Sunday, July 12, 2015

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Artifacts of the 80s

There are some lost artifacts that are better left buried. Some hidden relics of the past that, while they are statements about the nature of their time and culture, are just too terrifying to behold.

I'm going to dig two of them up and show them to you anyway.

This time on the Saturday Morning Rewatch, we're going to inflict some very specifically 80s pain on ourselves, in the form of Rubik The Amazing Cube, and Kidd Video. Admittedly, we've rewatched some questionable Saturday morning fare in the past, but these two cartoons may just be enough to make you regurgitate your dried marshmallow-augmented cereal.

Admittedly, you can make the argument that music videos have been around for many decades in various forms. After all, what were Frankie & Annette's beach movies, or Elvis' flicks, but extended music videos where thin plots bridged multiple songs? But music videos really came into their own in the 80s, with big budgets and flashy sets and locations, bands putting an emphasis on style as much as (sometimes more than) talent, directors and extras making names for themselves – or big names coming in as directors or extras. And the videos and their video shows were goddamn everywhere. Everywhere. I remember you couldn't turn on the TV in the early-mid 80s on a Friday or Saturday night without seeing a music video show at some point on nearly every channel; there were music videos available for rent on videotape in just about every video store; and, of course, entire TV channels dedicated almost entirely to music videos were launched. And kids weren't exempt from the marketing madness of music videos: even if you didn't have older siblings or babysitters watching music video shows in the evening, the record company promoters and TV producers still found a way to start cultivating the younger crowd: some channels ran music video shows on Saturday mornings after the cartoons were finished. These were somewhat tamer than their night-time counterparts, although while they ran most of the same charting videos, they withheld the ones that might have been considered a little too sexually charged – although they didn't apply the same standards towards frightening subject matter... I still remember the morning when they broadcast Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, and it scared the shit outta me. But what does all of this have to do with Saturday morning cartoons? At some point, a group of TV producers and record label types decided to take this marketing drive to its ultimate end – it wasn't enough to show videos after Saturday morning cartoons. No. They had to put the peanut butter in the chocolate. In 1984, they decided to put pop music and music videos into the cartoons. In 1984, they created Kidd Video.

Kidd Video was the story of four teens who had a band in the real world, who, one day, were magically transported into a cartoon world called "the Flip Side" by a record-company-boss-like badguy called Master Blaster (no relation to the Bartertown duo from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome) and his trio of anthropomorphic cat henchmen. Saved by a pixie who looked like she was fresh from a high-impact aerobics session, the group wandered the Flip Side trying to find a way home. Every episode would feature a segment from at least one well-known real-world pop/rock song, and some episodes ran segments of real music videos from well-known groups. I seem to recall the idea with some of the clips being that they real bands had been captured by the Master Blaster, and the kids had to do something to free them. Was there any interaction between the characters and the actual musicians from the videos we were all watching Friday nights? Of course not. It was just a plot device concocted to play charting and generally popular music to kids to program them into wanting to buy it. Every episode also ended with a full-length music video featuring the real-world versions of the Kidd Video cast. I didn't like the blonde kid. I think he stares at himself in the mirror when they're singing just a little too intensely.

Anyway, here's Kidd Video:

Another classic artefact of the 80s was the Rubik's Cube. The puzzle became so popular that it gave rise to a whole series of variants, including a sphere, a pyramid, and a long snake-like thing. It also spawned a truly terrible cartoon – and utterly transparent marketing gimmick – called Rubik The Amazing Cube.

The show is about a group of kids (It's always about a group of kids, isn't it? I mean, it's never about a gaggle of middle-aged janitors on their coffee break, or a squad of elementary school lunch ladies or something.) who find a magic Rubik's Cube that sprouts a greyish-blue head and feet – or maybe it's a normal Rubik's Cube that's been possessed by some kind of minor demon – with a truly annoying high-pitched voice that sounds like it's being squeezed out of a cockateel's sphincter. The kids and this armless, multicoloured horror then have adventures.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the Rubik's Cube puzzle itself because I was the first kid to have one in my little country elementary school. But that doesn't change the fact that this cartoon was a complete piece of shit, and a little unnerving. I mean, maybe there was a reason little Rubik was trapped in a chest in the back of a fleeing wagon. Maybe he wasn't supposed to be unleashed upon a group of helpless kids and an unsuspecting world.

So, Rubik The Amazing Cube for any who dare to look:

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