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The Animation Pimp: A Modest Request

Can't we have some animated TV series that have true meaning? That probe the more serious aspects of our existence as humans? The Animation Pimp isn't asking for a lotjust a little depth. Here, he explains.

Insignificant and occasionally interesting contributions to the cognition of reality

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Ive been visiting that Website a lot. In a matter of weeks, I was able to catch up with The Sopranos (it sometimes takes a year for me to see recent shows), watch three seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm, discover Six Feet Under, and watch loads of lesbian and gay porn. Meantime, I was also watching the show Oz; mostly because they were the same joes who made Homicide: Life on the Street, one of my favourite shows of all time.

Now okayCurb is pretty funny, but still quite self-indulgent, juvenile and ultimately meaningless. And heythats okay(as I said in December) meaningless ain't such a bad thing. What I like about Homicide, and to a lesser degree Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Oz, is that they attempt to deal with mature, sensitive MEANINGFUL questions, but not in a big over the top way. They are often quite funnyand I dont mean funny in a snot ass intellectual waybut in a real gut busting snorting kinda way (e.g. the Paulie character in Sopranos).

Where Is It?

Funny thing is that outside of Waking Life and maybe some Japanese stuff (I dont know nuttin about Japanese animation aside from indie stuff) there are no (North American) animation shows that combine this maturity and humour with the exception of maybe Samurai Jack (even though its little more than a cliffs notes to Kurosawa). Weve heard all this talk about animation growing up, how there are more adult animations being produced, and okay, yesthere was Pond Life, Bob and Margaret, Dilbert, Family Guy, King of the Hill and, of course, The Simpsons, but all of them fall back on laughs. There might be some nods to political, social or cultural issues, but its rarely more than a passing, Hey, look how smart I is! gesture.

Now hold upIm not asking for heavy handed Ingmar Bergman chamber dramas directed by the Quays, Simon Pummell, Piotr Dumala or Alexander Petrov. FUCK THAT. I have almost no capacity left for humourless films that explore the horror, horror, horror of life with absolutely no sense of humour. Thats just self-indulgence. If you ain't gonna share your toys, then you can kiss my ass.

No, what Im looking for is something that has personality, humour and yet is mature and reflective. Waking Life was a great example. YeahokayI hear those philosophy 101 critiques. So what? What the hells so bad about trying to articulate your views of life? Besidesit was funny and even comforting to hear all these theories and perspectives. Most of us (me too) plow through life without really thinking about every action. You cant possibly reflect all the time because youd never get a damn thing done. But it seems to me that it is necessary (even if life is ultimately meaningless) to have those reflective moments where you analyse your life and how to live it. Thats how we evolve and learn not to repeat past ignorance(s). We often slip into routines and habits and just as often we need to be smacked with a left hook or uppercut to shake us from complacency.

A Deeper Side?

Sopranos, Homicide and Six Feet Under all deal with those issues of life, death, sin, salvation, loyalty, violence, sex, power, etc. They sometimes lead you to reflect on an issue in your own life (e.g. Sopranos might lead you to think about your relationship with your mother). I can think of no animation shows that achieve the same. OkayyeahIm sure one of my PhD. pallies can (and have) deconstructed King of the Hill and The Simpsons and come to all sorts of conclusions about what it REALLY says about social life in America. Hell, academia has shown that you can find meaning in department store mannequins. And sure why notthats fineokaybut I ain't got time. I want my meaning just beneath the surface if not up front. I want it funny. And I want it told in under an hour. (Remember Im talking TV, not books.)

I was reading this fellas book about my old chum, Heraclitus, and he was saying that there are two kinds of people in the world: private (personal) and open (universal). Private folks live with a closed understanding of the world, whereas open or broad folks have a wider understanding of the world. If a closed person was examining animation (for e.g.), theyd watch different animation films whereas a broad person might explore the nature of human sight and sound (animation is about seeing and hearing). In short its being able to see yourself in the larger scheme o' things.

What I like about Waking Life is that it remains aware of both the private and broader realms. We see people from different backgrounds informally musing about the meaning of life. Its done seriously, off the cuff and with humour and personality. They use the private world to explore broader social-cultural issues. Even the one episode I saw of Samurai Jack seemed to address larger issues of identity, time, honour, etcbut thats it. I cant for the life of me think of any other animation shows (and yesWaking Life is not a series) that speak in this manner. (Okay...okaymaybe Avenue Amy — or how about Chris Laniers occasionally fantastic, Romanov? I know, I know its an Internet seriesbut still)


Outside from the festival circuit (which has its own problems — see the next Pimp), television animation remains stuck in that old habit (now masquerading as truth) of being nothing more than a raucous, naughty, cutesy, infantile medium for toddlers, pre-pubescent man-boys and other associated virgins. Its about time that someone came along (a network executive?) and shook this oh so tiresome ga-ga giggling snort snort fart chuckle muffled laugh medium out of its semi-soiled training pants. Animation is routinely hailed as the great liberator, an artform that can take us to new realms of possibilities. Animation can shatter the laws of physics and excavate the imagination like no other art, so why is it that all we ever get are the entrails of semi-retarded pre-pubescents who wonder at little beyond the depth and length of their latest dingleberry? Even THEN that limited wondering is censored and quite innocuous (using animals as human reps). Take John K. For all his notoriety, hes really quite conservative. He doesnt show us tits, dicks, nipples, let alone Ren rimming Stimpy. He just chuckles at their possible existence like a wide-eyed pre-teen. And if that same pimply multi-voiced fuck were ever offered a sweet piece of veggie or meat delectable, he probably wouldnt know what do to with it. (Of course this is also a cultural influence. North Americans snicker when they see nipples on a beach, and lionize a woman because she sucked the Presidents cock.)

I recognize that North American television is pretty limited. The Sopranos et al are enjoyable, but by no means groundbreaking or risqué. I know that. Im really not asking for much. Give me something with the wit and wisdom-light of Waking Life or Six Feet Under or give me something all out raunchy, sort of a Salo meets

Chris Robinson's picture

A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.