A scene from Cartoon Network’s ‘Adventure Time.’
Walk into any college student’s dorm or apartment, and you’re guaranteed to see a few things: Ramen everywhere, unwashed dishes, and if anyone is home, cartoons on the television, PC or tablet.
There seems to be a growing number of adults watching shows aimed at a younger demographic. They aren’t watching because they have kids, they’re watching for, well … why the hell are they watching them?
For some students, it’s about stress relief and nostalgia. Though shows of the ’90s — a hallowed time full of some great creations— are long gone, sitting down after a long day of working or studying and laughing at a nonsensical cartoon is a lot healthier than drowning stress in the cheapest beer on tap at the local bar.
Jen Hesselbach, 19, graphic design junior at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, says of watching cartoons, “I like watching the old ’90s ones and stuff like that, mostly just for nostalgic purposes … other ones … I love just because I genuinely find them hilarious.”
While the majority of Cartoon Network’s key audience is still under 18, viewers age 18-to-44 make up a combined 34% — more than a third — of the channel’s total audience.
Though these cartoons target a younger audience, it isn’t hard to notice that writers and animators are pushing the limits on what they can get away with as far as “mature themes” go. Remember the episode of SpongeBob Squarepants in which they replace curse words with nautical-themed sound clips?
In 2006, the Parents Television Council (PTC) released a study that claimed there was apparently “more violence in children’s TV” than in adult programming. Then-president of the PTC, L. Brent Bozell said, “this disturbing trend signifies that parents can no longer be confident that their children will not have access to dark violence, sexual innuendo or offensive language on entertainment programming targeted toward children.”
When I was growing up, I never caught on to the mature jokes woven throughout the seemingly wholesome humor I watched in ’90s cartoons, but thanks to Netflix, I’ve been able to effectively relive my entire childhood.
I’ll be the first to admit some of the jokes that producers were able to slip into shows are way too mature for kids, but after re-watching them now, with two decades of life experience, I totally understand these jokes.
I get the innuendo.
In many ways, these cartoons were another form of the parental “I’ll tell you when you’re older” — but we got “I’ll tell you now, but you won’t understand until you’re older.”
Let’s examine a couple of the most popular cartoons on television right now.
We have Emmy-nominated Adventure Time, which finds the majority of its following in adults.
“It’s Candyland on the surface and dark underneath, and that’s why it’s compelling,” show creator Pendleton Ward told The Los Angeles Times. The show, whose complete second season will be released on DVD June 4, draws an average of 3.3 million viewers each week.
That Candyland exterior, however, is set in post-apocalyptic Earth. “The Land of Ooo is what Earth has become after The Great Mushroom War. Everything’s irradiated and mutated,” Ward says in an FAQ answer on his website.
There’s also Regular Show, another Cartoon Network favorite.
Melissa Camacho, associate professor in the Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts department at San Francisco State University says of the show in a review, “[S]ome of the fantasy violence and mildly crude humor aren’t appropriate for younger … but older viewers who are into creative animation will definitely appreciate the wit featured here.”
Even though these shows are aimed at children, they seem to follow the same path as those ’90s cartoons. It makes total sense as to why college students and adults would watch these shows — they aren’t “cartoons” to them, they’re simply comedy shows with the same potty humor as many “adult-oriented” animated shows.
Except this time around, instead of having to wait a decade or two to understand the humor, we get it from the get-go.
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