When I was a kid, there were certain cartoons that everyone knew because they were constantly on television: Popeye, Tom & Jerry, Mighty Mouse, Scooby Doo, Looney Toons, Yogi, and The Flintstones. Of that group, The Flintstones seemed like the powerhouse. They were on every day, often on multiple channels at multiple times. And they ran with a sophisticated crowd that had survived the ages: Lucy, Star Trek, and their inspiration The Honeymooners. They seemed like a cultural icon.
In fact, if you had asked me to pick one of those properties to still be on television 1,000 years from now, I would have had little hesitation in picking The Flintstones.
But something has gone wrong.
I first noticed maybe ten years ago that despite a revival in cartoons, led mainly by aging Baby Boomers looking to relive their childhoods (hence the Boomerang network), The Flintstones had becomes surprisingly scarce. They weren’t in syndication anymore, or at least nowhere I could find them. They weren’t on in the afternoons. They weren’t even on the Cartoon Network.
As I understand it, they put The Flintstones on DVD around that time and yanked them from the air to try to sell them. The end result seems to have been that they proved the old adage of out of sight, out of mind. These days, you can’t find them hardly anywhere and I am hard-pressed to find any kids under the age of about 12 who really know them. Young kids had no idea who they were.
And it’s not like these kids only know new things. They know the classic Warner Brothers characters, they know Mickey Mouse even though he hasn’t acted in anything in decades, they know Scooby, they know Garfield, and they know Charlie Brown. In effect, they know the things that are marketed regularly or which still appear on television regularly.
Ultimately, I’m not sure if this is a shock or not. There is this perception that certain “old” things are part of the national consciousness because they obtained some level of quality that eluded others in their category, which level of quality means that they transcend generational changes. Thus, we believe that because the Looney Toons were of a higher order than Josey and the Pussy Cats, the Looney Toons have somehow earned a right to survive forever. But that doesn’t appear to be true. It seems more likely that what will give you longevity is giving the audience a constant refresher.
What do you think? Are some films and books so good they’re just part of our culture automatically or do they only stay in our culture so long as they get refreshed every so often?