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From movies to TV; cultural shifts and cartoons

kapelian's picture

Daniel Dennett speaks in his book about the one thing that makes humans so different from chimps and gorillas that make us so different from them – our culture.  In all parts of the world new cultures and rules around them emerge.  The culture in each society makes the societies different.  And as these cultures interact over time, they change, adapting ideas from one another and changing the ideas of the humans who live in these societies.  One way to see the shifts in these cultures today is to see whats on TV or in the theater – or in this case, the cartoons.

Cartoons were initially so short because  people would be watching these shorts in the movie theaters before their feature film. Television wasn't around until the 1950's, but these cartoon shorts had been around since the 20's. At first there were the shorts like Popeye, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tom and Jerry, etc. They were only a few minutes long and at the beginning, were black and white and had no sound. Steamboat Willie was the first cartoon short to use sound in the 30s. Since then, distinct voices and music in cartoons has become an important part of creating a cartoon. When cartoonists could put their shows on TV, they began to get longer, creating the half hour block shows that are on Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and the Disney Channel today. Also, the cartoons had to become more “family friendly” so that more people would watch their show.

Cartoons however are not always family friendly, some cartoons such as South Park or Family Guy have swearing, adult concepts, and other factors that push them into late night time slots on TV.  The idea that cartoons don't have to be just for kids allowed for these new kinds of cartoons to come to be.  The changes in the peoples ideas of what was funny and what could go into a cartoon allowed for the swearing and sex talk to be used and approved in a cartoon.  Also, for it to be culturally acceptable to have any of this on TV at all is another significant change for cartoons.

The changes of cartoons on TV show the changes in popular culture and tastes.  The cartoons have to change with the times, leaving less watched shows in the dust and make new, original ones to take their place.  The new cartoons will hopefully get more viewers, so the cartoonists can make more money. Shows like Spongebob Squarepants, that constantly draw in lots of viewers and lots of money, will last longer on the air then a show like Dexter’s Laboratory that has much less people watching it. Also, on TV today there are two big cable channels that provide cartoons – Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.  The shows each channel makes has to not only get a lot of viewers, but have to be more popular then the show on the opposing channel so they can still compete against each other.

The way cartoons have been made have changed as well. To save the cost of drawing and coloring every panel of animation by hand, Disney has started using computers to do the work for them.  And starting with Toy Story, Disney has worked with Pixar to make 3D films using entirely computer animation. Since 1995 when Toy Story, the first entirely 3D movie, 15 more movies using 3D animation have been made. Including Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and the Incredibles, these movies have become extremely popular amongst kids, some of them even winning Oscars. Because of the popularity of these films, less and less hand drawn or 2D animated films are coming out.  The evolutionary concept of reproductive success is clear in this case, because if 3D movies continue to make Disney more money, this new type of cartoon movie might be the only type of movie Disney will come out with.    

Another change in cartoons and movies because of technology is how fast new episodes or new movies can be made. By using computers instead of hand drawings or colorings, cartoons can be made faster then ever.  A new episode can be produced quickly enough so that a new season of a show can have a new episode every week for several months.  Shows with cleaner art from computer programs, and have their episodes come out faster are cheaper to make and are preferred by the creators to be shown since in the long run, they will be more likely to make a bigger profit.

     So all in all,  if a lot of people go to watch an animated movie or watch a particular cartoon, it will make money.  The shows that make the most money are the ones that best reflect the audiences desires. And it is these cultural shifts that allowed for the various different kinds of cartoons to come onto our television sets.  It is the ideas of the creators that start the cartoon, but it is the viewers that decide what will remain on the air and in turn, which shows will make all the money.  When it comes down to it, the biggest cultural shift that directs the flow of cartoons is their viewers.


drawing's picture

Culture has its influence at

Culture has its influence at every thing so I don't think cartoon can be an exception for it. Even drawing trends changes with the changes in thoughts of the society and drawing is the main source for animation and cartoons so they'll ought to change.

Paul Grobstein's picture

cartoons and evolution and ...

So cartoons evolve, like biological organisms do?  With innovation (randomness?) as the drive ad how many people watch as the selection pressure?  Or is there something more/different involved in cartoons?