Jeremy's Ramblings, Babblings, and Other Pretentious Bullshit.
Thursday, May 26, 2005
Today I was navigating the website www.homestarrunner.com, as I'm wont to do a few times every week. While watching one particular cartoon, I suddenly realized that the Homestar Runner cartoons capture my generation's voice better than perhaps any other piece of art or entertainment out there.
To explain, Homestar Runner is a web site that premiered in January of 2000 (making it a true product of the 21st century) filled with games and cartoons that center around an unusual cast of characters. There is the dim-witted athlete Homestar, his hippie girlfriend Marzipan, the Mexican wrestler Strong Bad, his brothers Strong Mad and Strong Sad, his furry yellow sidekick The Cheat, the concession stand owner Bubs, the hip-hop loving Coach Z, the obese King of Town and his Poopsmith, and the out-of-left-field Homsar.
So I was watching a cartoon called "Shopping For Danger", which was an obvious spoof of the "G.I. Joe" cartoons from the 1980's (Reagan-era references abound throughout this site, mostly in the form of Atari and NES games. This tells me all I need to know about the site's creators). In the cartoon, a troop of freedom fighters known as the Cheat Commandos find out their archnemesis Blue Laser is shopping at the grocery store on Double Coupon Day.
They decide to check it out, coming up with the reason that "with the money Blue Laser could potentially save from those double coupons they could buy all kinds of super weapons that, like, turn babies into gold or screw with the weather!" Upon investigating, the leader of the troop states, "It looks like Blue Laser's going to take advantage of Price Style's already low, low prices on paper towels and grout cleaner and use all the savings to make a button that will make it snow at the beach!" They swiftly attack, only to find out that Blue Laser is, in fact, just going shopping. Still, they congratulate themselves on a job well done.
I used to simply enjoy the cartoon for its spoof of "G.I. Joe"'s convoluted plots and crass commercialism (they call their headquarters "The Playset" and their theme song ends with "Buy all our playsets and toys!"). But today, I had a revelation that usually comes from smoking copious amounts of pot. That cartoon is about a group of overpatriotic soldiers attacking an evil tyrant based on insufficient evidence and false pretense. Sound familiar?
I suddenly started taking a second look at the characters and plotlines throughout the site, and I realized that Homestar Runner is a sly, clever skewering of 21st century culture (is it just coincidence that these characters live in Freetown, USA?). Underneath the random humor, simple stories and charming music, there is a subtext of satire that I did not catch the first time around. Here are but a few instances:
* Bubs, who owns the local concession stand, sells cheap overpriced junk. He finds any opportunity to charge his customers, going so far as to charge five dollars to wait in line or run into the wall (commercialism is a recurring theme in Homestar Runner).
* The cartoons that the characters watch are either "Sweet Cuppin' Cakes" (a plotless piece of surrealism) or a lame Japanese import set in the year 20X6. This parallels the sorry state of children's television, which is dominated by Teletubbies and Pokemon.
* Coach Z, in an attempt to get the younger members of the community to like him, is constantly reciting old school hip hop lyrics and mangles his voice, perhaps in an attempt to sound more urban. However, the lyrics go over everyone's heads and his voice sounds like a Chicagoan imitating Jerry Lewis. Anyone who has heard a middle-aged person attempt to recite rap lyrics will understand this.
* Strong Bad, the site's most popular character, has an anti-authority attitude. However, he is too lazy to put it to any good use, and so he spends his days checking his e-mail and ordering people to get him things while he watches TV. This is very similar to the college students of today, who grew up in the Me Decade and are not as concerned with non-personal issues as their parents of the '60's.
* Strong Bad's brother Strong Sad is part of the Goth Movement, but about fifteen years too late. As such, he is constantly mocked and teased by his brothers and everyone else in the town. This reflects how the Goth Movement has lost its edge.
* Strong Bad draws a comic called Teen Girl Squad, which consists of poorly drawn teenage girls trying hard to be popular and getting killed in juvenile ways. Strong Bad claims that he is going to sell these comics to "a snoody independent record store". Anybody who has been into a Tower Records lately can attest to the sudden surge in random, simplistic entertainment such as Adult Swim, Red Meat and, yes, Homestar Runner.
To paraphrase Chekhov (sorry, my copy of "The Seagull" is not within my reach): We should not show the world as it is, but the way it is in dreams. Homestar Runner does exactly that. It is very popular with the college-age crowd perhaps not only because it's funny and original, but because what the dim athlete, hippie girl and Mexican wrestler are saying sounds very familiar. This is what I love about art.
The power to entertain someone while holding a mirror up to them is the joy of art. And better than any other piece of art or entertainment that I've seen. So check it out (also, Matt Chapman's voices are some of the finest cartoon voicework this side of "The Simpsons"). www.homestarrunner.com
Oh, and see "Marat.Sade" in its closing weekend, to be entertained by crazy people while shedding a light on the ways of the current administration of our government. Shameless plug.
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