The Ecstasies of Contexts

When Lethem discusses the development of art in The Ecstasy of Influence, his examples ascribe a very passionate and almost mythical quality to the  nature of influence. The retelling of the story of Lolita through Nabakov, Muddy Waters and the myriad reasons he gave for just one song that become so popular, and even the errant quote that falls into one’s mind that seems to come from nowhere. All of these examples help frame the more noble point Lethem echoes alongside many of the authors we read in response to Foucault’s Death of the Author:  that works of art are made in the shadows of legends and artists themselves are “awakened by the work of a master” (Lethem). Some artistic works exist as one torch being passed from one hand to another.

Instead, here is Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law.

Harvey Birdman is a show that, much like a great deal of Cartoon Network’s adult line up of cartoons and shows (called Adult Swim), repurposes and reuses a wide range of the older Hanna-Barbera cartoon intellectual property owned by Time Warner of which Cartoon Network is a subsidiary. In Harvey Birdman’s case the show primarily borrows from the cast of Birdman and the Galaxy Trio but just as many residual characters that have had reruns last well past the sixties and seventies they originally ran during. Fred Flintstone, George Jetson, and even the Scooby Doo gang all run afoul of the law at some point and suddenly find themselves in uncharacteristically mundane and serious situations in their zany cartoon world and lives. While the humour of the show isn’t on point … most of the time if at all, the basic comedy drawn from re-contextualizing older and more established works isn’t a particularly new idea. The Simpsons existed to change the premise of “father knows best” sit-coms into a dysfunctional and self destructive family, and example Lethem brings up in their article. Yet the popularity of shows like Harvey Birdman (which itself is a spiritual successor to the very similar Space Ghost Coast to Coast) serves as a good example for the contexts that make such blatant reimaginings and spoofs.  When children grow into adults, who wind up reminiscing on the shows they watched in their youth and the absurdity of the super hero life, they can draw their inspiration. These adults who might one day be cartoonists can even bring the characters themselves along for the ride and grow up alongside them.

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1 Comment

  1. I think looking at cartoons as a network is a very interesting way to apply the concepts we’ve been learning! Adult cartoons are so relevant because they are often remixes in their own right; I think part of what makes cartoons so appealing to us is the nostalgia factor. Adult cartoons often make references, whether inherent or stylistically, to those that we enjoyed as children. I also think adult cartoons tend to make references to pop culture and society far more than any other type of comedic show. I love Bojack Horseman for this; the remixing of characters and jokes that I’m familiar with is always entertaining. I just can’t get enough jokes about “Gurge Clooners” and “Burd Pitt”

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