Watching Cartoons Doesn't Make You Childish

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As we get older, there are certain activities and enthusiasms we must forfeit in the pursuit of maturity. Boxes are no longer the most versatile toy in the world and instead become just another task and a trigger for worries about back pains and proper lifting technique. Footie pajamas can only be worn in the most ironic contexts or at raves. However there is one pastime paramount to so many people’s childhoods that should not be cast aside as they reach adulthood, and that is watching cartoons.

There’s a special kind of joy felt when you see somebody wearing a shirt immortalizing a classic Nicktoon like Angry Beavers or Rocko's Modern Life. But it’s also a kind of melancholy that reminds you of your lost innocence. While it is difficult to find reruns of Ren and Stimpy or Pinky and the Brain on TV these days, there are modern cartoon classics being created today, many of which keep in mind the reality that many of their viewers are adults. This is why still watching cartoons does not make you childish.

This article is not just about The Simpsons or Family Guy which were started decades ago with adult viewers as the target audiences. This about a new wave of cartoons coming out with cerebral, highly introspective narratives that go beyond the 30 minute sitcom format. One prime example is Netflix’s Bojack Horseman. When it first came out in 2014, the show had all the dressings of just another star-studded Netflix project thrown together and hurled at viewers to see if it stuck. But after getting into the first season, it became obvious that this was so much more than a show whose main hook was a talking horse voiced by Will Arnett and his slacker couch-guy played by a then fresh-off Breaking Bad Aaron Paul. Bojack developed into an intense and unflinching look at mental health and the effects of fame and attention on people (and horses) who were already broken to begin with.

But with that much emotional depth there has to be a comedic foil to balance it out, and Bojack has no shortage of ridiculously clever writing. Some of the best jokes come out of what would be mundane background elements in other shows. Whether the show is simply telling you what year it is, a banner at a party, or a balloon for a baby that ended up getting aborted. Yes, emotional and mental disorders are not the only issues brought to light by the show. Entire episodes are devoted to topics such as abortion, not calling every veteran a “hero,” gun control (“Thoughts and Prayers” is definitely one of the best episodes) and an entire season arc devoted to the celebritization of politics. If you do decide to pick up Bojack Horseman, you will definitely not come out of it feeling like a kid. Instead you’ll realize just how broken and alone you are, but also be reassured that you’re not the only one.

On the other end of the spectrum, the side that doesn’t induce self-loathing, is Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time. The show is marketed for kids but also contains deep life lessons for adults sprinkled in, but still uses the simplistic language accessible to children. One of the quotes from Princess Bubblegum expresses this perfectly when she says, “people get built different. We don’t need to figure it out, we just need to respect it.” This line is spoken by a woman made of bubblegum. Adventure Time offers many abstract thoughts on the nature of personality and maturity, but also offers concrete lessons. One of the biggest I have taken to heart came from Jake the Dog when he is talking about sweatpants. He calls them “give up on life pants,” and his reasoning has never left me, “because peeps need to respect themselves when they leave the house. Even if it’s just for ice cream or TP or whatevs.” I have not left the house wearing sweatpants since. But when I tell people that it was because of the advice of a talking dog, they make me feel childish.

But the whole point of this article is to not let the way others make you feel impact your viewing habits. I would be far more embarrassed to say I was watching the new season of Jersey Shore than a children’s cartoon program. This is about the way you feel inside as a viewer, and these two shows (along with plenty of other great cartoons) realize that. There are times when watching old cartoons that it is painfully obvious that you (an adult) are not the primary viewer because of the way things are dumbed down for the audience. This is not the case with Adventure Time and is most assuredly not the case with Bojack Horseman. They simply dump out all the puzzle pieces and let you put together what you can. They don’t do any of the work for you, and if you can’t fit them all together now they’ll be there when you get back.