends to view cartoons as less detrimental to the outcome of societies views so the obvious relationship that Popeye and Olive Oyl openly held was not publicly condemned but (unintentionally) encouraged. Little Swee’Pea was found on a doorstep and raised by the dysfunctional duo out of wedlock.

First, I used an excerpt from Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp as a Synopsis for Olive Oyl because this was the most developed episode of her character that I saw. She typically is a dingy damsel in distress that is skinnier than any cartoon character that I’ve ever seen. She’s definitely a factor that led to models heading towards the size toothpick. Prior to characters like herself an average height woman that weighed around 165lbs was thought of as voluptuous and sexy and paintings are proof of that. She rarely says anything that substantiates her personality and she appears to be more of an accessory of Popeye’s than her own person. There isn’t much definition to the depth of her character. I choose to dissect the first few minutes. Excluding the prelude in which I could understand Ms. Oyl a little more clearly, the rest of the episode is a spoof of Aladdin and his Lamp and doesn’t speak to the true development of the other characters.

This opening portion of the episode depicts Olive Oyl as having a mind of her own. So be it if her mind is conveyed through unnaturally high-pitched rhymes that don’t connect to her soul but show off her ever-lasting gestures of love for Popeye. A man that will never settle down and only wants her when someone else wants her. In this episode Olive Oyl is a fast typing writer that decides that she will be the heroin and Popeye will be her hero. The story doesn’t move very far from the original tale of Aladdin and his lamp other than part where Bluto becomes a nuisance to Popeye.

In another episode, Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves, Bluto is the leader of the forty thieves. Popeye and his army of Wimpy and Olive Oyl take-off for combat. The trio treks around and Popeye eventually shows his intelligence by calling the obvious desert a beach. They arrive at a restaurant where no one speaks English and everyone runs in fear at the warning of Ali Baba’s impending arrival. Popeye attempts to ruff up Ali Baba (Bluto) because he wants food and Bluto begins to try to entice him into fighting. Wimpy is in the kitchen getting his grub on and Bluto runs off with Olive Oyl in a barrel yelling for her Popeye.

He goes after Bluto and eventually sneaks in to the hideout. Popeye’s priorities are on fighting Bluto not rescuing Wimpy and Olive Oyl. He falls into many traps and barely avoids each one because he’s ridiculously strong and stupid. Being the first homo sapien in a comic strip he perpetuated the dumb jock image. He devours his spinach and is able to overtake Ali Baba and all of his forty thieves. Ali is left looking like an idiot once again and Olive Oyl is delighted to see her beloved Popeye.

“I may be a shorty, but I lead the party, I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.” Popeye’s a macho man that only thinks of himself. He needs his spinach to become a strong, organized man that gets things done. He loves being single, possibly being a player, and has no intentions of getting married or having children. But he helps his ‘girl’ Olive Oyl raise a child that they found on a doorstep.

As a child, I saw Popeye as a protective and sweet father that always watched over Little Swee’Pea, but there’s a song that he sings at the end of this next episode that I must not have heard. In an episode entitled, Little Swee’Pea, Popeye demonstrates just what a chore it is to be an incompetent father.

He arrives in his sailor suit with flowers for Olive Oyl and is excited about taking her to the zoo. She can’t go so he takes Swee’Pea. Little Swee’Pea is highly intelligent maybe even more so than Popeye. Swee’Pea has fun relating to the animals at the zoo and Popeye almost gets killed chasing after Swee’Pea several times. Well, I mean once he’s noticed that the baby even gone.

Swee’Pea plays and Popeye muscles all of the animals. The spinach comes out and he spanks a hippo then chases a tiger. ‘Rescues’ Swee’Pea and then takes him home. On the way home he makes the baby cry so Olive Oyl beats him with a broom and he sings his song, “no ifs ands or maybes I’ll never have babies, I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.”

Little Swee’Pea is a rather strong and large baby. Whenever no one is paying attention his actions closely mimic those of Popeye’s. He seems to have already become Popeye’ intellectual equal even though he’s still in diapers. And his presence, more often than not, is a connective for the undefined relationship between Popeye and Olive Oyl.

In Customers Wanted, Popeye and Bluto have opened the exact same business charging the same thing right next door to one another. The customer that they both are focusing on and hustling is Wimpy and he wants to borrow a penny to see a show because he’ll pay them back on Tuesday. Wimpy will always pay everyone back later.

They are both paying Wimpy to watch their video clips and the videos bash one another as they continue pulling pranks on one another. Bluto is just a big sneaky dope but Popeye is stupid. He has street smarts and no common sense whatsoever. So Wimpy makes money off the fight of the century by charging 10 cents to come see his exhibit between Bluto and Popeye. No song concludes this episode because Popeye actually didn’t come out victorious. A perfect example of a futuristic Popeye is Fred Flintstone because they both participated in macho-esque activities, it’s just that Popeye won his battles and Fred always got caught.

The Flintstones were the first cartoon created for prime time television and no other cartoon will do this again, until the Simpsons. The Flintstones harbors a name that lays the focus on the entire family although the focus still remains on the male characters. Wilma was constantly struggling to find organizations to belong and to rule in but never felt successful, supported or complete and Fred usually took over her duties or convinced her that it was unnecessary. This cartoon emerged in the early 50’s as an icon for Americanism. The uniformity between the people in their community no matter what part of town that they lived in and the generic rituals that they offered themselves to habitually was a direct reflection of how society as a whole was resisting change.

Fred versus Frederick was one episode that I studied and Fred Flintstone is a man that knows what he wants and goes after it but doesn’t ever seem to think the processes in obtaining what he wants through completely. He’s definitely trying to hold on to the novelties of the frontier American while living in a world that is industrializing rather rapidly. He tries to hide his ignorance of the ever-changing world from his friends and family but everyone is eventually able to see right through his various fa├žades. Dino is man’s best friend. Even though he drives Fred up the wall, Dino’s affection always makes him smile.

This episode starts with Barney fixing the Rubble’s car. Fred gets home from work and expresses to Wilma how badly he wants the cactus cooler that she had just given to Barney moments earlier. Fred heads over to Barney to lash out and manages to knock himself out. The Rubble’s carry him back home and eventually Fred comes to but as ‘Frederick’ a very proper, snobby man. Earlier in the episode Wilma was complaining because she wanted Fred to be more like Barney.

Now, all of the men in the town have to work harder because Fred is acting so gentlemanly. He’s acting so dignified that Wilma cannot enjoy any of the urban activities that she’s always enjoyed. This episode speaks to the tune of, “be careful what you wish for.” They finally decide to get Fred to knock himself in the head again and he returns to normal, if you can call a hotheaded, middle-aged selfish man normal.

Although at times he can be sweet, “A Pebble off the old the Flintstone – Fred Flintstone” loosely translated means a chip off the old block. And this episode is about The Birth of Pebbles Flintstones. Barney, the soon to be godfather, and Fred, the soon to be father, are working out at the gym and talking about fitness and Wilma’s pregnancy. The doctor mistakenly takes a blood sample from the bottle of rubbing alcohol that he’d in his pocket from some muscle sourness. Once Fred realizes that Wilma could into labor any day he stops her from vacuuming and constantly asks her if she needs anything. The man went from being unconcerned to over-attentive. Fred makes the entire birthing process sound more stressful for the man than for the woman: he’s got to drive the car, call the doctor, grab her bag, her jacket, etc. Fred urges Wilma to hurry up and have the baby.

Betty suggests that they have a dry run to calm his nerves so Barney pretends to be Wilma. They time the entire process and find that it takes five minutes and sixteen seconds to have a baby. Once Wilma is ready to have the baby, they go into this circus act of getting the right people into the right car and eventually make it to the hospital. Wilma gets checked in as Mrs. Rubble.

Fred is ‘Yabba Dabba Doo’ ecstatic about becoming a father. He meets a man in the waiting room that makes him nervous. The man discusses how every time before his wife has given birth what she eats before is an omen to how many children she’ll have: two eggs – twins, triple decker sandwich – triplets, and she had a dozen donuts – oh me, oh my, oh me. Once they congratulate the appropriate father Fred and Wilma are happy to see each other. Fred names his daughter and her first words are “Abba dabba oo”.

She remains a very intelligent natural born leader that easily convinces her soon to be partner in crime, Bam Bam, to do things that she wants him to do. Now her mother was actually shown pregnant unlike Olive Oyl who just found a child one day with no questions asked. She went into birth but most of the scene was focused on Fred in the waiting room.

In the Water Buffalo Lodge, Wilma is making a fancy dinner for the family and Fred comes home with a gift that is for Wilma in a way. It’s a new Water Buffalo Hat. Fred and Barney both bought new hats and their wives yelled at them because they didn’t need them. After finishing dinner, Fred rushes off to his lodge meeting and flakes on his date with Wilma. He assures her that she has so much to do around the house that she should never get bored.

Betty and Wilma decide to sneak into the Water Buffalo Lodge wearing a disguise. They grab their husbands extra hats and leave Pebbles at the Rubble’s house with the babysitter that’s with Bam Bam. Unlike their husbands, Betty and Wilma never get caught. Even when Wilma uses the term “ak ack a dak” (which is the secret password) before going to bed for the night Fred doesn’t realize where she’s been. This reinforces that Fred is unable to make connections unless they are spelled out for him.

Wilma Flintstone is the wife of Fred and is a homemaker because that’s what she’s supposed to do. When she attempts to do something independent minded she second-guesses herself until it falls apart and her chivalrous husband has to swoop in and fix everything. These kinds of activities keep her in the home and that’s exactly where Fred wants her to be. Another awesome example of how television emulates reality is contained within The Simpsons.

The Simpsons first emerged, as cartoon shorts in conjunction with the Tracey Ulliman show and in the late 80’s became their own sitcom and later America’s first family. This family not only shows that the Simpsons always protect their own but that they are the only ones that can pick on one another. Each character has a very well-defined role in the series and their intensity is equal.

In the opening scene of the Simpsons you see the family as individuals and the things they encounter over the course of their day before coming together and viewing the rest of society through the filter we all like to call television. Remembering that the Flintstones opening song showed what Fred went through over the course of his day and his family happened to be in some of it and Popeye was just a short song at the end.

Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire is the very first episode of the Simpsons and still one of their most influential in terms of the development of the characters. It opens as the Simpsons are rushing to get to Bart and Lisa’s recital at their elementary school. Homer and Marge are dressed up and Maggie Simpson is wearing a star suit and is the youngest child at one year old and very inquisitive. She is definitely daddy’s little girl as is the strong-minded Pebbles. Her first (and only) word was “daddy”, she’s shot people on two different occasions that tried to hurt her father and is best known for sucking on her pacifier.

Lisa’s class does a cultural background on various Santa Claus’s and the way that they are celebrated in other countries. Lisa is representing Tawanga the Santa Claus of the South Seas. The fourth grade, Bart’s class, sings Jingle Bells and Bart funks it up with the ‘Batman smells…” version. Homer quickly becomes bored by the entertainment once his children are finished.

Now the cats that the Simpsons have had are interesting for cartoon or just television families’ period. Snowball I died before the first episode aired and was quickly replaced by an identical cat by the name of Snowball II. They fudged an episode in the later seasons to make sure that viewers knew why the cat that they have now is Snowball II. Their second is so much better because this cat does tricks.

We are quickly taken to the family going through their Christmas rituals as you hear what Marge is writing in her Christmas letter. She talks Snowball I and Snowball II, how Maggie is walking by herself, Lisa got straight A’s, Bart is loved and Grandpa Simpson is still around. Homer is nagging her and then apologizes for it. He says that he’s a big kid, which he is. The children don’t believe in Santa Claus even though Marge tries to continue the tradition. Lisa always wants a pony and Bart wants a tattoo. Homer takes the family outside to show them the lights but they don’t come on. At the same time, Ned Flanders is outside with his family and an amazing light display that sends Homer back into house, probably mumbling obscenities.

The family ends up spending their Christmas money to get Bart’s new tattoo removed. Bart Jay Simpson is the oldest of three children and the troublemaker that loves Krusty the Clown. Bart is very gifted in the area of street smarts and has little interest in the tediousness of schoolwork. He’s a ten years old “underachiever and proud of it, man!”

Now I’m only including family member bios and Montgomery Burns is a distant distant relative of Homer Simpson’s. He is the town millionaire that owns the nuclear power plant and is a weak skeletal frame of a human being that thinks that most of life’s occurrences are, “excellent.” Montgomery Burns cancels the Christmas bonuses this year in order to keep the customers happy and not fire anyone at the power plant. As Homer is happy that Marge has hidden the Christmas money, Marge is happy that they have Homer’s (now non-existent) Christmas bonus for presents. Once Homer realizes that there’s no Christmas money he hides it from his family. He tells Marge that he wants to buy the Christmas presents and gets a job as a Santa in the mall.

Patty and Selma Bouvier are Marge’s chain smoking, MacGyver loving twin sisters that don’t understand Marge’s love for Homer. They both work at the DMV and their only differences seem to be that Selma was married twice and owns an iguana. Instead of going to bed, Homer goes to smooze with Patty and Selma and they talk shit and claim that since there’s no tree in the house that it’s not Christmas in the Simpson house. He drives, trespasses somewhere and illegally cuts down someone’s tree.

Bart decides to sit on Santa’s lap and pull off hi beard, while saying, “I’m Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?” Bart pulls of his beard and he finds out that it’s Homer. He only makes $13 after all of the deductions and he hears that Barney is going to the dog tracks. Homer eventually gives in to Bart and Barney’s begging. Bart claims that television taught him that miracles happen to people at Christmas time. At home, Lisa is shocked by the elves drama and Grandpa Simpson is bored with it.

Whirlwind is the name of the dog that they’re supposed to bet on. There’s a last minute replacement called “Santa’s Little Helper” and Homer decides to bet his money on a long shot.

At home, Patty and Selma talk shit about Homer and Lisa says that if they speak unkindly of her father than they are speaking unkindly of her and that she’s far too young to defend herself from such insults.

Homer and Bart are cheering for Santa’s Little Helper he didn’t even get out of the gate when it was opened so he loses. Whirlwind wins, the Simpsons have no money and Bart feels betrayed by television. They sit until the track is clear and then Barney drives by with his winnings and a girl.

The owner of Santa’s Little Helper fires the dog, he runs into Homer’s arms and they take him home. Santa’s Little Helper quickly becomes Bart’s dog and saves Christmas for the Simpsons. The two of them love spending lots of time playing and getting into trouble together. At the end, the family sings Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer with the extras added by Lisa and Bart. Grandpa Simpson plays the piano and Homer doesn’t really know the words. When Bart tries to add, “and Attila the Hun” Homer quickly chokes him.

Bart the General begins with Homer peaking into the oven to get a cupcake and then Bart pokes his head into the oven and tries to grab one. Lisa is made fun of by Homer and Bart because she’s making the cupcakes for her teacher. Lisa Simpson is a very intelligent eight year old that was born into a family that couldn’t afford to give her the environment that she needed to foster her growth intellectually. She is very much aware of dangers in society, environment, politics, and cultural issues and is active in voicing her beliefs. She is a practicing Buddhist (whereas everyone else in her family is Christian) and the only vegetarian in her household.

A bully takes her cupcakes and Bart beats him until Nelson Munz shows up. Bart hits Nelson and he bleeds so Nelson says that they have to fight again after school. This boy beats Bart up again and again until he forms an army.

One day, Bart is beaten profusely and Homer dries his tears with a blow-dryer. Marge suggests going to the principal but Homer says that violates the code of the schoolyard. Homer says Simpsons’ sometimes have to play a little dirty to get ahead.

When Bart is beaten once again he goes to his Grandpa Abraham Simpson for advice. According to Grandpa Abraham Simpson, he is the inventor of the toilet and the reason that cats and dogs hate each other but no one would ever know that because no one ever listens to him. Grandpa lives in an old folks’ home and is writing an angry letter to advertisers about all of the happy old people on TV, he claims that many of them are bitter resentful and Bart interrupts him. Grandpa says you have to stand up for yourself other wise people will always pick on you. Once this is said, an old man comes in, bullies Grandpa and he decides to take Bart to this crazy chain-smoking guy with one arm and a lot of weapons.

The crazy man is in charge and Grandpa is rambling about seeing a look of life and revenge again. Once Nelson is ready to attack, Bart reveals his army and they commence saturation bombing and send Nelson running in tears. In the meantime, Grandpa pummels Homer with a couple of balloons. Nelson’s posse deserts him and the bully is forced to sign a document before he can be untied and Marge acts as if she thinks that they’re playing war and offers them cupcakes.

Bart takes on a role of an after show discussion and talks about how war is never a good thing with some exceptions and he suggests going to the library to find some really neat gory looking pictures of war.

Angry Homer is another example of how Bart is a troublemaker. They have an assembly at Springfield Elementary and they invite “Bart’s Friend’s Father” to speak and he only takes up four minutes of their sixty-minute assembly. Principal Seymour Skinner, Ms. Edna Krabappel and Lisa are in the principal’s office and Lisa declares that the school should get professional speakers to come and do the assemblies. Lisa picks Jeff Jenkins the creator or a cartoon called “Danger Dog”.

So Jeff Jenkins comes to give his speech and shows a premiere episode of ‘Danger Dog”. The man speaks to what the children want to hear and Principal Skinner flips out and pulls the fire alarm in a desperate attempt to get the children out of the room and forget everything that Jeff Jenkins just said.

Of course, all the children make their own slightly different versions of Danger Dog. Stan Lee, the creator and owner of Marvel Comics, is in the comic book store and says that Bart’s comic sucks. Bart goes home and looks for a new character and sees his father fighting with a lawn chair. Bart begins doing lots of things with his father in order to get more material. Then he’s offered a job on the Internet. Around this same time, Homer realizes that he’s ‘angry dad’ and the people of Springfield purposefully try to piss him off. He finally gets home and Lisa says that Homer has a problem with anger and he eventually admits that he’s a rage-aholic. Homer vows he will give up anger and Marge suggests fatty foods.

The complexity of the storylines with each cartoon increased. Popeye maintained very simplified storylines. Viewers are left paying attention to the only thing that is occurring. Whereas the Flintstones has slightly more complex storylines and many little puns and societal indescrepancies thrown in to relate to the audience and offer some comical relief into their everyday lives. The Simpsons take the cake though, this cartoon constantly has many storylines occurring for America’s short attention span no less, and eventually they all come together as the family always does in the opening scene.

With every cartoon the main character has some kind of polar opposite. Bluto is to Popeye as Barney is to Fred as Ned Flanders is to Homer Jay Simpson. Now Bluto represents how everyone in America is equal even though there are obvious reasons why that theory doesn’t hold true in reality. Barney Rubble and Fred Flintstone keep the cartoon showing the importance of community while Barney represents everything that Fred isn’t. He’s definitely a conscious that Fred has no problem ignoring. Ned Flanders is Homer Simpson’s representation of the individuality. Ned and Homer both see one another as everyone sees them. For example, Homer sees Ned as an annoying nuisance to society whereas Ned sees Homer as an okali-dokalee neighbor.These cartoons are a manifestation of American culture and better sources of what is happening in society culturally because the censors tend to overlook them. Cartoons are a crucial aspect of American culture because the real connections between the lives of human beings attract not only children but also adults. The amount of celebrity appearances in animated shows is growing exponentially which shows the affect that they are having on television audiences. The children see these cartoons and pick up different levels of understanding the world at different ages. And as an adult, you wonder how in the hell they can get away with saying the things that they say. Cartoons never fail to speak the truth about American culture and are usually the last to be censored.