Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ode to The Flintstones

At midnight tonight, “The Flintstones” will turn fifty years old. September 30, 1960. The program premiered on ABC on the prime-time schedule and lasted six seasons. It was the first animated sitcom. It was the first original prime-time cartoon. History was made….thirty years before Homer Simpson came along.

I’ve had a love affair with this cartoon since I was in tiger-skin diapers. I couldn’t tell you why. That’s the beauty of it. I can’t tell you the famous quotes from whichever episode in whatever season. I couldn’t tell you which artist had Fred with a protruding bottom lip versus a overlapping lip. I couldn’t tell you which comedy writer developed the famed “Yabba Dabba Doo”. I’m not a “Flintstones” trivia expert at all. But that show informed so much of my life

I guess it was the beautifully simplistic line renderings of the early Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The bright inks and colors. The jazzy Hoyt Curtin background music. The brilliant sound effects and transition cues. Or the laughtrack. I loved that friggin’ laughtrack.

It’s visceral. I spent twenty years actually living my life, dating women, acting, making money in sales…you know, normal stuff….and now, three years shy from the big fifty…with no wife, kids, career or political affiliation…I find myself constantly ruminating on the past….the sitcoms, the cartoons, the cheesy films. With the advent of social networking tools, we become self-absorbed, inward-looking freaks of human nature. I’m not gonna write about “The Flintstones”….on their big day…I’m gonna write about ME! Or not.

Somewhere seeing “The Flintstones” and other Hanna-Barbera creations on television appealed to me when I was a kid. HB also created Yogi Bear, The Jetsons (the second prime-time family), Top Cat and Jonny Quest..all for TV. They pioneered the “limited animation” concept…a cost-saving way to animate for the quantitative demands of television. Jay Ward (“Bullwinkle”) was successful at this at the same time, writing great scripts animated by Gamma Studios in Mexico.

But HB was the shizit (or something like that, as the kids say)…It was Hollywood…the jazzy music, the great character voices…and since I had no brothers or sisters (cue the violin music), my best friends were these characters…or rather the PRESENTATION of these characters….as I said, I couldn’t tell you a plot or anything from a Snagglepuss or Touche Turtle cartoon…it’s just about the FEEL…of it.

Of course, I got older and graduated to Saturday morning cartoons, with the breakfast cereal and Hot Wheels ads….waking up at six in the morning, sitting through the farm report…to watch the 7:00 rerun of whatever pablum the huckster’s were selling us. But at that time it involved….Scooby Doo, Wacky Races, Speed Buggy, Hong Kong Phooey, Roman Holidays, and the ORIGINAL Sealab 2020. Looking at those masterpieces now, I see them for what they were….poorly animated, unoriginally conceived babysitters.

But it was innocent…no judgment, no critique…it was what it was, to quote some of my more “centered” friends.

Oh, yeah…”The Flintstones”….I found out that Alan Reed…who did Fred’s voice was actually an ad specialty salesman like my dad…and me. Weird.

And I have almost all “Flintstone” comic books….nearly all the Gold Key and Dells…all the Marvels….I didn’t collect all the Charltons…I remember being PISSED OFF that they inked Fred’s tie black instead of the blue as it was in the cartoon. And then I was so disappointed when I realized that in the later Gold Key issues, Fred’s tie was black as well. This is what happens when you are a kid who was a nerd before the term even became “hip” (as it became thanks to a sitcom about the fifties….I haven’t figured that one out yet either.)

I digress. The world is nuts. It was nuts in the sixties and the seventies. But it’s a different kind of nuts now. It’s technology information overload anything goes sarah palin kind of nuts. And the comfort I find… these simple colors…these clean line drawings…that laugh track…those boings, bwaps, and Curtinized theramined noises from heaven….take me away from the Calgon of Current Catastrophes.

My dad was an artist…drew cowboys and characters for advertising….I don’t think he admired me much for “copying” the Hanna-Barbera characters…but I was known in high school for zapping a Fred Flintstone out on pen and paper in milliseconds. I still can. Means nothing. But I can.

So, I want to thank Fred and Barney and Wilma and Betty and Dino and Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm for giving me, not only a false sense of security about the “real” world….prehistoric times bode well in the current but not the future….oh, but hey are the future…what? Snap! ( As the kids say.)

I don’t know what it is....but all these HB characters represent some kind of simplicity, some kind of animated logic….a sense of place in a world losing its place….There is a whole generation raised on South Park and Family Guy…and I don’t get it…not because I’m a prude…but because it’s cruel, mean-spirited, and ugly….I go to indie films for that….cartoons…I’ll stick with Fred.

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